Great Grando Charles, RIP

I guess its kind of a drag to come to my blog and read about people dying, but death is a pretty huge part of life. Whether we like it or not. Early this morning, across the ocean in a small rural town just East of Paris, my grandfather Charles passed away. He was always “my grandfather in France,” who I’ve visited every few years since I was a kid. He was 94 years old, and didn’t look a day over 70. His place in my family is a complicated memory: one of war, of sadness and opportunities lost, decisions made in the face of a war-torn continent.

Do I want to get in to the whole story here? It’s convoluted, it’s long, there are many characters and cross-Atlantic boat rides. Spontaneous relationships, lovelorn Allied soldiers, and slaves to the Nazi empire. I think the heartbreak of my grandfather passing is just enough for now. I’ll tell you the story another day, because it really is a good one. I’m just not up for it at the moment.

On an historical note, the summer of 2010 marked the 70th anniversary of France’s Appeal of June 18:

The Appeal of June 18 (L’Appel du 18 Juin) was a famous speech by Charles de Gaulle, the leader of the Free French Forces, in 1940. The appeal is often considered to be the origin of the French Resistance to the German occupation during World War II. De Gaulle spoke to the French people from London after the fall of France. He declared that the war for France was not yet over, and rallied the country in support of the Resistance. It is one of the most important speeches in French history.

Marking this anniversary, France recognised all of its surviving WWII veterans, including my grandfather, with an honorary diploma from the country’s Secretary of State for Defence. Charles was one of 13 living veterans honoured in his town of Gretz-Armainvilliers. I am proud of my grandfather, who I just called Charles, and who my daughter referred to as “Great Grando.” He is in my heart always.

Out of the blue, my daughter decided that she wanted to wear this little gold necklace that Charles had given to her when she was born. She has been wearing it since Friday. Before that it has literally been sitting in a jewelry box for months. My kid is more spiritually attuned to this universe than I might realise.

Mama2 and Great Grando are finally together. Here’s a photo he had given to my grandmother a very, very long time ago.

Also, one of my favourite images of Charles from the 1940’s sent to me by my cousin Jean-Marc:

Mama2, May you Rest in Peace.

I flew into Toronto yesterday for perhaps my briefest visit ever: in at 8:45AM and out by 4:30PM. I went for my grandmother’s funeral. Though she has been ailing for months, my grandmother (better known as Mama2) died while I was in Calgary on this last tour. In Vancouver a few days later, Emily, James, Josh and Jules from Metric sent me a beautiful bouquet which we kept backstage. It was strange having to deal with death while on tour: being away from home, the opposite of comfortable and stable, and then having to reconcile your own existence during the in between moments. My sister lives in Calgary, and my Mom came out to visit, so when we found out about Mama2’s death we mourned together, as sisters, as family.

Yesterday in Toronto was spent again in mourning; going from teary-eyed to weepy to moments of sharing a relieving laughter. It was not a light affair. I worried, regretted, wondered: did I ever say goodbye to her? Is that kind of definite closure ever possible? I think it a luxury, a selfish impulse. I visited Mama2 over the past years while she was living with my parents, then at the nursing home and at the hospital and watched her in stages as she got worse, deterioriated, wavered between lucidity and confusion. Sometimes she knew me and Neptune, other times that just wasn’t possible because her mind was struggling with memory.

I do recall, during my last years of seeing her, the urge to just hug her, hold her hand, to touch her, to return the affection she had given me throughout my childhood. A couple years ago, when I would hug her she would say: “Don’t come too close, I’m sick,” but I didn’t care much for that excuse and hugged her anyway. When I last saw her in hospital I held her hand – she had the softest skin for someone who had spent their life working their fingers to the bone – I stroked her hair, as if trying to take away with my touch some of the loneliness she must have found in her illness. Mama2’s entire life was dedicated to working, to helping her family, to holding down the house and getting it done so we all could focus on our own lives. She was selfless and loving and I am grateful to her and to my family for having been raised by such a strong and devoted woman.

At the funeral home, just before the ceremony my mom asked me if I could say a few words, which certainly caught me off guard so I thought about it and when the moment came I declined. All I could think about was coming home for lunch in grade school and how Mama2 would halve and seed my grapes so I would eat them and watch The Flintstones and Definition uninterrupted – and not because I was spoiled but because seedless grapes were more expensive and Mama2 never wanted us to feel poor, or that we had less, or that we should ever be denied anything in life…as her life had been throughout WWII: a series of events that took everything from her again and again.

And so when I held her hand at the hospital in early December, it was the last time I saw her, and the last time I looked at her with all my love, as I always have. And I always will; for my last goodbye will be ongoing, as I live out my life and share everything with Neptune, as Mama2 would have wanted: fearlessly, passionately, honestly, lovingly and forever.

This isn’t much of a “Happy New Year’s” sentiment. But this is a time about endings and new beginnings, of living forward and respecting our families and friends, and thinking about the future. I thank you for sharing this blog with me, and hope we can all share more love, truth and trust in 2009.

Yours ever, Natalia