Remembering a life

Oct 23, 2015 | 4 comments |

I lost a special member of my family this week, and my last living link with a world that’s now vanished. I blogged about Cousin Mary in August 2014 at the centenary of the start of the First World War. Born in May 1910, Mary didn’t remember the start of that conflict, but she had clear memories of its impact on her family and community.

Mary passed away peacefully on an October morning in the care home where she’d lived for only two months. When I last saw her three weeks ago, she was frail, and her once sharp memory had dimmed. Nevertheless, we were able to talk of her family and friends, and reminisce about important times in her life.

On her mother’s side, she was descended from western Canadian pioneers. Those intrepid Scottish settlers laid the foundation for one of Canada’s cities, and their legacy is still commemorated in its street names.

Her father was the oldest of a family of ten children. He grew up in a small Ontario town and, as did many young men at that time, left rural Ontario at nineteen to seek his fortune in the west.

Her parents married in December 1906. Over the next sixty years they helped build the community of which Mary was part.

As an unmarried daughter, Mary lived at home and cared for her parents as they grew older. During the Second World War, she ventured into the working world by way of the air force and, after the war, worked for Air Canada. She took pride that at the time of her death she was the airline’s oldest living retiree, having collected her pension for more years than she’d been employed.

Mary often wondered why God had let her live so long, and she intended to ask that, amongst other questions, when she was called home. She outlived family, friends and members of her church community, most of whom were many years younger.

She was feisty and fiercely independent. She was stylish, and noted for her beautiful clothes and accessories. She was a wonderful gardener and, until the last, her plants gave her joy. On my final visit, she instructed me on correct watering techniques, and took me to task for what she perceived as inappropriate care of her cherished cactus!

Until arthritis intervened, she was a keen knitter and both English Rose and I have doll clothes and toys made by her skilled hands. Over the years, many animals in the local humane society were kept warm by her knitted blankets.

On the day this post goes live, I’ll say a final goodbye to Cousin Mary at the graveside service she requested, when she is laid to rest beside her parents. In that prairie cemetery, where land and sky meet in an unbroken vista, the north wind is as unrelenting as I imagine it was in the days of those stalwart pioneers from whom she traced her lineage.

Cousin Mary was a daughter of the prairie, and of the twentieth century. She marvelled at the many changes she’d seen over her long life, and was always curious about the world around her. She’s now reunited with her family and friends and, I expect, is asking God all those questions she intended.

Rest in peace, Cousin Mary. You are lovingly remembered and sadly missed. Your life, and your stories, will go on through all those whose lives you touched.  


  1. Jean Bull

    What an amazing life your Cousin Mary had. I hope that you find strength today at her funeral. What a wonderful lady too. I would have loved to have met her and heard her stories first hand.

  2. Heidi

    Thank you for writing such a personal and touching remembrance of a special relative. An unique person has passed into history and memory – and you have honoured that most fittingly.

  3. Sue Bavin

    Thank you for sharing such a deeply personal post, Jen. Cousin Mary sounds such an interesting lady and she lived through so many important national and international events as well as so many changes in everyday life. She has been a link to the past for you all your life and, while you will miss her personally and miss that link to times past, you will always appreciate the wonderful memories she has left you with.

    • Jen Gilroy

      Thank you for your thoughts, Sue, Heidi and Jean. Your kind words and support are very much appreciated.



  1. Jen Gilroy » Goodness, a word for our time - […] sorting through my late Cousin Mary’s possessions, I found a letter from December 1906 that alludes to “goodness” in…

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