My grandmother passed away last week, and the entire family has been busy sending her off. Please, no condolences are needed – she was a very respectable 85, and had cancer which left her very frail and tired at the end.
My grandmother loved entertaining more than anything, and had a full life, with plenty of drinking, eating, singing and friends. She sang beautifully until about a year ago, and lived independently until the last couple of months. All in all it was a life lived to the full, and up until the last few days she enjoyed a teaspoon of cognac in her tea. Given that she called vodka her elixir of life, this was a concession indeed.
The funeral was very simple – a private service, and a road trip some three hours away to a small Orthodox Convent where she was buried. The convent is located in the middle of Nowhere, Alberta and was once a place of sanctuary for a scholar turned monk. Upon his death he turned it over to a convent, as there was a shortage of fellow monks to carry on the tradition. There is a wee church built without nails that still stands on the grounds today. The nuns live simply with the support of the varied parishioners who help them homestead on their free weekends. They also have a small cemetary where those who desire can be laid to rest.
The service was simple and beautiful. There was a soft snowfall and rustling wildlife in a remote chunks of the woods that surround the convent. I’m not a religous person by nature, but like all people find a lot of comfort in ritual. And even though I never grew up going to church, I find liturgy calming, especially in the chanting manner of the Orthodox Church. Our priest is a very colorful friend of the family and was a great tension breaker on the drives to and fro. Orthodox priests are allowed to marry, which generally means they don’t molest children, which greatly mitigates the disgust I have for the transgressions of the Catholic priests.
In fact, I think that’s a great contribution of religion, to provide a framework for celebratory and solemn occasions alike. We are social animals and have developed a number of rituals to mark special occasions in life, from the vision quests of puberty to elaborate wedding ceremonies and funeral rites. Which is great at connecting a community and providing guidance when dealing with charged emotions. It’s a template for behavior, when you badly need one. In a multicultural country such as Canada, different cultural groups have less of a sense of community to bind them, so belonging to a religious community provides continuity of culture. But enough with crazy theories.
After the service we had a colorful wake, joined by family and friends, and toasted her often. All in all it was a wonderful way to say good-bye. May she rest in peace.