Thursday 30 May 2019

She was strong and taught me to be.

In one of my favourite photos of myself I am about 4 and standing in my Nana's garden among the flowers most of which are taller then I was. I am smiling and happy because when I was with my Nana I was the centre of the universe and she treated with me with so much value and respect as a person.

She was 5 feet tall and rode a three wheeled bicycle to the grocery store with me riding in the basket. She made her own clothes and sewed for her family and friends. She grew her own food and made root beer in her cellar. She was perhaps the strongest woman I will ever know and she walked her path with integrity and compassion.

She came to this place as my Nana down a path that many people have only ever read about in books.   She was born in the early 1900's to immigrant parents who were farming in the middle of nowhere on the prairies because they knew that life would be better than the one they had in Eastern Europe. She was one of 10 kids and although there was often not enough of anything they always had something to share with a visitor whether they knew them or not. She was raised to serve and to care for her the people in her family and in her community.

At about 16 she began teaching school and in the coming years she left the farm to be a nun. It was the expectation of her parents and since she was always one to listen to her parents off she went. She stayed for a number of years but as the time came to make her final vows she declared that she was not going to be able to make that commitment and she left the religious order. Her family was devastated and would not speak to her for some time. She was far away from them in large city and the nuns gave her a job as a teacher in a school that they ran. She taught as a layperson along side her former sisters and spoke fondly of those years as she moved into being an independent young woman.

Eventually she met a man and fell in love. She got pregnant and they got married. They had a son and two years later they had another son (my dad). At some point soon after they married my Nana discovered that her new husband was addicted to alcohol and gambling and when things did not go well at the club he would come home and hit her. She put up with his abusive behaviour for as long as she could but after about 10 years which included a move to the west coast so he could escape his bad debts she finally realized that he was not likely to change.

She kicked him out of their home and told him he could only his sons when we was sober. It was the the 1950's and she faced so much criticism for her choice to protect the physical safety of herself and her sons. It was hard but she made it work, she sewed for people and washed clothes. She encouraged her boys and threw herself into her church community and sang in their award winning choir. She held her head up high and walked forward showing the world that she had made the right choice.

This strong vibrant woman was the one I would come to know as a child, fiercely protective of all of us she would do whatever was needed to keep us all happy and healthy. There is a story about my Dad being responsible for the laundry and his solution being to take to his Mom's house so she could do it for him. Which of course she continued to do until my Mom found out! She would cook me whatever I asked for and sewed for me including making elaborate outfits for my dolls when I was there either after school on the weekend. Her home was my favourite place to be.

When I was about 8 my Uncle died. My Nana was devastated, she loved him with every fibre of her being even though he was a drug addict and much like his father had become quite abusive towards her. I vividly remember her profound grief as she tried to lift him out of the coffin at his funeral. I could not then, at 8, understand that her grief was so wrapped in the choices and decisions she had made and wishing that she had done things differently. All I saw was her tears and profound sadness at the loss of her son even though I did not understand why she was upset that this man who was often quite scary to me, had died.

But now as I miss Kevin and wish that we could have made different choices with and for him I understand her grief. I understand that as strong and courageous as she was she still thought that she could have changed things if she had just loved more, done more, changed her decisions. The reality is there was nothing she could have done to change the way that my Uncle lived or died.

This week I am trying to give myself the grace that I gave to her as a teen and young adult when she would talk about her regrets at the way things had turned out with her husband and with her sons. I remember talking about the cycle of addiction and how she could not of changed the choices that those men made and that she was brave and strong to leave her husband when she did. How she was a  good courageous person who had made a difference in the lives of so many people with her actions and her love.

My Nana taught me everything I know about compassion, commitment and forgiveness because no matter how badly she had been hurt she still never spoke badly of any of the men who hurt her and instead hoped that with time they would heal and come back into relationship with her. There is a part of my heart that holds out that same hope for Kevin and hopes that next time I see him will not be because his choices meant the end of his life.

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