Goodbye to Evelyn

It was only recently that we buried my mother-in-law, Evelyn Goold. She lived a good, long life that was much less good at the end. As readers of this column know, Evelyn had Alzheimer’s disease. The last time my husband Doug saw her, she was anxious and very confused, and really didn’t seem to know where she was or even who she was. Up until a few months ago, she’d have glimmers of recognition, but there were none at the end. She was one month shy of her 99th birthday when she passed.

Most of Evelyn’s friends and relatives predeceased her. She was vivacious and social, and continued to make friends when she first arrived at Princess Gardens, the excellent Peterborough, Ont., residence where she lived after her diagnosis in 2006. But she could no longer socialize by the time she moved to the third floor – the locked unit for residents who can no longer find their own way to and from their rooms.

“We may be the only ones who show up at the funeral,” Doug told me as he was planning the funeral. Of course, I knew that would not be the case. On a perfect sunny spring day, we had a simple graveside service, followed by a reception at the nursing home. There were two Anglican ministers – who actually knew her, some neighbours from Prince Street, where she lived for more than 50 years, and a posse of our friends from Toronto.

“Tell them not to bother coming,” Doug said when our friends started asking about the arrangements. I held my tongue as I was thinking: “I will absolutely NOT tell them that.” Not that they would have listened. It is becoming a familiar and extremely binding ritual: attending funerals for a friend’s parent. It is so meaningful that once someone does it for you, you make sure to be there for them. When the day came, Doug was grateful and comforted by their presence.

My mother, Chaya, was the first woman in her circle to die, nearly 20 years ago. At the time, many of her friends joined us in our vigil in the hospital during her final weeks, and they shepherded us through the funeral and the shiva (official week of mourning in the Jewish tradition). I felt very comforted, in that cocoon of grief, by our family, and the community I had grown up with in Montreal. But there is nothing to describe the feeling I had when I looked up at the funeral and saw two of my close friends from Toronto who had made the trip for me.

Elsa was one of those two people. This time she came with our sister-in-law Marilyn to honour Evelyn. The service for her mother Ida, was the last funeral we attended before Evelyn’s. Ida died in December, three months after her 100th birthday, which she celebrated at a party with 150 guests, where she made a speech! That might be the kind of exit many of us wish for, but it is still profoundly sad to lose your mother.

Vicki’s mother Helen died back in 2000. I always knew she was musical, but it wasn’t until then that I learned she’d had a radio program back in the 1930s. I recall trying unsuccessfully to unearth some of those programs for the memorial.

And it’s hard to believe it’s been 10 years since the funeral for Eithne’s father. I remember driving to London, Ontario very early in the morning with Sandy and Tony, two friends who were also with us in Peterborough. We arrived at the church early, and had to wait for a wedding party to disperse before we could go in for the funeral mass. It’s the kind of scene that brings home the cycle of life, and perhaps the realization that our generation is next.

We had such a reminder on Evelyn’s death. Our nephew, Leith, was visiting. It was fluke of timing. He was spending one day in Toronto on the way home to Vancouver after finishing his first year at McGill. We got word that Evelyn’s condition was dire, and Doug immediately left for Peterborough.

Leith did not remember Evelyn – but our friends certainly did. She visited often for holidays – she loved parties and was a great guest. I would look over to make sure she was okay at some large gathering, and she would inevitably be engaged in a lively conversation, smiling and happy and perfectly turned out. She was a religious woman who nevertheless welcomed me and my family, back when mixed-faith marriages were a bigger deal. She was a lifelong reader and a lifelong walker – two factors that kept her engaged even after the disease started to take her from us. It will probably take time to fully remember the person Evelyn Goold was before Alzheimer’s. It is good that our friends are part of all those memories. It is good to have them to help us say goodbye.

 

Libby Znaimer ([email protected]) is VP of News on AM740 and Classical 96.3 FM (ZoomerMedia properties), where she also hosts The Zoomer Report. Her book, In Cancerland: Living Well Is the Best Revenge (Key Porter), is available at www.carp.ca/libby.

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