A Life Lived

April 8th, 2018 my incredible maternal grandmother, Goldie Irene Wilkie-McMillan passed away at the age of 90.

It’s important to share this with you, because she embodied a life lived. Time well spent on this earth. Time not wasted. Her life is one to be shared.

As I reflect on who she was to me, and observe who she was to others and think about the lessons she left behind, I am only now realizing the incredible gift she left for me.

I sent Goldie flowers on her 90th birthday. I felt close to my grandmother, but hadn’t seen her since Kate died. She drove 14 hours to Ottawa with one of my uncles, my aunt (and godmother), and my closest cousin to be here for Kate’s memorial. It meant the world to me. And it didn’t surprise me. Of course she would come. She wouldn’t think twice and she knew it was the right thing to do.

In that crazy early period of grief, I spent little time with her during that brief visit. I was in shock and I was in a strange place of just getting through that day. I can’t remember what might have been said between us. I wish we would have had more time. I think I would have taken a lot of solace in just being with her.
In the couple of years that have followed, I have only spoken with her a handful of times. There were really no words I could say, and there were none I wanted to hear. Distance was difficult for me. I didn’t have the strength to have conversations over the phone. Even just to say hello. The physical distance contributed to emotional distance.

That makes me sad. Not regretful – honestly – as there was nothing (is nothing) I can do about the fragility I still carry when it comes to trying to bridge emotional gaps with the people who love me.

It makes me sad, because I’ve missed her.

Goldie was our family matriarch. There is now going to be a huge reshuffling of the family structure to determine how we’ll sort ourselves into a new existence and relationship with one another. She was the hub and we – her children, grandchildren and great grandchildren – were the spokes. She was at the centre of our family, and we all felt it and knew it.

She was a strong physical and emotional presence to all of us. You couldn’t share your secrets with her, as she’d tell everyone, but you could rely on her for anything you might need. She loved fiercely and without compromise. Her hugs were crushing, and the strength of them made you actually stop and wonder if she might ever change. She felt like the sun – she was warm and comforting and strong.

Goldie cared about her family and her community. She was unflagging in her determination not to be slowed down in any way.

She was married to my grandfather for their entire life together, and then married her second husband like a giddy schoolgirl at the age of 85. She made no excuses for her plan, or timing, or that massive diamond on her finger.

She rode motorcycles.
She travelled.
She loved to visit and be visited.
She snuck treats and sweets to her grandchildren despite protestations from her adult children. And she continued the tradition with her great grandchildren.
She ‘rescued’ us when she thought we needed her help.
She protected us.
She had 5 children.
She is a bereaved mother.
She loved HOT tea. (Really hot).
She would cuff our ears if we misbehaved and would forgive us just as quickly.
She never forgot our birthdays.
She loved to laugh, and had a quick wit.
She did not compromise and made no excuses.

She was fierce in the most amazing way.

My grandmother called me the day after her 90th birthday. It was the evening of April 9th. She left a voicemail thanking me for the bouquet of flowers I had sent her. She made over 30 calls that night to her children and grandchildren thanking them for her birthday party and gifts from the day before.

My mother called me at 6:30 a.m. April 10th. My grandmother had a massive stroke earlier that morning. She would not survive and would be taken off a ventilator once family had a chance to say goodbye. I received a text later that morning from my father to let me know she was gone. I left the meeting I was in and cried alone in a hallway, and called my mom. I wasn’t grief stricken, but I felt the immense loss of her presence and I was sad.

On April 12th, my own birthday, my grandmother’s birthday card to me arrived in the mail. She must have mailed it the week before. She had a little black book with our birthdates in it. She never missed one. I still haven’t opened it.

I was at her funeral April 18th. I flew to PEI to be with my entire family for the first time since Kate had died. I thought I would feel regret that I hadn’t seen Goldie since Kate’s funeral. I didn’t feel that way. It felt right to be there for her, to say goodbye to Kate’s namesake. Kate’s middle name is Irene, just like her great grandmother.

Lives well lived are inspirational. Goldie left me with the gift of possibility. She endured the same tragedy I have, the loss of her daughter Sandra in childhood. How she lived her life so richly and fully in that aftermath is something I am sure I will never fully understand or achieve, but she’s left that message that I carry her DNA and may have some of her strength. I value that gift. I am newly inspired by her strength.

I’m not sure how I picture what happens after life – after death. I know there is something, because I feel Kate’s presence every day. I wonder if there is truth that Goldie is now ‘with’ Kate and Sandra. That they are now the recipients of her epic bear hugs. I hope it is.


And even if it is not entirely as I can picture it, I trust that her energy and spirit is impacting us all in someway. Wherever we are.


Miss you Gram.

Leave a Reply