Thursday, December 31, 2009

Reflecting on a life well-lived as a New Year dawns

Hump Day
By Brian Cormier
Moncton Times & Transcript
Wednesday, December 30, 2009
Editorial page

It's difficult to imagine that there are people who've been around since before electricity, airplanes, telephones or cars, but when you're 103 years old, you were definitely around before all these modern inventions became a part of everyday life.

My great aunt Adèle, who turned 103 in September, celebrated her most recent birthday by being driven in a limousine to the Magnetic Hill Prayer Garden for a party in her honour. A bottle of champagne was even cracked open to celebrate the occasion.

Although I wasn't able to attend, I saw lots of videos and photos. It certainly seemed like Adèle greatly enjoyed her birthday, as did everyone else. After all, it's not every day that you turn 103 and get your first ride in a stretch limousine!

To add to the occasion, Adèle was even interviewed by CTV, as well as for the supper-hour newscast on Radio-Canada. A poignant part of her interview with the Radio-Canada reporter was when she said that she thought Jesus had forgotten about her. After 103 years, she was still waiting for him to come take her to heaven.

Two months later in November, I happened to see Adèle at the first public H1N1 immunization clinic held in Moncton. I'd brought my father along, too, so that we could both get vaccinated against the flu.

As we were sitting down after the needles for the mandatory 15-minute waiting period, I saw Adèle enter with her caregivers. My father (her nephew) and I headed over to see her after she'd received her needle. Although it seems odd when you first think about it, she wasn't on the list of priority groups to receive the needle earlier. All things considered, she was in great health for someone who was 103 and didn't fit in any of the categories for an earlier shot.

She was so happy to see us! We each got one of her legendary strong hugs and she wouldn't let go of my hand. We talked about some family news, and when we got around to discussing the hoopla surrounding her last birthday party, she told me humbly and looking right in my eyes (in mixed French and English), "J'deserve pas ça!"

I tried to convince her otherwise -- that she did deserve all the attention -- but her humility would not allow her to completely accept the fact that so many people wanted to come together to wish her a happy birthday.

About three weeks after I saw her, on Saturday, Dec. 19, Adèle was being driven by her caregiver to my uncle Cammy and aunt Marguerite's place for a lunch. They absolutely adore Adèle and would do anything for her. Adèle was bringing them and other family members hand-made gifts knitted with the loving care and generosity she displayed throughout her life. Marguerite made Adèle her favourite lemon pie and was going to serve one of Adèle's favourite meals. Being the Christmas season, everyone was looking forward to getting together for some family time.

On the way over in the car, Adèle began complaining of feeling ill and decided that she didn't want to go. For her not wanting to go see Cammy and Marguerite, something had to be seriously wrong. Seeing that they were so close to their destination, her caregiver stopped at Cammy and Marguerite's to let them know that Adèle wasn't feeling well. When they came out to the car to check on her, they all agreed that she should be brought to the hospital.

At the hospital, they discovered that Adèle's heart was finally giving out and that she was not going to make it. The doctor told them that it looked like her body was at the end of its long 103-year journey.

On Sunday morning, less than 24 hours after entering the hospital, Adèle took her last breath and died surrounded by people who loved her.

Three days before Christmas, I had the honour of being one of Adèle's pallbearers, helping to carry her casket up the stairs of the church where her funeral would be celebrated. The church was decorated for Christmas, but the occasion was solemn, to say the least, although a life of 103 years is certainly remarkable. But it was a blessing that she was only sick for less than 24 hours before passing away.

There were tears, of course, but also a lot of gratitude for her health right up until the end and the fact that she was surrounded by people who loved her.

We all thought we'd be seeing Adèle ring in 2010 with us -- and probably even celebrate her 104th birthday with another stretch limousine, but it was not to be. Her faith was strong, but her body was worn. She lived so long that she told a story about hiding in a ditch the first time she saw an airplane as a little girl. She was terrified because she'd never seen one before. That long ago, practically no one else had, either!

If 2010 is indeed your last year here, may you go like Adèle... healthy right up until the last 24 hours and surrounded by loved ones.

Yes, Adèle, you "deserved ça."

Adèle, have a sip of champagne for all of us tomorrow night as we count down the last seconds of 2009. You definitely have something to celebrate this year as your new life begins where there is no age, no illness and no sorrow. We'll miss you in 2010... and your legendary strong hugs.

May 2010 bring you all health, happiness, the company of loving family and friends and much prosperity. Although Adèle was too humble to think she "deserved ça," she certainly did -- as do we all.

Happy New Year to each every one of you!

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