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[personal profile] tripathy
At 9:30am on August 10, 2010, the most beautiful, wonderful person I will ever have the privilege to have known passed from this world. At the incredible age of 108, my Granny has at last gone to join her husband, friends and family.

At the beginning of the weekend she contracted pneumonia, and on Sunday afternoon Ma called all of us and told us that Granny would likely not last the night. Our family all gathered in her room in the nursing home, where Granny was asleep, having been given drugs to make her comfortable. End-stage protocol had begun, and she would not wake again. Did she know we were there? She seemed asleep, but her breathing was easier when the entire family was in the room with her. None of us were able to say goodbye aloud, but that time was our goodbye as we each held her hand and stood by her. Incredibly, she held on for another 36 hours after that. It was only after her favourite nurse arrived Tuesday morning and told her that it was okay to leave that she finally passed.

Muriel Sonne was an exceptional person, and my hero. Not the kind of hero who fights in wars or rushes into burning buildings, but the kind whose reassuring presence, quiet dignity, unconditional love and tolerance, and indomitable spirit and strength makes you want to be a better person. She was on this earth for a long time, and has seen so many things, has witnessed so much history taking place. Her longevity was her "claim to fame", but that was hardly the only reason that she was an inspiration to us all.


When I was growing up, all the other kids I knew had Grandmas and Grandpas. I had a Granny. This was something different, obviously. Even in my earliest memories she was already in her eighties, which meant that she was older and wiser than everyone else, of course. Even back then I could already brag about her!

I've been trying to think of stand-out memories of her from when I was young, but mostly I remember her presence. She would babysit us when Ma was at work on Thursday evenings, and she would make us either pancakes or french toast for dinner. My brother Ter and I would always ask her to read to us before bed, and always from Winnie the Pooh. I've never cared for the Disney cartoon version--to me Winnie the Pooh is the original illustrations in the book, as seen in Granny's hands. Our favourite was The Little Black Hen, and I can still remember it being read in her voice. And around Christmas, the two of us used to sing Christmas carols to Granny as she did the dishes after dinner. We were probably terrible, but she never stopped us.

When she stayed overnight, she would stay in my room. I used to watch her get dressed in the morning, all the complex details of the pads for her arthritic toes, the garter belt, the stockings. Granny always wore a dress or a skirt, and I used to tell her that just wearing pants would be so much easier, but she would just smile.

I remember her in Lake George, and how in the days before we had a van Granny would take the Greyhound bus and we would wait excitedly at the bus stop for her arrival. She would have her blue suitcase with her, and we would ask her each time if she had her bathing suit. She wore that bright pink bathing suit with the palm tree print and the skirt into the lake with us well into her eighties, and still brought it with her for years after she actually stopped going into the water...maybe just in case, because boy, did we ever beg her! How cool was it that our Granny was coming into the lake with us?! She would sit in the cottage every night playing Scrabble with Ma, and she would also come with us everywhere we went, from the malls to mini-golf. How many people will still play Goony Golf after they're 90 years old? Later, I remember her sitting on that old swing at the far end of the beach, quietly swinging. We have a photo of that somewhere. I always wonder what she was thinking about.

She attended all of our special occasions, from piano recitals to graduations, and it was always a special day when she was coming to one of our ringuette games. Years later, at 100 years old, she came to one of my hockey games. My teammates, who already thought it was neat that my parents still attended all my games, were amazed. I was as excited that she was there that I was for the game itself, and proud to introduce her to everyone there. This is my Granny, she's 100, and she'll still watch my hockey games!

As I grew up, there was always the warning that Granny was getting older and that we never knew if that year's birthday was going to be her last, But she stunned us all, including some in the medical community, by not only surviving but living. There was no reason not to give her new hips, a new knee and a pacemaker, even if she was in her nineties, when she was still living a fuller life than many people thirty years her junior. She was a constant reassuring presence in our lives--Granny would always be there to hear about our first day of high school, our first year of university, our first day on the job, and we could bask in the feeling that she was quietly proud of each and every one of us.

It wasn't until I was older that I was truly able to appreciate her sharp wit. She had an answer or a retort for pretty well anything...never mean, often amusing, usually with a twinkle in her eye, and not always what you'd expect! I remember going to pick her up from the Wellesley once, just after having gotten my driver's licence. She got into the car and I told her with no small amount of pride that I would be driving her for the first time. "Well," she said, "I'd better put my seatbelt on, then!" There was no malice behind the little jab, and I thought her response was hilarious. I wish I'd recorded more of these little witticisms.

She never had an unkind word to say about anyone. Everyone who met her instantly loved her, and how could they not? She practically radiated love and tolerance. One might expect someone who grew up so long ago to be set in their ways, but not Granny. If she ever pined for the days of old, we never knew about it. When times changed, she went right along with them. This isn't to say that she got into computers, but she understood that progress and change are a part of life.

The strange things that captured our interest were a little beyond her, but she indulged our attempts to proudly show her our new toys with a smile. The last time I had a great new toy to show her was as recent as Christmas 2006, when I had received a 20th anniversary Optimus Prime, an expensive collectible foot-high Transformers action figure. Being 29 at the time, I still wanted to show Granny my new toy, and I set him on her lap and explained to her all of his features and how he was the most awesome toy ever. While doing so, I just had to get a photo of them together: my fictional hero and my real-life hero. After taking in all of this, she said, "Well, he's something to do on a rainy day." We had to have a laugh at her having condensed something as complicated as that toy down to that simple concept...but of course, she's right, isn't she? The end result of a toy is the same, even more than ninety years after she last used one.

Times change; our lives were going to be different from hers, and she was totally accepting of that and of our decisions. Because of this, we could talk to her about anything and never have to worry about being judged. I was worried that when I told her I was an atheist she might be upset or disappointed because she had been a churchgoer her whole life. But she didn't seem so at all, and instead we had a long talk about religion and our beliefs. I came out of that with a renewed respect for and amazement at her progressiveness. Most people of all ages could take a lesson on that from her.

So she has always been old, but she has never been "old". Even discounting how her appearance never matched her age--she always looked almost an entire generation younger than she actually was--there was never any sign of her being mired in the past. She remembered the past, of course, and we are lucky to have that record of the early parts of her life, written in her own words in "Stories of the Farm". Her writing style has this quality about it that suggests wisdom yet innocence and sparkling life. It's not a practiced style...that was just Granny being herself.

Her internal peace and strength were something towards which we should all aspire. She has been as long now without her husband as she was with him, has lost two of her children and all of her siblings and friends. But she still kept on, and focused her love and attention on the next generations, every new addition to the family a joy to her. Troubles could not be dwelled upon when there was a grandchild's graduation or the birth of a new great-grandchild approaching, and she was always pleased to show photos of her progeny and their achievements.

She wanted to see us all happy and settled in our lives. On my 21st birthday she gave me a card, and inside it was the message: "Now you're 21--now what?" Now what, indeed! Humourous but inspirational, that simple message told me that life was waiting for me, that I could do what I wanted with it. I know it's what she believed for all of us.

And after my fiance and I had been together for a while, this particular visit being after she had begun losing her ability to speak, during a quiet moment in the visit she took my left hand and began playing with it, spreading the fingers carefully and being completely unsubtle as she looked to my ring finger and then back to me again. It was obvious what she was looking for, and we had to smile and tell her "Not yet". Months later, when I did have that ring on my finger, she was one of the first people we told. Her face lit up in one of those brilliant smiles. We told her that we had set a date in October 2010, and although real words were rare by that point, much less full sentences, she looked to us and clearly said, "I hope I can be there."

She will be there on that day. She always will be there for me, as every day I can draw on her shining example and the inspiration that she gave to everyone who knew her. She is my hero, and to achieve her level of peace within and without is something that I will aspire towards for the rest of my life. No matter what life had in store for her she met it with remarkable inner strength and positivity.

We grieve today for us, because we no longer have the privilege of having this incredible person in our lives. We should not grieve for her sake. She had a full life, and the mixed blessing of her longevity meant that although she watched her generation slowly leave her, she got to see her family grow to four generations. She was ready to go now, and that's okay. We couldn't keep her forever, after all--there's a bunch of people waiting for her that were probably wondering what the heck was taking her so long to go join them at last.

She was nothing short of a marvel. Somewhere inside her body and genetics is the answer to long life, but it's in her soul where you would find the answer to a happy life.

RIP Muriel Sonne, 1902-2010


Muriel Sonne, 1924


Muriel Sonne on her 105th birthday, 2007
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December 2010

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