Recently my 91-year-old grandmother passed away. While this shouldn’t have been a tremendous surprise, given her age and health problems, it was a shock, and her funeral in Ottawa was difficult to get through. Such occasions change the way you think about life and people, and this was no exception.
At the service, my Uncle John did an amazing job of putting the long life of my grandmother, Olga Lentz, in to perspective. Here was a woman from a poor, Acadian background in PEI with seven siblings and an eighth-grade education. She married partly out of love, but also to make a better life for herself and to get out of Summerside, its quaint name notwithstanding. Despite her lack of formal education, she managed to read anything and everything that was put in front of her, loved music, understood Canadian politics intimately (huge fan of Pierre Elliot Trudeau) and had a great social conscience. She raised four very different, sometimes challenging, children and was the hub of the local community, making friends as easily as scratching her nose.
For many reasons, reasons that I don’t need to go into, Grandma’s life was pretty damned hard. Her saving grace came in the form of her friends, particularly her best friend, Mrs Crowder. When Grandma had to go into a nursing home, we thought that being away from her friends, many of whom had died, would be unbearable. But after a difficult first year, a little miracle happened. Mrs Crowder moved in right across the hall. What could have been a very dreary deteriorating demise suddenly got a lot brighter. The last two times I visited, it was clear to see that Grandma was looking forward to, rather than dreading, the coming days: a very basic, but also highly accurate way of determining whether life is going well or not.
Then, I got the call. Grandma had died of a heart attack. Two days before, she had been told that Mrs Crowder was going to be placed in a palliative care unit. This was simply too much. Mercifully, symmetrically, Mrs Crowder – Ruth – died the very next day. The professional opinion of my uncle, a pathologist, was that she had died of a broken heart.
We spend a great deal of time fixing the heart with surgery, drugs, exercise, diet, meditation, God knows what else. But we forget about the most important key to its health: happiness, love, purpose.