International Women's Day

I would like to introduce you to one of my favorite women in my world, my grandmother, Vera McCartney Henderson. Even though she passed away there is not a day that goes by that I don’t think about her, smile with her or feel her all around me. I was incredibly blessed to tribute my grandma by writing her eulogy. I thought I would share a slightly condensed version, yes it was longer than this ;-) Happy International Women’s Day to all the incredible women in your world, I have many and I am still striving to be one, raise one and encourage many!

This is a celebration of Vera McCartney Henderson. Born April fools day 1923 she brightened lives for 33,168 days or 90 years, 9 months and 20 days. To me Grandma was like a huge bunch of bright daisies in the middle of winter. The happiest of all flowers and of course our favorite.

There are numerous drafts of this eulogy. Many were written on American Airlines flights between Dallas and Toronto. I wrote the first draft and then Grandma got better. Phew. The next time I worked on her eulogy the same thing happened, then again, and again. This verbal celebration has been 5 years in the making.

Draft #1 was in March, 2009. My 45 birthday, ooops, did I say that out-loud. Grandma’s health took a turn for the worse and we still had our house in Caledon so I jumped at the chance to come home. At the time there was a late flight that would put you into Caledon at 2am. This time it was lightly snowing, dark, ominous and with a good run at the un-cleared driveway, that of course the pre-paid landscaper assured us was kept clean, I was home. The scariest part of arriving to our house in the middle of the night is that the steps to the front door were around the corner, it was very dark, those cheap Noma lights never worked, the steps were wide and uneven but I knew I would find a friendly, warm welcome once inside, even if I was alone. I still remember the smell of the candles in the dining room, isn’t it funny that all homes have their own smell? Grandmas house smelled like pipe tobacco and cookies. I turned up the heat, grabbed a dram of scotch and slipped into bed.

I got up early to clean the driveway and I stood at my happy place, the pond. Ice, a foot below snow, should I clear the driveway or the pond? I might put in all that work and find a really bumpy surface, but I couldn’t deny the pond taunting me to skate. Who cares if the driveway was cleared? Likely the landscaper was on his way! I decided if I could get the snow blower to start I would see what I cold do.   I was out on the pond for a long time, first shoveling, then snow blowing twice thinking about Grandma the whole time. I realized that Grandmas life was kinda like my 45th birthday, many times out of your comfort zone, ominous, dreamy, often frigging hard work, trekking through a foot of snow, constant cleaning, clearing with the odd swear word thrown in there. To most her life would seem hopeless, selfless and did I say frigging hard work but you suck it up, put on your big girl panties, put in the effort and enjoy what happens. Glorious is what happened, I skated, my heart smiled…and then I went to visit Grandma.

The second draft was after the death of her grand son Brad. We talked a long time about this. It’s just not the way it should go. Grand kids are not supposed to die before me? Children are not supposed to die before parents! Both, Grandma had to endure.

The 3rd draft was after Grandpa passed away, which was exactly 3 years to the day that Grandma passed. Married 70 years. Grandma told me that it still wasn’t long enough.

So between the 3rd and 4th draft a lot has happened. I was so fortunate to spend more quality time with Grandma. I have a video of her telling a story about cutting the lawn. This particular subject hits me close to home. I have always cut the lawn and Dave decided to buy me a rechargeable mower! I would get one third of the lawn cut before the battery died and then it would take a day to recharge. As you all know Grandpa was a welder and built lawn mowers, he fixed every lawnmower in Carlisle I’m sure. He had a meticulous lawn. All of us here can remember how our shoes just magically flew off once we stepped foot in Grandma and Grandpas back yard. I assumed it was because of Grandpa…no no. Grandma cut the lawn! Grandma’s first lawnmower didn’t have a motor much less be self-propelled! Grandma told me about the last time she cut the lawn with the clipper mower. Let’s just say the windows were all closed! At least Grandma didn’t throw her lawn equipment over a brick wall like I did.

Grandma and I talked about marriage a lot. Married and pregnant at 16, I can’t even imagine! We would both characterize marriage as a extremely high level team sport. Some seasons you have a great team and have many wins and others you chalk up to developmental seasons and other seasons you come close to firing the coach!

Grandma had a devotion and work ethic that is not found in our kid’s generation. Grandma ironed everything, and I mean everything! To quote Kaiti, “really? My hair straighter works just fine!”

Grandma always had a clean house, she did Spring, summer, fall and winter cleaning! Who does that? Grandma tells a story of when they rented the house at Courtcliffe park. Grandma talked about having to carry water up the stairs to do the laundry and then carry it back down when the washing was done.  One day when things were not going well, she just threw it out the window!  

A more recent visit (January 22, 2013, coincidentally the anniversary of Grandpa passing) Grandma didn’t feel well. She talked about her chest hurting, chills, no appetite. She asked me to help her get ready and into bed. This scared me at first and then I thought she feels that comfortable with me why on earth would I feel uncomfortable? Helping Grandma into bed that -15 degree night proved to be the most profound experience I had ever had with her. We talked at every stage…

I started by helping her get out of her clothes. First were the knee highs (those I hope will never come back in style) then her “slacks” (our generation just doesn’t distinguish between girl pants and boy pants). Then her diaper which I quickly renamed the 1923 thong, she laughed a long time about that. Now before we finish she said “I’ll go pee but excuse me, if I fart. We old people loose control of that first.”  I laughed, first at remembering my mother in-laws term for a fart was fluff rocket and then, she was actually sitting on the toilet when she let rip and she laughed out loud, what a lady!

Then she proceeded to shoot down a theory of the Snell house, the boys fold the toilet paper and the girls wad. Grandma folded very precisely, made me smile while telling her that story. Next, came the bra, she said there aren’t many pieces of clothing that you can never go without and I responded saying I can just throw mine over my shoulder, she laughed again. She then marches into her room, wearing only her thong, door wide open because it’s 150 degrees at that place, I said “Grandma wait I’ll get the door” and she said, “ oh I couldn’t give a shit!” hehe Shit was never considered a swear word for her, and it may have been my first word. I told her about giving birth to Kaiti when my doctor asked if I would mind if 4 interns could watch and it was at that point that my modesty left the building, like Grandmas that night.

We put on her nighty, such a cute term and she said “now help me hike it up a bit otherwise I find it’s around my neck by morning, I just smiled thinking that’s a husbands dream! She was finally in bed and then she asked the most amazing thing, that only she and Patrick have ever asked me to do and that was “will you just sit with me until I fall asleep?” Patrick had suffered a severe concussion but Grandma was just weary. I sat with my hand in hers, as she drifted in and out of sleep, worrying about Mom, Joanne, Kelli and Aunt Sylvia and anyone who she knew was struggling. She was even worried that I needed to go and didn’t have time to sit with her. I sat for a long time, watching her sleep, wondering if this would be my last visit, noticing the worry and hardship in her face and yet how peaceful she looked. I sat there thinking if she passes away tonight I would be ok. I couldn’t have asked for a more meaningful goodbye. The circle of life was never so clear.

I got the chance to visit Grandma a month later (February 24, 2013). She was in terrific spirits, clearly because I worked on the eulogy again. I walked in and she was sleeping. I tried to make some noise as I arrived just so I wouldn’t scare her. She didn’t wake up. So I coughed, cleared my throat but she didn’t wake. All of a sudden she opened her eyes and stared at me for what seemed 15 minutes. I thought maybe she didn’t recognize me so I said Grandma, it’s Patti, she quickly replied, “I know that…when did you start wearing glasses? They make you look younger.” I went into her bathroom and noticed the old scale that used to be in their bathroom at the old house. “Why on earth do you have a scale I asked?” She replied, “Counter weight would tell you if you step on the scale every morning you’re more likely to stick to a diet.” After a lengthy visit and her telling me her only regrets in life she said “actually I have another regret. I regret spending my life dieting, I love food and I couldn’t give a shit now whether I had a belly!” I said a muffin top and we talked about why it was called that. I asked her when she last stepped on the scale? “When it was in the bathroom at her house in Carlisle”. I told her I was going to throw out that scale and she said,” it’s a good one maybe you could use it?” I laughed and got on the scale and almost brought it home. It was a really good one, 10lbs light.

I had 3 or 4 more visits with Grandma where I would read Gone With The Wind (we both loved Scarlet O'Hara) or we discussed important issues like:

The after life- who prepares all that food? Who pays for everything?

Do the young people that pass away take care of the old farts?

The welded heart-Grandpa made for her because he came home without a valentine one year.

Fixing her TV-remotes…yikes!

Watching the Y & R-no talking, except during commercials and will I out-live Victor and Catherine? She did Catherine.

We would log onto FB and creep all the family members that I was friends with. She loved that and I felt it helped calm her worries.

Nearing the end she rarely got out of bed except to use the restroom, I mean bathroom. I found myself just looking at her. Thinking and knowing in my heart that this truly could be my last visit. I had been given many visits to prepare myself. The last 2 visits with Grandma were a cleansing of her soul so-to-speak. She told me things and events that she thought she would die with and now will die with me.   I think Grandma knew I was strong, knew I could handle just about anything and I can, we share the same heart.

After the most definitive talk about dying I could tell Grandma was ready. She told me she wasn’t scared and she didn’t want to live another winter. That I understand.

I got the call from Mom that grandma passed at 2:30, Tuesday January 21, the exact same day as Grandpa passed.

You can say you don’t believe in that sort of thing…but really?

Drifting off to sleep that night, I thought about Grandma, a tough woman, a tough road, a life of devotion, abuse, worry and dependence, and I pondered…could I have made it easier for her, is there something more we could have done as a family to lessen her worry? I realized you have to stop…breathe… and let the puzzle of life be what it is. Grandma taught me that it all comes down to love in the end, so, love the people in your life that make you happy…with all your heart and soul.   Don’t judge anyone, stop dieting and give all your thoughts of regret to God. Smile, think of a big bunch of daisies and celebrate life because we are incredibly blessed to share our lives with a great lady!

Grandma, “I will love you forever…your worries are over”.


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