Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Family Ties

This past July, I planned to visit my parents with my children in Montreal for a few weeks.  I always feel a strong sense of nostalgia in Montreal.  It is the city where I was raised and lived (on and off) until getting married 8 years ago.  During this last visit, I shared many childhood memories with my children as we drove around town and explored my old stomping grounds.  Most important to me, going back home meant spending time with my family; namely my parents and grandmother (my grandfather passed a few years ago).  This year was very different in many ways.  My grandmother, whose health had been declining over the recent years, was in a nursing home. She was also losing her memory at a rapid pace. Despite our, previously, strong relationship I was intensely nervous about seeing her.  It made me sad to think that the special bond that we once shared was most likely lost to memory loss.
When my grandmother was in her prime, she was a genuine renaissance woman. She was detail oriented, extremely practical, highly efficient and rarely forgot anything.  My grandmother was always such a strong, caring and loving woman.  She grew up on a farm in Western Canada during the Great Depression, and helped raise her 6 younger siblings after her mother died when she was 12 years old. As the oldest child she had to take on a great deal of responsibility very quickly. This is probably why she was able to do so many things so well. This was during a time when if you wanted something simple like hot water or butter it had to be heated over a fire or churned with milk from your cows! She could tailor pants and jackets like a professional, cook delicious elaborate meals and desserts, make delicious jams, jellies and other canned goods, upholster furniture (some of which remain in my family to this day), knit, crochet, garden and do countless other things with professional expertise. 

When I was growing up my grandmother taught me how to do many things and in many ways helped to prepare me for the most important job that I would ever have: Motherhood.  She made it seem as though it was possible to learn and master most skills.  During my early childhood, when my parents were my current age (early to mid 30’s), My parents and grandparents shared a two family duplex. I remember rushing downstairs to my grandparent’s place first thing on Saturday mornings so that I could spend time baking with my grandmother.  In my child mind, she seemed perfect.  We spent countless hours together cooking, talking (with me asking a constant stream of questions) and just simply being together side by side and enjoying each other’s company.   

This past July, a few days after arriving in Montreal, I gathered up the kids and we went to see my grandmother.  I was shocked at how tiny and frail she seemed. Of course, my children wasted no time in leaping onto her bed and surrounding her.  They immediately filled the stale silence in the air with their bustling and laughter.  I sat quietly in an armchair and occasionally snuck looks at my grandmother sitting on her bed. I felt very awkward that because of the memory loss I was now a stranger to her.  Before leaving, I looked at her one last time, sensing that our visit might be one of the last times that we would see each other.  We looked at each other earnestly.  I pushed back tears to embrace her and, somehow, managed a smile and waved; she slowly lifted her hand, smiled, and waved back.  A couple of days later, she fell and injured herself and was left paralyzed and clinging to life.  The children and I visited her daily, and it made her happy to be able to spend time with the children in particular.  Each day during our visit I was very aware of the possibility of our parting being final.  Two weeks later, she finally succumbed to her injuries, a few days after her 92nd birthday.
               We know that death should serve as a reminder, and my grandmother’s death certainly caused me to reflect upon the eventual meeting with my Lord.  Our beloved Prophet (peace and blessing be upon him) said to “live in this world as if you are a stranger or wayfarer”.  Indeed. The reality is that we are only briefly “stopping through”.  In this world, it is so easy to lose sight of this fact and of the fact that serving our Creator is our sole purpose in this life.  May Allah (highly exalted is He) make us all from those he is pleased with and glad to meet ...Ameen.