RIP: Cecily Wilkinson

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Cecily WilkinsonWater flooded my grandmother’s grave on the day of her funeral. The warmer weather of the early spring had started to thaw the ground, and as I helped lower the casket into the vault, I could hear clumps of sod splash into the pool of water below. We stood together in the mud and cold, those few of us who came to see her one final time. Each mourner laid a rose on her casket, and after the funeral director told us the ceremony was over, we ambled back to our cars, not able to lower her into her final resting place.

Back at her house, a house I hadn’t seen in 20 years or more, we shared stories about my grandmother. Some of us laughed, others continued to cry. Her passing was sudden, and it hit my cousin particularly hard. My cousin had spent more time with my grandmother than any of us, largely due to the fact that they both lived in Toronto. As my grandmother aged and ailed, my cousin was always there to lend a hand. Now that long-time duty was over.

Years ago, I had told Morah about my grandmother’s house. How it had a bar in the basement. How my grandmother had a garden in the backyard. I wanted to take her in the summer, to see my grandmother, to see Toronto when everything is green and bright. That’s not the trip we ended up taking. Nothing was green. The city was cold, brown, and muddy. The chill in the air as it came off Lake Ontario forced us quickly back indoors should we try to venture outside.

It was interesting to see what triggered my emotions. Seeing her bathrobe hanging on the back of her bedroom door, so like her daughter, my mother. An old pair of glasses in the nightstand, one of many around the house. Smelling her washing powder in my towel as I dried my face after a shower. Even before the trip I little triggers confronted me. My parents called from her house, so the caller ID on my phone said, “Cecily Wilkinson,” and I sat stunned for a moment as my brain tried to reconcile with itself what exactly was going on. I had set up a recurring event on my calendar reminding me to email her, and deleting that event was an odd moment. The calendar asked me if I wanted to delete all instances of the event, or just the ones from now on. It felt like being asked if I wanted to pretend that she had never existed.

Morah and I arrived in Toronto the day before my grandmother’s funeral. Flying across the country for a funeral had us in poor enough spirits, and flight delays due to a whiteout in Denver made matters worse. When we finally arrived, it was over 5 hours later than scheduled. As we ate a late dinner, my dad asked if anyone was going to give a eulogy. My mom said she didn’t think she would be able to, and she knew my cousin would be a wreck. I offered to, hoping myself that I could keep it together long enough to get through the whole thing. “Think of it as a performance,” I told myself, “use your acting skills.” I didn’t cry when I stood at the podium, but once I sat down with my family, reality quickly made its way back in and let my emotions out again.

The morning of the funeral I sat down with a pen and paper, and wrote what I was going to say a few hours later. It was tough to get started, but once I hit a groove, the words came easily. Here is the eulogy that I gave for my grandmother, including the on-the-fly edit I made to better tie in with what the minister said before I spoke.

“When I close my eyes and picture my grandmother, she always has a smile on her face. As we heard earlier, she loved kids. I have fond memories of vacation with my sister, Ashley, and my cousins, Jason and Jennifer, spent at grandma’s cottage on Lake Kushog. She loved to see us have fun, and if we ever ran out of ideas, you could bet grandma had one ready.

“Today is the first time I’ve seen my grandmother in more years than I’d care to admit, but I spoke with her often via phone and email. She loved for me to send pictures of my son, Tommy, and tell her about whatever cute thing he had been doing lately. I could hear her smile as we spoke, and she would tell me—with great pride—about Tristan and Tyler, her other grandkids.

“For as much as she loved to see us laugh, she loved to laugh at us. She had a sharp wit, and was quick with a joke or a sarcastic comment. Grandma could also be quite a prankster. She had this rubber snake that she used to hide around the cabin, and scared each of us with it a fair few times. So dedicated to this joke was she, that she brought the snake with her to Hawaii one time, just to prank us with it. She got as good as she gave, though, and I remember one time where I gave her a proper scare with that snake by hiding it under the lid of the toilet. We all had a good laugh over that one.

“We’ve set aside this day to mourn and cry for her passing. But after today, when you close your eyes and picture grandma, I hope you’ll smile and laugh. I’m pretty sure she would have wanted it that way.”

I had never seen a dead body before. I wasn’t sure how I would feel, especially since it was someone I loved. It was certainly odd to see her. We all agreed that she didn’t look quite right, but I suspect they never do. Something is missing, and it’s the part that makes that person who they are. Or were. My grandmother wasn’t in that casket; it was just her body. Just a vessel she had previously inhabited. It looked a lot like her, but she was already gone. Still, since I couldn’t say goodbye to her, this would have to do.

Though all the tears, hugs, and consoling pats on the back have helped me to accept her death and move forward, there are still feelings I have to work through on my own. Feelings of regret and frustration. Since he was born, Morah and I have talked about taking Tommy to visit my grandmother. She had grown too old to travel to see us, and I wanted to show Morah where I spent some of my childhood vacations. We never made the trip. Grandma never got to meet Tommy. When he grows up, I can’t tell him that he met her before she died. I can’t show him pictures of the two of them together. The worst part is, I could have done something about it. I could have decided to make the trip at any time, but life always got in the way, and the trip was never a priority. I took my grandmother for granted, and I regret that.

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  1. Jenn King

    That was very beautiful.

  2. Adam

    My condolences my friend. I’m sure she felt she knew Tommy. You paint clear word pictures. I’m positive that those, and the pictures and videos you shared created a palpable and vivid connection. Im sorry for your loss.

  3. Judy

    You gave your Grandmother a proper send off and she would certainly have been proud of you- in fact, you know she is!
    Remember the great memories and give up the regrets! We can only learn from our mistakes so make that trip or make that phone call or send that email and remember
    to tell the people you love those great words “I love you” at every chance!
    My thoughts are with you!

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