Its with sadness that I just got a phone call from my Mum—Frances K. Girling, my Nana, has just died at the age of 95.
Nana in 2006, at 92
I’m flooded with snapshots of memories: her life-worn hands being able to snatch out a hot home-made teabiscuit when mine had recoiled in pain; having a March picnic in the sun along the foundation of the old barn complete with apples in eighths, cored and cut to look like canoes; making up ad-hoc rules for Monopoly and her still playing along; trips to the Children’s Museum in London; preserves and jams labelled with her hand-written script: Black Currant Jam, 1984 or Peaches, 1986; teaching me the basics of cribbage; patience when I went through the pantry and made some strange frozen banana dish; her obvious pride in being able to see me graduate from my master’s program; her resolute positive attitude in light of whatever situation she found herself, like when I visited her in hospital last January: it wasn’t the manifestation of her heart’s slow progression to failure, it was a chance to get a tune-up; I could go on.
These are my personal memories of the thirty-two years we got to share with each other. And I’m sad that she had to go. I also know we are all mortal and that, intellectually, this time would come. But right now its painful to think it has all come to an end.
So, rather than dwelling on the pain, I’ll take a page from Nana’s book and focus on the positives of her life: she managed to live on her own terms, by herself, until late last year. It was incredible to see and hear about her life as a nonagenarian and I can only hope that all my loved ones live life, as long and on their own terms, as she did. Her spirit and ethic of sharing was inspiring. I remember, for example, being brought to the Dearness Home, a long-term care facility, during my various visits and wheeling residents to and from the chapel on site. She took leadership roles in the organizations she belonged to: secretary of the McIlwraith Field Naturalists and President of the London Horticulture Society, for example. While never rich, per se, my grandparents donated a great deal of their money: to their church, to local environmental organizations. Generosity is a word that comes to mind: time and money. As a child of the depression, she was re-using and recycling before they were ever considered a thing to do. Locavore? Nana likely heard of the word, but she and my Opah, Bill, grew a large market garden on their property each year. A member of the local field naturalists since 1934, her memoirs are full of stories of time spent exploring the more-than-human. She lived a life that acts as a model in our hyper-consumptive, disconnected world.
While I can’t do justice to all she was in life, let me take an imperfect stab at generating a list: naturalist, horticulturalist, aunt, parishioner, teacher, environmentalist, mother, wife, birder, volunteer, caregiver, donor, friend, grandmother, family genealogist, sister.
Love you and miss you. Today is bittersweet.