When I was growing up, my extended family lived overseas (mostly in Italy, some in Australia). I never had the chance to develop special bonds with grandparents, aunts, uncles or cousins – the kind of connections that are fostered by countless shared experiences, extended holiday visits and family traditions.
When I met Karl just over 13 years ago, what struck me almost immediately was his strong attachment to his grandparents. In fact, it was very important to him to name his son after his three grandfathers, which he managed to do with some creative spelling, using the first letter of each of their names: Cyril (C), Ernie (E), Norm (N).
In most families, though, it’s the women who are the glue that binds, and his is no different. Karl was lucky to have three wonderful grandmothers growing up: Iris (who passed away years ago), Jean and Muriel. While I didn’t have the opportunity to meet Iris, over the past decade I developed a deep affection for these two remarkable ladies, and grew to appreciate how they helped shape Karl’s childhood and influenced the person he has become.
This morning, we learned that Muriel passed away after what was ostensibly a brief illness, but in fact followed a gradual decline in health over several years.
My mind and heart don’t want to accept the news. Maybe it’s the vast ocean that separates us physically. Maybe it’s because we didn’t see her in her last, frail days. Or it could be the enduring image I have of her as a survivor, having defiantly fought back against cancer, heart disease and other health-related foes over the decades.
Instead I want to cast back to old memories – of how she was always impeccably dressed, of her quick humor and easy laughter, how she would tease Karl and his dad Ken, how she listened intently to stories the kids would share and accepted their rambunctious nature with grace, how she would give me a wink when ordering a dish at Milestones that wasn’t off the “heart smart” menu.
I so admired her ability to simultaneously hold onto the joy and sadness of life, understanding that both have lessons to impart – though in recent years, the losses of a beloved son and many friends took a heavy toll.
When we left on our trip, Muriel’s health was weakening and we worried we would miss the opportunity to say goodbye. Yet, we knew in our hearts that relationships are not defined by individual moments. Rather they are built over years, decades, and in some cases a lifetime of shared experiences – the mundane and inconsequential blending seamlessly with the significant and life changing.
We’re going to hold onto all of those memories in the weeks and years to come.
Oh, Muriel, we are going to miss you so much. You were (and are) one cool cat.