Thursday, May 5, 2016

A Life Well Lived

Dear friends of Ellena's

This will be my last post on Ellena's Cocologie blog. After some reflection, I decided it would be best to bring my blog site back to life (once I reload all the lost photos) and leave Mom's as is. Her stories, thoughts and words are hers and although I'd love to add the last stories she had in mind ... well there is always a reason for everything even when events don't happen. This last post will be in honour of Mom's life as we celebrated it this past week end.

HEADS UP ... This is a long blog post since I included her eulogy and life video. So ... grab a coffee, a tea, a beer or wine ... maybe even something to snack on and spend some time with Ellena's life.

Mom's Life Celebration was held on Saturday April 30th in Patrick's house (Maison Céres) at Maison Emmanuel. They have a hall they use for their performances and meetings that Mom suggested we use so that we could also be close to the community. It was a wonderful clear sunny day with a beautiful deep blue sky and just enough warmth to keep us comfortable. We could not have asked for better weather!

Tanya and I arrived Friday to decorate/setup. One table was dedicated to Mom - A large photo of her, Oma's Koro with Mom's ashes inside, a video montage of her life that I put together using photos, and personal items including a tray of marzipan!  Another table was setup with homemade cakes (the kind mom baked or liked), coffee, tea, cheeses, wine and more marzipan. Flowers decorated both table - mostly pink and purple tulips. Mom always preferred wild day to day flowers versus roses and carnations.

Family and friends began to arrive around 1:30 pm. Mom had suggested we hire Marie-Christine to play the harp and so we did. Marie-Christine played from 1:30 pm until 2:00 pm. The music was heavenly, soft classical melodies which greeted visitors. The celebration began promptly at 2:00 pm with Armelle singing 'Oh Solitude' by Purcell, accompanied by 2 musicians playing a base and a lute (another request Mom had directly made to Armelle). Mom has known Armelle, her husband Renaud and their children for a long time and always enjoyed their company. She was part of their family and often saw Renaud's father when he would visit from France. The song was lovely and a touch melancholic. I could see that Armelle was emotional as she presented her song and also pleased to perform it once more for Mom.

Then it was my turn to speak. What I'd hope to convey in the eulogy was Mom's warmth, thoughtfulness, compassion and joie de vivre and mesh her many qualities with context and highlight other wonderful aspects of Mom. I must admit that I was a bit concerned because I didn't want to get too emotional as I talked - a quivering voice and some tears are ok but outright 'balling' wasn't (not for that day anyway). I remained calm, focussed on the 'specialness' of the day and took in all the loving, respectful and caring energy that everyone brought. To my surprise, their presence kept me grounded and, without pressure, reminded me why I was here - to honour Mom. What follows is Mom's eulogy. It was in English and French but I'm just posting the English version.

Before I begin, I’d like to take a moment and absorb all the loving energy that’s here today. I see many people that I know personally and many others who are very familiar because I’ve heard Mom speak so fondly of you over the years.

We’re gathered here today to celebrate Ellena’s life.  Some of you knew Ellena as Madame Bouzaglo, Ellena, tante Ellena, Oma, Mémé and to us she was Mom.

I’m not going to go into any details about Mom’s illness, as I am sure many of you were aware of her situation, which has led us all to being here today. Mom passed away on February 12th,  more suddenly than expected. The only good thing that came from being aware of her illness – is that it gave US a chance to spend more time with her, to support her, to care for her and to show her how much she was loved - that’s not an opportunity many of us get.  We often look at a hastened death as being a blessing because our loved one didn’t have to suffer too long yet it does’t minimize the sadness and pain of our loss.

As we announced Mom’s passing to relatives, friends and acquaintances, a few common descriptions (for a lack of a better word) came up very frequently.
·      Her door was always open
·      She made us feel welcomed and at home
·      She was thoughtful and giving
·      A true Lady, classy and with style
·      She was full of laughter, always in a good mood

Our mother was indeed all of this and more.

Mom was a warm, compassionate, dignified and vibrant woman who had a passion for life, friendships and traditions. She was forever thoughtful with a wonderful sense of humour and a welcoming smile. It’s a great testament to her nature that she, over the years, formed so many long lasting and new friendships.  She easily endeared people she met and so many have expressed how fondly they remember her and that she will always have a special place in their hearts.

Mom’s heart, generosity, and welcoming hospitality knew no bounds. Her door was always open – I mean literally … because she rarely locked it. You could just walk in, which is what most people did, and she would be there for you. Community members, friends, and family all knew they had a place they could visit for a minute, an hour, a day or a week.  Her hospitality was genuine, gracious and most importantly she made you feel welcomed.

I often visited when my children were younger. We’d head off on this long 6 hour drive and get all excited as we’d hit Montée Beauvais, the bumpy road patch with its little roller coaster feel. She would greet us with a huge smile, plenty of hugs and kisses, a snack, a glass of wine for me and some Gipsy King music playing in the background. We’d have a week of small adventures, splash in blueberry pond and lots of berry picking in all the secret spots Mom had discovered!

Let me tell you a little bit about her life …
Mom was born on March 15th, 1935 in Berlin, Germany. Her family lived in Greece during most of the war and returned to Germany in the early forties. She spent her childhood and adolescent years in various small towns in the Black Forest area. She married young and had her first child, me, at 20. Then we immigrated to Canada in 1956. She remarried in 1970, and shortly after Tanya and Patrik were born. Mom was a modern age woman who enjoyed working and her independence yet she was also rooted in deep traditions. She juggled being a mother, a sister, a daughter, an insurance broker, a friend, a creative being, a tradition keeper, and tending to Patrik’s special needs with grace and always found the energy to live up to her commitments even when times got tough. She moved to the Laurentians in the early 90’s – a place she truly loved and where she felt at home.  Mom always talked about the Black Forest with fondness – the rolling hills, the tall pine trees and the winding trails – I’m pretty sure that her past experiences were at the root of her love for her new home in Val Morin.
To this date, Mom had the gift of lifting spirits through her thoughtful acts – She was never extravagant but she had the knack of finding or doing something that warmed our hearts. Even on my last visit, she had bought me a sponge at Canadian Tire … why? Because I liked the sponge she used to wash her dishes with and complained about how mine didn’t hold the soap well. I later told her that I could not find it in any of my local store. This little thing … a sponge … nothing fancy … but I was so happy when she gave it to me! She was happy to have brought a smile on my face and I was happy because she had thought of me, remembered, and went out of her way to get me this plain old nothin’ sponge!  Small things that warm the heart!
Mom valued her friends, new and old, and nurtured friendships as if they were treasures. To this date she kept in touch with her old friends: Maja (who she met in high school), Eileen and Carol (who she met through in work in 1962 and 1967), the Hoopman’s (who she met shortly after arriving in Canada), Nick and Van (who she met in the late 70’s) and she also made many new friends …... which I won’t list because it’s a long one!  
Mom’s thoughtfulness was most obvious when it came to birthdays and Christmas. Family and close friends were always remembered and you bet there’d be a card or a small gift with a personalized quote inscribed in it. Sending a card in a timely matter was always very important to Mom and she’d sometimes tell me about so and so’s upcoming birthday and hoping they would receive their card on time! One year she went on and on, asking me daily if I had received her Christmas cards/mini packages. I was a little surprised at her nervousness and had to make a point of going to the mailbox on a daily basis - which I normally don’t do since all I get is bills and junk mail and we also because we have one of those mail box centres. Finally the envelopes arrived and Mom calmed down. We had specific instructions to not open anything before Christmas and to make sure we all opened at the same time. Well – it turns out that Mom felt very generous that year and had mailed my children and I a bundle of cash for Christmas!!! So … Not just 10’s and 20’s  … she put 50 and 100 dollar bills into these small photo albums and just put it in the mail … unregistered. No wonder she was near panic knowing that she had put 2 thousand dollars in the mail!  I can just see Mom giggling, anticipating our shock, and delighted that she was able to really surprise us … that’s just like Mom!
Mom loved holidays and made Easter and Christmas magical. Christmas was in fact her specialty – and that’s where our fondest memories lie. Store bought and handmade decorations dressed the tree and the home, German sweets were laid out here and there (and that included lots of marzipan), traditional sauerkraut and goose was always on the menu, and thoughtful gifts lay under the tree wrapped in Mom’s special creative and unique manner. Everything was a magical and a sensory delight. She even went through a phase where she used real candles on the Christmas tree! I have to admit that it made us (my husband and I) very nervous and I’d fill a bucket with water, keep it close to the tree just in case but the experience was beautiful and totally worth the discomfort!
Mom also had a love for the arts: music, books, poetry, and art were always a part of her life. Among her favourites were Van Gogh, Toulouse Lautrec, Leonard Cohen, Mordicai Richler, George Moustaki, Jacques Brel, Omar Kayam and many classical musicians. She especially enjoyed all the co-worker’s musical talents. She fuelled this passion and interest by actively seeking out related activities : she joined a reading group, a choir group, worked one summer at CAMMAC (which is music camp), volunteered at the yearly music festival in Ste Agathe, supported local artists by visiting their exhibitions especially the 1001 Pots festival hosted by Kenya. Every year she’d attend events, tell me who she saw and how she loved the music or the dance or the objects she saw. Mom’s interest in words and expression eventually brought her to writing her own blog. Yes – Mom had a blog - and just like her, she made friends there too! She felt technically challenged and complained often about not being a good writer but her style was beautiful, unique, and fresh. She kept saying how she was computer challenged yet she knew her way around a computer and the internet a lot more than most people her age.
Mom also devoted herself to causes that were close to her heart. She participated at all Maison Emmanual celebrations and events; volunteered at their bakery, at the library in Val Morin, at musical festivals and at the Ste Agathe hospital. She kept herself busy with activities that brought meaning to her life and in turn met many people who she enjoyed and who also became fond of her.
With all her interests and accomplishments, Mom was modest about herself concerning her abilities and achievements. She possessed great resourcefulness, was level-headed and had integrity. She was also a private, self-contained person, gentle, sensitive and sympathetic.

All these qualities and traits belonged to a woman we called Ellena, Tante Ellena, Oma, Mémé and Mom. Many roles to many people with a lovely human essence that touched us all.
Loss is a sobering event that makes us re-evaluate what we hold dear. When someone you love becomes a memory, the memory becomes a treasure. We, my siblings and family and extended family, miss her dearly and are still coming to terms with our loss. 
Mom is probably looking down at us right now, with that little mischievous smile of hers, delighted that we are all together and thinking “Keep your tears for later, mingle amongst yourselves, share memories and please don’t forget to laugh and dance.”

Thank you all for coming. Your presence speaks volumes of the impact our mother had on so many people, and how much she was respected, cherished and loved.

To a life well lived and until we meet again!

My sister Tanya then read a passage she had recently found. It is a letter written by a mother and reads just like something our mother would say to us.  

When I’m gone and the minutes turn into hours, and the hours turn into days, the heaviness inside your heart may seem too much to bear.

I know you will long to hear my voice sing the songs that I loved, see my face, sit beside me, tell me you love me, hear my laugh, or just have those simple conversations we once had.
I know that it probably hurts more than anything else ever has, and you feel like you just cannot go on.
I am sorry I had to go, but my body just couldn’t do it anymore. There is nothing more that I wanted than to spend a lifetime with all of you. I fought with every ounce of my being because of the love we all share. What I want you to understand is that even though all of that physical stuff is gone from sight, our love will never cease to exist. The love that we share is what will carry you through. Our ties, our bond, and our love cannot be severed.
Love is the most powerful force on Earth and transcends all…even death.
Life will be different when I’m gone; you won’t like it and you may want to fight it. You will want to scream out loud in agony, but when you pick yourself back up off the floor, like I expect you to, remember that love. Let that love emanate through your body. I am there, our love is there, I am just gone from sight.
You all are aware that I always had high expectations of myself and I have even higher expectations of you now that I am gone. When every cell in your being wants to give up and wallow because the sadness and pain are unbearable, I want you to take some time and allow yourself that, but then I need you to put two feet on the ground for me. When you cannot do it for yourself, do it for me. I no longer have that privilege.
You are going to want the world to stop turning, and you will want to holler at all of the people continuing their lives while you are stuck in this vast array of darkness, but when it is dark, I want you to wake up and watch the sun rise. Each day, when you feel like you cannot put one foot in front of the other, watch the sun slowly rise through the clouds and know that I am still there with you. When night falls and the sorrow rears its ugly head, go outside and look up at the stars and the moon and realize the intricacies of the universe and speak to me, I am there.
With the change of every season, think of me and find a way to honor my spirit. As the Spring showers start falling, the birds start singing, and the magnolia trees start blooming, take a moment to take it all in and appreciate the beauty. During the Summer, enjoy the warmth of the sun on your face, the flowers, the fresh cut grass, the insanely beautiful summer storms and rainbows. I will be in each of these things. As Fall begins to come around the corner…enjoy the crisp air, and as you watch the leaves fall from the trees, realize that this death will soon give way to a rebirth to life. When the snow starts falling for the first time, go outside and let the snowflakes fall on your tongue, and enjoy each moment.
We are always connected, you just need to find a way to keep that connection…it may be through a ladybug, or a butterfly, or a song, or a beautiful sunset, or some crazy thing we did together, but it is there, and it will always be there. You now have the opportunity to expand your heart into something you didn’t know existed; I have no doubt in your ability to do so.
Most importantly, I need you all to live your lives with strength and love…two qualities that I showed as I lived my life. I need you all to live boldly, with passion and determination. I expect you to love with everything inside of your soul, unapologetically. Love is all we have to give of ourselves, and love is what is going to carry you through this unbearable pain. So when I am gone, love big, love fully with every piece of your heart, and don’t leave anything ever left unsaid.
Speak my name often, tell my story, and teach everyone who comes into your path. Close your eyes and open your spirit and you will feel me beside you…guiding you every step of the way. You all gave me the best life a girl could ask for.

We socialized with family and friend until 4 pm and then it was time to put Mom's ashes to rest. We decided to go to this little bridge, not far from where she lived, and drop her ashes into the river. Uncle Tino wanted to carry Mom to the bridge which to me felt completely à propos; in fact we, my sister and I, thought it would be perfect to have uncle Tino be the first to disperse Mom's ashes. Tanya's eldest read a short poem that I had recently found - this poem reflected what I thought Mom would say to us all:

After Glow
I’d like the memory of me to be a happy one.
I’d like to leave an after glow of smiles when life is done,
I’d like to leave an echo whispering softly down the ways,
Of happy times and laughing times and bright and  summer days.

I’d like the tears of those who grieve, to dry before the sun,
Of happy memories that I leave when life is done.

By Helen Lowrie Marshall

We played Ave Maria (the same version which was played after Mom had her last sedation) as uncle Tino began to release her ashes into the air. My youngest nephew (Hayden) was responsible for throwing tulips into the river. Our hearts were sad yet there was this solemn air around us. I simultaneously felt warmth and joy as we celebrated Mom together as a family.

Her ashes dispersed like a cloud of golden dust as they hit the water, dispersing even more as she melted away and followed the tulips. What a sight!  A bald eagle flew not far from us. 

Just like mom   Her life was lived gracefully, her death was graceful and now the last step, putting her to rest, was just as graceful. Warm tears clung to my eyes, not willing to let go of this moment, and I just let them evaporate as I participated and shared this last precious moment with Mom.

Our evening was spent at the chalet I had rented. Everyone brought something to eat and we had a fantastic evening enjoying each other's company.  The night ended feeling at peace, knowing that we had spent the day celebrating Mom the way she would have liked it - remembering the fun, joy, blessings and gifts she brought to so many people's lives. There was no room for sadness ... at least not that night.

In closing ... Here is a snapshot of Mom's life from 1935 to 2016. 

Link to Ellena's video (unlisted in youtube)

It certainly is not my role to thank you on her behalf ... but I am grateful and so happy that she had you ...  such wonderful supportive and kind writers as she ventured into the world of blogging - A different kind of friendship which I'm sure Mom never anticipated. Sharing her stories and thoughts in a written manner wasn't in Mom's nature but you all made it easy for her through your compassionate words.


Tom said...

Ah Trish. How does one compose a comment after all that? I don't know. However, I do hope that this post will remain for a very long time, available for many a re-reading. My heart kneels before the memory of a lovely lady and friend.

Rouchswalwe said...

My dear Pasha, I have read your words, shed a tear, and watched the snapshot whilst drinking a pint of 'Spruced Traditional Gose' (your sweet Mama would want to know exactly what kind of beer it is). Thank you so very much for including us, the blog friends. If I may, I'll add your blog link to my list.
The other day, I had to refer back to one of my old posts, and there was a comment from Ellena. How wonderful!

Trish said...

Dear Tom and Rouchswalwe. Thank you so much for your words. Life is slowly getting back into some shape of a normalcy. There are times where I am still in disbelief even though the reality is clear.Fortunately, Spring is here, nature is coming back to life and so am I. I've been planning to move and my decision making process has somewhat stalled knowing that my state of mind may blur how I look at things. Life does go on, must go on with vitality and I remind myself to fully embrace all experiences. I look forward to being behind my camera again, reading books, and getting to know you through your blogs!

Carol Waterman said...

Thank you dear Patricia for sharing such beautiful memories. My heart pounded as I read every word. Seeing all the photos in your video "Mom's life from 1935 to 2016” reminded me of how blessed I was to have known her. Ellena will remain forever in my heart with love! Be well my friend.

I give you this one thought to keep –
I am with you still - I do not sleep.

I am a thousand winds that blow,
I am the diamond glints on snow,
I am the sunlight on ripened grain,
I am the gentle autumn rain.

When you awaken in the morning's hush,
I am the swift, uplifting rush of quiet birds in circled flight.
I am the soft stars that shine at night.

Do not think of me as gone - I am with you still - in each new dawn.
~ Native American Prayer ~

Trish said...

Thank you for your poem Carol and of course your caring and kindness. I know how much Mom meant to you. We were blessed to have her in our lives! The poem makes me think of her spirit and maybe that is why it is sometimes hard to believe that she is gone. She is forever in my heart, living there along with all the memories and very present ... and I'm still learning lessons which in fact are everlasting gifts from Mom. This is all part of life and as much as I can have moments of feeling deep loss ... for some reason I am also at peace knowing that some day I will be where she is ... either nowhere and in the hearts of my loved ones living in their memories or in some beautiful after life where we meet again. This may sound confusing and filled with duality but then that's how I seem to grasp things so that I can cope. Hugs to you Carol and I do hope to have some time to connect with you in person on one of my visits to Montreal.

Lucy said...

So glad to read this, it sounds as though you gave her a wonderful sen off. It also fills in one or two of the gaps in what I knew about her life. What an amazing person she was, and how she lived life right to the end.

I hope you do get your own blog up and running again, like Rouchswalwe, I'll keep it on a feed and hope to 'see' you again there...

Roderick Robinson said...

I thought you might be interested in this sonnet: the E. referred to is of course Ellena.

Sonnet: On visiting the blog of a dead friend

The sap has dried, disabled stalks have turned
To compost – and he’d know the truth of that.
For me decay, for him life’s stuff re-formed,
It’s not my field, I’ll simply tip my hat.

Others have taken this way. Like E. who
“Passed by – like Time” and died, another friend.
Her roots were strong, the wit between us grew,
She blossomed to an uncomplaining end.

In glades of death the plant that grows is loss,
Who needs a bell that sounds nonentity?
Why should it be worth my while to doss
Down here wanly in tranquillity?

Text is quite silent, echoes come from sound,
Where else might such a miracle be found?

Trish said...

Thank you Roderick. So much imagery! There is always a lot to say about loss and the many ways we experience the pain. Recently I have begun to direct my thoughts towards the imprints which in turn have become seeds and will flourish in others and get passed on through some small act. Similar to the 'butterfly effect' ...

To All ...

My loss has morphed many times over the past months. Mid September until now has been especially difficult. Mom and I both loved the Fall and it was always a delight to visit her this time of the year. I longed to see the Laurentian colours but I also knew that this year the weight of her loss would render me colour blind. I cannot imagine myself navigating the curvy roads, seeing the majestic colours, spotting a deer, smelling the dried leaves and hearing the crunch under my feet without her by my side giggling or talking about one subject or another. Today is my birthday and I long to hear the story of my birth which she would recall every year! Fortunately, today isn't as bad as I thought it would be ... of course our minds can play out so many scenarios that never occur!

I was hoping to get back to my blog but I've been busy finding a new home, moving and trying to keep physically busy to stop my mind from wandering. Winter is around the corner and my less active lifestyle will give me plenty of time to sit at the PC ... read your blogs and let my own words flow into who knows what.

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