I'm so sad that we were unable to attend, but in lieu of being there, my mother asked me if I could prepare some words that she could read during Grandma's service. These are those words, and hopefully they convey what a loving force this amazing woman was, and always will be in our family and her community.
If you look up the term "matriarch" in the encyclopedia of my brain, there is simply a larger than life image of Kirsteen Berth-Jones - And I'm pretty sure there are others here who would say the same.
Whatever you called her - Mum, Grandma, GG, Kirsteen - there is no doubt that the lady everyone has gathered here to celebrate would outwardly be shying away, almost shunning the spotlight being thrust upon her, while secretly reveling in the love and attention.
When you move far away from where you grew up, everyday aspects of home, relationships that you generally take granted, seem that much more distant…that much more special.
Benign things like hockey - which used to just live in the background - are conspicuously absent. The music you grew up with, the local history you just know - become touchstones to your past and aspects your Self that you and your re-located life need to adapt to existing without day-to-day.
Significant people who you grew up relying on, who you just know are always there, take on near-mythic status. You quickly realize, through the lens of adulthood and distance, what a true force of nature the people in your life actually are.
At some point after moving out west, I started speaking to Grandma on the phone periodically - more often than I did at home, but most would still say not often enough We'd engage in real, adult conversations, sometimes for upwards of 2 hours. She'd tell me stories I'd never heard before, of actual experiences during times that someone never really considers of their grandmother’s past life.
She told me once about a time during the war when she went for a walk to a store in Wembley Park outside London with a baby Donna in a pram passing by the same church she always did. While at the store, that church was leveled by German bombs...just moments before she walked past it on her return home. Not a typical image one has of his grandmother - but brings into sharp focus the reality a new mother making do while her husband was off at war.
How do you even begin to wish you had more time to hear those stories? To understand the depth of that history? How do you not regret the times you chose to go for a bike ride instead of picking up the phone and talking and listening even more to someone that important?
You don’t. You can’t. You just take solace in the fact that the number 458-4372 rolls off the top of your brain because it was just one the most important ones to know.
We'd heard her health was not great, and she'd been asking about us - so I wanted to be sure she felt like our top priority.
Little did I know that it was her, in fact, wanting us to feel like we were the top priority - like our visit was something she needed to do before deciding she was done. When we visited, she was tired, but up-beat. To anyone who didn’t know better, it would have just seemed like she’d just had a bad night’s sleep – but Mum later told me that she hadn’t seen her that chipper in a long time.
After our all-too-short visit, we continued on our way to PEI. Mum later let us know that Grandma’s health took a turn shortly after we left, and mere hours later we all lost this force of nature – this amazing, discerning, monsoon of a woman who means so much to us all.
Who else other than Grandma could have that kind of power – to be able to literally say “No – I’m not done yet. Now isn’t a good time. Come back later, please.”
It breaks my heart that I can't be with you all today – but I sincerely hope the memories you have are as near and dear as mine, and that you all appreciate how fortunate we’ve all been to have had this Matriarch, this beautiful, wonderful, natural force of a woman showing us the way.