Life.

“Ain’t no special dead. There’s just, dead.” 

I cried, but not when I thought I would. No one is ever ready for the death of a relative, and I’m no exception. In the days prior to my grandpa’s funeral, my grandma had asked me to write a little eulogy for the ceremony. I said that I would, of course, but feared that in the moment I would stumble. I thought that I would walk to the altar and, feeling nervous, get overwhelmed with emotion as I looked over at his casket. I would read one or two sentences, then sob.

But I didn’t. 

Hello to all,

I’d like to thank everyone for being here today. I intend on saying a few words on behalf of all grandchildren of my grandfather.

Just like everyone here today, I have loved him a whole lot–in fact, I still love him. Of course, I never called him by his first name. It was always grandpa, for me and his six other grandchildren.

I have always loved him and I still do, especially today, in large part because he has loved me so dearly. This isn’t something that he told me often, but he didn’t have to. It was obvious that he did. I’m part of the Blouin family, his own family that he held so close to his heart–that by itself was enough for him to love me. And truly, this is what exemplified the experience of growing up as his grandchild.

Being his grandchild was being loved unconditionally. It was growing up both physically and spiritually. It was growing up mentally as much as physically.

Being his grandchild was growing up with someone who always forced me to go beyond what I thought I was capable of because he believed, always, that I could. It was growing up with someone who always helped me find what I was passionate about. It was growing up with someone who always pushed me to follow my dreams, even if they might not necessarily meet his own. It was playing hockey knowing full well that he would attend a few games, or that he wouldn’t think twice about playing catch with me at the park or at the beach during family vacation.

Being his grandchild was learning very early on the meaning of excellence, of intelligence, of patience and of integrity.

Being his grandchild was marvelous even if it wasn’t always easy. It was growing up with someone I never wanted to disappoint because he was always so proud of me and was always willing to give me advice. It was growing up knowing that there was always someone who believed in me and on whom I could depend.  It was growing up with someone who was always there–until today. Today, it’s every last one of us who are there for him. Really, this is what makes his death so sad and memorable. But I take solace in the fact that for him, the final destination was never as important as the journey to get there. I take solace in the fact that his death today pales in comparison to the work of his entire life.

Thank you.

On Nov. 22, 2012, six days before my grandpa dies, I enter room 13 on the 10thfloor of the Montreal General Hospital. For all of two seconds, I don’t recognize him. My grandma isn’t here right now. She probably has gone away to eat a snack, I think, and this is why I’m not convinced. But then, it hits me. This frail man sleeping on the hospital bed is indeed my grandpa.

He has been sick for about a year, but it never fully showed. Part of it was of his own volition, I suspect, because that’s how he always was. He always handled himself like a gentleman who didn’t get fazed by much in life–he was strong like that. Part of it, too, was likely the treatment that he undertook to fight the cancer and which, for the most part, helped him. But at some point, the treatment stopped being so efficient, so much so that on Friday, Nov. 9, 2012, he was admitted to the hospital. My family told me that this would be his last stop, and that’s why I rushed back to Montreal from Toronto.

I’m sitting at a rocking chair by his bed, and I’m listening. I’m listening, because he’s sleeping. He’s sleeping, but it’s a light sleep and that’s why I’m listening in silence. I’m looking at him too, getting used to how he looks. Because of the chemotherapy, he has almost no hair left. He’s frail, too, and has lost a lot of weight. He looks so much different, except that he’s really still the same. He’s still the devout husband that he’s always been, and he’s still the role model that he’s always been to his grandchildren.

He’ll be gone, but he’s not quite yet. He’s breathing heavily, and that’s what I listen to. I also listen to him when he groans, which happens ever so often. Him groaning means that he’s still alive, and that he’s still fighting. He’s weak, and that means that the littlest things hurt him–even moving a leg or an arm. He’s weak, and just about anything can make him suffer. But where he suffers also means that he’s still living.

I’m sitting beside his bed, listening to him sleep and groan, and I’m reminiscing. I don’t know where to start, really. I don’t know where to start, and that’s probably why I start with what I can’t remember. Once upon a time, I lived in France for a year–I was about six months old. My father was studying abroad, and my mom and I had joined him. Over that year that we stayed in France, my entire family visited. Everyone visited, including my grandpa and grandma. They were with us when we stayed in Neaufles, and when I was obsessed with seeing the cattle every morning. The story goes that every morning, I would wake up intent on heading outside with my grandpa to watch the sheep. I don’t remember this, of course, but I’m told that that’s what happened.

And that’s the thing–I don’t remember it happening, but of course it did. That was life, unfolding. There’s no one else with whom I could have done this. Knowing him, he was probably happy to go watch the sheep with me every morning. That’s just who he was.

My grandma was married to him for 56 years. Fifty-six years in an incredibly long time but with his passing, time is all she will have. She’ll turn the page when she does, but that’s for another time. For now, she’s with him one last time. 

This is before the ceremony with Father Ritchie, before I’m set to speak before the friends and family of my grandpa. I’m inside the funeral complex, inside the exhibit room. My mother, my sister, my five cousins, my great uncle and his wife, my two aunts–they’re all here with me, and so is my grandma. It’s a moment strictly for the immediate family, as everyone else has headed toward the parish already. We’ll join them soon enough, but before that there’s an eternal moment–it’s time to say our last goodbyes to grandpa before his casket is closed for good.

It’s tough on all of us, but especially on my grandma. She knows it, and we all know it. She’s walking up to him now, to share one last moment. She has put her hands on his, softly and carefully, as she looks deep into his eyes. They’re closed, of course, but that’s not the point. It’s all so peaceful, sad, inspiring, touching, and devastating all at once. It’s all so weird to explain, because life itself is so weird–it’s tough to make sense of this feeling, because life itself doesn’t make much sense. There’s a birth at the beginning, and there’s a death at the end. And between that, if you’re lucky, there’s been an entire lifetime.

Then, my grandma crouches down–she wants one last kiss, on his forehead. She holds tight to him, because soon she’ll have to let go. Every second is precious, because every second might be the last and because behind every second is an entire lifetime. That’s when she cries–when she’s holding on to the one she has built a life with, surrounded by all of those who are a product of this life.

And then the casket closes. I’m crying.