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To everything there is a season, Part 2

In the Spring, I received a friend request from someone named Megan…something. I only glanced at the last name but I do remember thinking this would be the first Megan among my FB buddies. I checked out her FB page, as I am wont to do for all friend requests from people I don’t know, and there was something awfully familiar about her picture. I scrolled back up to check the name again…and nearly swallowed my teeth!

“Pa! Come a-runnin’!”

He came a-walkin’.

“What’s the problem, Missus?”

“You remember this face?” I said, pointing to the monitor.

“Yeah, kinda. But I can’t come up with the name.”

“It’s Megan.”

He looked again.

“Well, I’ll be! Megan Oemke!”

“Megan Oemke Lum, now. She sent me a friend request from…wow! Norway!”

“Norway! What’s she doin’ there?”

“Vacation, I think. Oh, and something about a Lego Tour.”

“A what now?”

“Lego tour.”

“Lego, as in leggo my eggo?”

“No, honey. Lego, as in the little plastic blocks that snap together.”

“Uh-huh. Well, that’s…”

“Unusual?”

“That would be the word, yes.”

Megan was unusual from the start. She was studying to be a chemical engineer when I met her, which was unusual enough, but she was also possessed of no small talent as a flautist. I thought, now there’s a woman who’s got her yin and yang nicely balanced. :-) She graced our wedding with her music, and we often went out after church to eat at a restaurant where she would put me in stitches with her wonderfully dry sense of humour. I’m sure the management wanted to toss us out more than once, but, hey, we were good customers.

At the time Megan sent me her request, she was enjoying breakfast with her husband Roy, at a rather nice Norwegian hotel, whilst the harpist played through her classical repertoire in the background. Because, after all, what’s breakfast without a little live harp music?

But at one point, when she thought she detected a deviation in the program, she leaned over to her husband and asked, “Isn’t that the theme from Shrek?”

Sure enough.

She told Roy it put her in mind of a friend who once played “Strangers In The Night” as her prelude before Mass. (Guilty as charged, gentle readers. See, I had this theory that I could play anything as my prelude, and as long as I played it slowly and reverently enough, no one would notice. I was, how shall I say, mistaken in this assumption. Ahem. And in a grand karmic payback, our new choir director delights in sneaking in “spooning” songs from the 1920’s and 30’s during the service, and even treated his last congregation to the dulcet tones of “Buffalo Girls Won’t You Come Out Tonight” during Offertory. A few weeks ago, he played “Salve Regina” as a postlude, probably the first time that venerable Catholic hymn was ever heard in the hallowed halls of our little Presbyterian church. I hiked an eyebrow and shook my head at him, but he just smiled back brightly. It didn’t help my case that all the former Catholics in the congregation were humming along.)

On a whim, Megan checked right then to see if I was on FaceBook, and finding that I was, sent me a request, and just like that, two friends who had been apart for years, connected again.

FaceBook at its best.

A short time later, I learned that Megan’s grandmother had passed away. Megan was raised by her grandparents, and never were three people more devoted to each other. She and Roy were flying to Windsor from Northern California for the memorial and I told The Mister we simply had to go. I was fond of Fran (Megan’s grandmother) and I didn’t know when I would get the chance to see Megan again. PLUS, I was anxious to meet the man who had captured her heart.

“All compelling arguments, Missus,” he said. “We’ll be there with bells on.”

“Um, no, I don’t think bells are really appropriate for a funeral home…”

“Figure of speech, Missus.”

“Oh. Right.”

The expression on Megan’s face when we walked in was heartwarming and priceless. She introduced us to her husband Roy, who was clearly besotted with his bride. (That’s exactly the word I used in a later email to her – besotted. Roy demurred, but I know the look.) :-) We were a little early, so we had time for reminiscing, catching up, jokes and stories. When the priest arrived to begin the service, it became apparent that we would be the only guests.

“Well then, why don’t you all go up and sit on the sofa together at the front – like family,” he said.

That made me smile.

There were prayers, and Scriptures, and more prayers. And then the priest invited Megan to share some stories about her grandmother. (I was surprised and delighted at this departure from the usual order of service for a Catholic memorial. It is such a kindly, compassion thing to do.) And oh! the stories! What a woman Fran was!

Fran and Gord, her husband, lived through the war with all of it’s hardships and deprivations. One time, Fran, in spite of food rationing, had managed to put together a stew for their supper. Gord quipped he didn’t know whether it was a thick soup or a thin stew, which might not have been the most supportive thing he could have said right then, and Fran made her feelings known by dumping his bowlful over his head.

He said it tasted very good.

During the blitz, as they were huddled in a bomb shelter, Fran suddenly couldn’t remember if she had left the kettle on, and asked Gord if he would go back and check. It is a measure of his devotion to his wife that he did as she asked. The kettle had not been left on, but once there Gord was confronted with a dilemma – whether to risk returning to the shelter in the middle of an air raid, or remain where he was…in the middle of an air raid. He returned (safely) to the shelter figuring if a bomb found its mark he wanted to be somewhere reinforced.

Often those who have had to manage with very little learn the value of things. Fran and Gord were living in Canada by this time and young Megan was in their care, when Fran found an aquarium at a garage sale which was priced with all its accoutrements at $5. Fran offered the sellers $3 for the aquarium alone, but they wouldn’t accept. Undeterred, Fran sent Megan in her place, but told her not to take her hat even though it was raining. However, she was to take two dollar bills with her, (this was before we switched to loonies and twonies), and get them good and wet and crumpled. She was to approach the owners and state sadly that she only had two dollars and would that be enough for just the aquarium? and then hold out her hand and show them the soggy, mashed up bills. Oh, how those big, sad eyes must have melted their hearts! The owners let her have the aquarium for two bucks, plus all the fixings, and I have no doubt they would have thrown in the garage too if she had said she wanted it. Then Fran sent Gord in the car to pick Megan up with her loot!

My personal favourite? Once Fran had moved to the nursing home, whenever the staff wanted her to do something she was not particularly inclined to do, she would fake a heart attack. Apparently this caused considerable consternation among the newer staff who would summon the paramedics only to discover her vitals were fine. Whereupon she would smile impishly at them.

After the service, I asked Megan when she was returning home.

“This afternoon,” she replied, then nodded to the urn on the table. “Fran is my carry-on.”

Oh, I laughed at that! But her words were to come back to me in the days ahead.

Eleven days after Fran’s memorial, we lost Jill. For weeks afterward I could feel nothing but rage. A visiting minister to our church lately described how he lived through his grief over the death of his wife. He said when we suffer a great loss, we need to build “a scaffolding” around our heart to protect it while it heals. For him this meant being vigilant about what music he listened to (a tender memory so easily evoked by familiar music can devastate the bereaved) and withdrawing for a time from social situations. My scaffolding was a brick wall of anger. Anger was good. Anger kept me strong, kept me going, got me through Jill’s memorial, helped me keep it all together for a while, which was a comfort to others who were looking to me for strength.

But now, ever so slowly and quietly, the bricks are coming down.

I can let myself feel what I was trying so hard not to feel for all those weeks – her presence, Jill’s loving, abiding presence which I know will companion me until I too cross over. Her hand, gentle and warm on my shoulder, her eyes brimming with encouragement and confidence in me, and her voice, still coloured with the Welsh accent she never lost even after having lived most of her life in Canada, a voice that says, “Carry on, my darling, carry on!”

I think I’m ready to do that now.

At least, I’m ready to try.

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4 Comments

  1. Valerie Hess
    Posted October 29, 2015 at 4:32 pm | Permalink

    Lovely post, Penny-Anne, and a lovely story. I wanted to share with you that while in high school, I was asked to play “Honkey-Tonk Woman” during communion. I tried to make it sound like a hymn. Who knows if I was successful but the couple seemed happy and the priest was in on the whole thing.

    • Penny-Anne
      Posted October 29, 2015 at 6:12 pm | Permalink

      Are you kidding??!! I LOVE it! “Honkey-Tonk Woman!” Oh, that is rich! Hope our choir director doesn’t read this – no telling what he’d come up with. :-) Thanks, Valerie!

  2. Michelle
    Posted November 18, 2015 at 9:51 pm | Permalink

    It helps my heart heal when I hear your scaffolding of anger is coming down brick by brick. You have been in my heart so often, and to know you’re letting yourself feel again is good for me, too. When you shared that Jill was Welsh, I said, “Ah, of course! No wonder Penny-Anne’s loss is so deep.” Thank you for sharing your process with the rest of us. I’m honored to read your words.

    • Penny-Anne
      Posted November 19, 2015 at 1:10 am | Permalink

      Thank you, Michelle. Your support and empathy has helped me to share a deeply personal grief. It is my fervent wish that you are healing too.

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