by Sara Marchessault
*I wrote and delivered this eulogy in October 2010 for my grandmothers funeral. Posting it here just feels right.
Good morning. I’m Sara, one of Claire’s granddaughters. I’m truly honored this morning to be here today and to have the opportunity to talk about one of my favorite people. Today is a chance for us to celebrate the life of a woman we loved and who touched each of us in one way or another. I feel like I can honestly say that even for the few people here who didn’t know her personally or very well. For those of us who were privileged to know her, we have taken the best parts of her life and carried them out into the world. Her sense of family, her ability to see the good in most situations, and her endless capacity to love are all elements that her children and grandchildren have picked up on. I have friends who tell me what a great family I have; they’re right. We honestly care about each other at a deep level and we accept one another no matter what. Memere brought this value into our lives and it’s because of her influence and example that we are the family we are today.
That value system is Memere’s legacy, her gift to us. It’s not uncommon when a person dies to hear or read about the legacy they left, the impact they made on the world, or what they left behind. For Memere, her pride and joy was her family. She was always proud of us, happy to see us, and had more love to share than many of us ever express. In terms of her legacy, I thought I’d start today with a few facts about Memere:
Her birthday was April 15, 1925. At the age of 18, she married Pepere and from that point on spent every day for the next 67 years with at least one member of her beloved family, her legacy.
Memere moved 38 times in her life – 10 times in Canada and 28 times in the US! With that many moves and that many family members, something was always changing. Belongings were packed and unpacked, children were born, loved ones died, holidays and celebrations came and went, Memere’s hairstyle and color were modified – in essence life happened. Memere’s love for her family and her faith that God has a greater plan kept her steadfast and strong as she walked her path and I know both are with her now as she continues her journey.
I could talk about Memere all day. Indeed for the last week there have been many stories shared and memories recalled. I’ve chosen five areas of her life to focus on today that I think she would like to be remembered for and that I think we can all take a little something from as we move on from today.
The first is that Memere was a great storyteller. She had a gift for remembering names and dates; as the years went on she started giving calendars to her kids with birthdays and anniversaries filled in. She rarely forgot what happened on any given day. Most recently I heard that she reminded Dan that October 14th was her father’s birthday. The point is that her memory was sharp and she was happy to share what she knew. She shared stories about her childhood, her family, her mother, the factory she worked in, the farms she lived on, her children, and grandchildren; we all have stories that Memere told to us or about us that we can fondly recall. Through her storytelling we got to know her better. We enjoyed her sense of humor and became connected to the people who were important to her. I feel strongly that the lesson here is that we all have a story to tell, a life to share, and that in doing so, we build relationships that run deep and last a lifetime. Listening to others and sharing your stories in turn is a model way to spread your legacy.
The next gift that I feel Memere has shared with those who knew her was her love of music. Memere loved to sing and she so enjoyed sharing that gift. Maybe not everyone got a chance to enjoy this part of her life, but for those of use who did, we will fondly remember the sound of Memere singing along to her favorite Patsy Cline or Charlie Pride tunes. And in her later years, she was a huge fan of Daniel O’Donnell, who she was able to meet, which gave her a great story to tell. Music is a gift from God and really when you get down to it, who doesn’t like music? What I think I learned from Memere is that every one can sing, it’s just that not everyone sounds so great.
When I was eleven years old Memere taught me one of the most important lessons I would ever learn. We were baking a cake and she was letting me use her mixer. While the batter was coming together, I stuck a heavy metal spoon into the bowl with the mixing forks. The spoon was sucked into the bowl, ruining the forks and bending them beyond repair. I remember standing in her kitchen holding the bent forks out to her and being so upset that I ruined something that belonged to Memere. And of course sometimes timing for these things is perfect and in walked my Dad, who got really upset with me that I’d ruined the mixer. Memere just hugged me and said, “don’t worry Sara. I’ve had that mixer for over twenty years and I’ve gotten my use out of it. It’s no big deal.” And with those few words and the simple effort to keep a young girl from being too upset, Memere enforced one of the most important lessons she would ever convey to me: it was just a thing. Memere lived a life of simplicity, one without excessive material possessions. Her treasures were the people she loved and the time she spent with them. I’ve thought of that day several times as I’ve been walking my life path and when I recall that afternoon I think of what Memere could have said. She could have been angry, upset, or even disappointed, but what she did instead was choose to not make a big deal out of it – it was just a thing. She spoke from the heart and in so doing, she helped to build the confidence of a young girl and reinforce that things don’t matter but that people do.
The fourth lesson can be found in Memere mastering of taking care of the people around her: she was a food pusher! Memere might not have led a life filled with material wealth, but one thing she did always have was food and the desire to share it. Memere was always the gracious hostess and had a natural tendency to want to ensure that those who made the effort to visit her were well-fed and comfortable. Perhaps it was her nurturing mothering instinct, but more often than not, guests would eventually refuse the food that she continually offered – we were stuffed! And of course with any person who prepared food regularly, Memere had her specialties: salmon pie, which I could never choke down, but that my cousin Rich is rumored to have enjoyed – thanks for taking one for the team Rich! And of course her meat pies or toutsieres! We all loved Memere’s meat pies and I know that I looked forward to enjoying them around the holidays or other special occasions. It was the dish that she mastered and we will no doubt miss consuming the pies she prepared with such love.
I’m not bringing this up because I think that we should all leave here and become food pushers ourselves; I’m bringing this up because sharing food with us was the number one way that Memere could always take care of those she cared about. It was important to her and I think that she would want to be remembered for always being ready to feed a small army of Marchessault’s.
One more thing about food. As young children living next door to our grandparents on a farm in Essex, my sister Renee and I would visit with Memere and Pepere in the evenings. They would always have apples for us to eat. Pepere would peel them with some sort of pocket knife and I would eat the long pieces of the peel. Renee would lean over the arm of Pepere’s chair and wait for him to hand her slices of what she called “papples.” Memere would be soaking her feet and call them “papples” right along with Renee. In the spirit of Memere always having some sort of food to offer, please help yourself to an apple on the way out today.
Finally, the last area of Memere’s life I’d like to celebrate with you was her capacity to love. Many of us recall that last November we had a bash to celebrate not only Bob’s 50th birthday, but to honor that he was at that point, one year cancer free! During the festivities, Memere ended up in front of the microphone and declared that she loved every body! And she meant it! There are many people who might say this and it would go in one ear and out the other. Not Memere; those words had a very real meaning for her. She was an open and friendly woman who rarely met a stranger. Her capacity to love was, in my opinion, one of the most God-like and special things about her. We get so caught up in the normal hustle and bustle of every day life that we sometimes forget what’s important; to love your neighbor as you love yourself and take care of one another. Memere didn’t forget it and Memere lived her life with love in her heart and a smile on her face.
Memere’s life has been filled with lessons that we can all choose to carry with us as we continue on our own life paths. By telling a good story, enjoying a piece of music, focusing on people and not things, genuinely caring for one another, and loving with our whole hearts, we will keep her memory alive. Memere’s body was tired and it was time to rest, but I know her spirit continues it’s journey and she is in a place where she can continue to love each of us and remain a force in our lives.
In closing, I’d like to honor Memere in the best way I can think of to remember her voice and her spirit. Remember when I said she loved music? There was one song in particular that she loved to belt out. I’d like to ask you all to stand and help me give Memere the send-off she deserves by joining me in a round of “You are my Sunshine.”