Saturday, December 08, 2012

In Memory...

About two hours after I posted that last blog post, we got the kind of news that flips your world upside down. Jeff's sister Karen called to say the nursing home had called, and that it didn't look good. There were hours left, days if we were lucky. And we were sent into a tailspin... phone calls, flight arrangements, lesson plans, exit permits, and very little sleep as we dozed with our mobiles next to the bed, awaiting any news that might come.

And it came quickly, too quickly. Jeff's mom passed away in the middle of our Friday night. And on Sunday morning he was on a plane home. To Canada. To grieve with family and friends while Kaiya and I and the belly stayed back, awaiting his return.

It was a very bittersweet time. Long phone calls, where he tried as much as he could to make me feel connected, a part of the family, a part of the grieving. I spent a week at home, listening to the old hymns she loved, staring at pictures, obsessively checking my phone, my email, my Facebook. Wanting to be there, needing the connection. Sleeping very lightly at night, knowing the events of each day in Canada were passing me by.

He's home now. But instead of the quiet times I'd hoped for, sitting together and accompanied by cups of tea and long, hushed conversations, we've been thrust right back into the grind. Three exams for him to set, and a sick but energetic child for me to occupy and care for.

And I still need to grieve. I look at pictures of her, and although I know it happened, I know there was a beautiful funeral and touching eulogies, I still don't understand. How is it that she has passed... that she is no longer with us? Only 66. A well-deserved retirement and growing numbers of grandchildren before her... all ripped away by the evil that is dementia. It's not right. We were meant to have many more years together. Summer barbecues in the backyard, Christmas dinners squished too tightly in the dining room, many more memories to make at camp. All ripped away.

We are just left with the pictures, and the memories...

I met Margaret Jane Lampshire Epp when I was about 14 years old. And although she later became "mom" to me, it was always hard for me to think of her differently than "Mrs. Epp," my bright and energetic math teacher who always intimidated me more than just a little, probably because I had a crush on her eldest son most of my high school career. Mrs. Epp loved the classroom, poured her heart and soul into it. Former students still quote her little sayings... "x intercept (snap!) y = zero."

But there was so much more to Marg's teaching than just the classroom. I was one of many students over the years who participated in her regular "service visits" to local nursing homes. On weekday nights, we would meet to sing, share with, and cheer the elderly people of the Niagara Region. Before the visits, we'd duck our heads at lunch, whispering, "Oh no... here she comes..." as she trolled the cafeteria, looking for her regular gang of volunteers to come out once again. But the truth is, we loved it. We loved the harmonies, the stories, the warmth we felt as we shared our lives. And the joy we saw in Mrs. Epp too. It didn't matter to her if we could even carry a tune. Everyone knows she couldn't. She just loved to see our willingness to come together and the joy we were spreading.

Many people say Marg had a servant's heart. And it's true. She was always giving. And even when life dealt her some big, bad blows, she was not one to sit in self-pity. She did not like to accept charity. She was much more comfortable forging on, looking outward, focusing on the needs of those around her. She loved and she gave with a large, cheerful heart. And even in times when we wished she would just slow down, her enthusiasm was infectious... life-affirming.

In the last couple years of her life, as we already began to grieve what dementia was taking away, we saw through and through that while Marg had been a Niagara transplant, moving so seamlessly amongst the German Mennonite crowd, in her heart and at her core she was a Thunder Bay girl. Camp Bay. Silver Islet. More and more her stories and memories revolved around Camp, around the family she had lost long ago. She loved looking at the pictures, remembering the old times. I'll never forget how hard Karen worked, against all medical advice, to give mom one last summer at Camp. It was the best gift anyone could give.

While I've written much, the words are really failing me. It's difficult to express what is deep inside, especially when I still feel a great disconnect. We will miss you, mom. We are thankful your pain is gone, but we will miss your stories, your great big heart, and your love for your family.

Mom holding Kaiya when she was just a pudgy baby.

She loved how Kaiya had the same jowls Jeff did as a baby.

One of many summer barbecues. She loved reading to her grandkids.
And they loved listening.

Mom and Hailey
I love this picture. Our last Christmas in the family home. We knew, somehow, that it was the last. 2010.

One of two squishy tables at Christmas.

Just this summer, with all the grandkids.

Jeff's last visit with his mom, in August.


Erika said...

thanks kathy; beautifully said. the pictures fill in the words that you couldn't access. its true; much too soon and such a loss. we've had three funerals in less than two weeks (vic's stepdad in b.c., jeff's mom and vern's dad) and its just too close for comfort. our parents leaving us to be the grown up ones now. not sure we're ready for that.

Suzanne said...

Kath what a beautiful tribute. We all missed you so much and wished desperately that you were here with Jeff. It was hard to see him going through this alone, but we knew that you were just as present in everyone's thoughts. Love up you lots and thinking of you as you grieve.

Karen D. said...


Thanks for sharing your thoughts, stories and pictures of Mrs. Epp. I especially like the last picture of Jeff with his mom. They both look great!

I loved the choice of hymns at the funeral. They definitely brought back memories of the service visits with her. Especially "It is Well with my Soul". Obviously those songs were dear to her heart.

mariaborito said...

Kath, you are so good with words. I really appreciated reading that. It brings me to tears. I love what you said about her being a Thunder Bay girl. To hear about her giving heart and your long relationship with her. What a huge loss and what a journey of grief ahead.
This has really been a year of loss for so many of our friends here and now for you. Our prayers are with you as you work hard to get to a break. The distance from family must be so difficult. Let the joy of this new baby bring some relief.
Lots of love. Maria

James said...

Great words Kathy. Not a lot needs to be said at a time like this. A look, a few small actions... These are the things that show each other we care. That's why I know it is really hard for you and I'm glad you've made the effort. And that's why it will be great very soon to "see the whites of your eyes" as my Grandma always says.