Friday, April 09, 2010

Georgina Runte Eulogy and Funeral

The funeral for my Mom was Tuesday (April 6) at St Mary's Anglican Church. The Church is small, intimate, and filled with golden light from the yellow windows that frame the half dozen stain glass pieces. About 20 people showed up, which is a lot for someone who had outlived just about all her acquaintances.

Her former boss had long since passed away, but his wife showed up to speak to Mom's working life; a member of the Eastern Star showed up to speak to Mom's long service within that organization (she joined in 1943); a couple of the residents from her condo showed up to speak to her participation in the life of that community; one was also a member of St Mary's congregation and told me how Mom sat in the fourth row each Sunday until she had to stop coming because the timing conflicted with her medications; and how the Minister and the Deacon (both also long passed) had alternated visiting her each week to give her communion. The lady from the Eastern Star described visiting Mom and how Mom had insisted on making and serving everyone tea, long after she had gone completely blind.

My brother Ron spoke with his unique blend of sensitivity and humor, perfectly capturing both my Mom's generosity and her fierce determination to stand up to bullies in two perfectly balanced anecdotes from his childhood. I hadn't heard either story for years, but recognized immediately how perfectly they summed up my Mother's character.

This is what I said:

Yesterday would have been my Mom’s 101st Birthday, so it is impossible to sum up a 100 years in just a few words. And one problem with living to over 100 is that there aren’t many people left who can bear witness to the first half of that life. So I can only speak to the last half of her life, and my memories of her as my mother.

My mom loved the arts and she loved to travel. She had season’s tickets to every symphony and every play in the city; and she read constantly. When her vision gave out, she listened to books on tape. I remember the librarians trying to get a sense of what sort of books she preferred and were confounded when she couldn’t be pinned down and simply wanted more of everything.

She traveled across Canada, across Europe, across China and Japan. When I say “across” Europe or China or Japan, that doesn’t really cover it, because the rule was, starting when I was ten, which means she must already have been in her 50s, we had to climb to the top of every castle, every cathedral, and every monument: the top of St Paul’s in London, the top of the Eiffel tower, the Great Wall of China. Where ever, whatever, she was always game. When my mom was in her 70s she actually fell off a castle in Denmark.

And wherever we went, Mom would seek out the art of that region: an exquisite Swiss clock, a fabulous Flemish vase, a set of Danish glass two decades before it became fashionable in Canada. Of course one of my strongest memories is helping to lug the vase or the clock or the Danish glass all across Europe as we hopped on and off trains, sometimes passing the packages through open windows because the train only stopped for 2 minutes at that station. That could often be quite the challenge, especially with my reputation as the kid who broke everything he touched.

One of my favorite memories was when we were in Denmark one summer having lunch at their version of Zellers when my mom suddenly had a craving for an orange float. She tried to order one without much success, until another customer started translating for us, but he and the man behind the counter were both incredulous at the suggestion of putting ice cream inside a glass of orange pop, so she had to repeat several times with assurances that that’s what was meant; and then watching my mom drink it, and by then I and my brother Douglas had joined her, the counterman and the translator also had to try it... and the punch line is that when we returned to that store on our next visit four or five years later, we discovered that orange floats were a house specialty.

So that was my mom: always game; always rising to meet every challenge; taking from each place she found herself, something beautiful, or meaningful, or significant; and leaving a little bit of herself behind; leaving the Earth and the lives she touched better off for her having been here.

My daughters than each took a brief turn speaking; Tigana talking about her favorite memory of her Grandmother at Christmas Dinner years before; Kasia saying "I love you Grandma" while laying a pink Teddy bear on the table next to Mom's picture (and later into her grave).

After the service, we had tea in the Church basement, as fitting a tribute to Mom as any, tea having long been central to her social life. Mom's favorite niece -- the daughter she never had -- and her husband were there; along with the two of her nephews. And the irrepressible Mrs. V., the woman who half raised me when my Mom had to go back to work full time: she brought my daughters each a doll with hand knitted dresses and regaled us all after the service with her own near death experiences. It was nice meeting her son again after nearly 50 years, as great a joker as I remembered him. And a friend of mine from Edmonton came to be supportive.

Only the minister and the immediate family went to the grave side; we buried my Mom, my brother Douglas, and my Dad Henry all at the same time. A month earlier, I had booked the other two burials for April 6, thinking I'd take care of that matter on the same trip as we came up for Mom's 101st birthday; I'd had no sense then that she would be joining them. Burying all three at once was harder than I thought it would be. I'd thought I'd already dealt with the other losses, and Mom's came at the end of an exceptional life, but it hit me pretty hard. And my kids. Kasia cried out when she realized that they were burying her Grandfather that she had never met. It was a tough moment. The minister asked if I wanted to shovel in a few symbolic shovelfuls but I couldn't do it.

It didn't help that the Minister kept saying my name instead of Doug's or Henry's as she lowered the urns. I can't blame her for getting confused, since she'd only met me a day or two before. She was nice, and it provided a moment of comic relief, albeit in a creepy sort of way. But I'd been nervous about getting everything right throughout the day, even though Mary had kept me organized and relatively sane through the process. I was also grateful for the presence of cousin Mike who kept reassuring me throughout that this was just a family affair and that it was all good. He reminds me a lot of Doug, the way he can reassure and restore common sense with just a few words.

And then we were done. Mary took the kids over to visit her father's grave in the same cemetery while I handled the paper work. Later, Mary and I had supper with Ron and his wife Joan; we determined to see more of each other now that we are the last of the family.

In the end, what gets me through is my wife and kids. I don't know how I could have handled any of this had I still been single. It's not just Mary's organization and support, it's that my kids are so full of life, such an reaffirmation of the life force, the continuance not just of my family but of the meaning of life, that they make it possible to carry on in the face of death. Its hard to explain, exactly, but my Mom and brother carried the memories of who I was for the first half of my life, but the loss of that identity, the absence of any external validation of what I think I remember, is compensated by the potential for new memories to be made with my wife and kids. When I was sitting with my Mom in her final days I kept looking at the photos of my kids on my blog taken at the San Dieago zoo. The life, the exburence that comes through in those four photos got me through not just those last days with Mom, but through the funeral as I kept picturing them in my mind. I miss Mom, I miss Doug, is good.

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