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The Day a Life Ended, Miles Away

I’m not checking the weather in Nantes. This is deliberate. I know it’s winter and it’s probably damp and rainy but I want to believe it was a nice day to pass away. And it was a nice day in Brazil, 8,600 kilometres from France.

As far as I’m concerned, mamie, my mum’s mother, passed away on a hot, sunny and very windy day. It was a nice day to die, I suppose. It’s a small comfort but I need it right now. Mamie wouldn’t have minded my little arrangement with reality. She made all kinds of arrangements with reality herself, some of them cute, others infuriating, and it started decades before she just completely said goodbye to reality around the age of 88.

We woke up early and in a rush this morning because we were switching Airbnb. Feng went to get the car while I was looking for a missing piece of laundry. Normally, the first thing I do when I get up is to grab my phone and check my emails, mostly because of work. But it was December 26, Boxing Day in Canada and “we just ate too much” day in Europe. I wasn’t expecting work so I didn’t check my phone right away.

I had a couple of new WhatsApp messages from my mum who just started WhatsApping about three days ago. I had sent her a “good morning” message and a few pictures late at night because I knew she would be up early. My sister’s kid is a lovely child but for reasons no one really understands (especially not my sister, who isn’t a morning person), he wakes up ready to play between 5 a.m. and 7 a.m. When my sister comes over, my mum takes over the morning shift with kiddo so I knew she would be up early.

The first message was her good morning, a few nice words about the pictures I had shared.

The second was to tell me she was sorry, mamie had just passed away.

I kept on packing, processing the information. It took me a few minutes to start sobbing.

I’ve been expecting such a message at one point or another yet it took me by surprise.

Mamie, also known as Colette Braud, her maiden name, or Colette Giannesini, was 93. It’s a respectable age to decide this is the end of the story but it’s still painful.

I miss her already.

Is there a good way to die? As old as possible, pain-free, ready maybe, hopefully surrounded by loved ones or even alone by choice. She didn’t die alone and for that I’m grateful. My mum visited her several times a week and she had seen her the day before. Apparently, she started feeling weak after breakfast. The nurses and other Alzeimers’ folks stayed with her. She passed away peacefully. This is better than papi, dying from COVID during the first wave and the lockdown.

Mamie was born during World War II, she had two kids, five grand-children, two great-grand-children, and she was still adamant about moving to a first-floor apartment like, last month—in the real world, she was in long-term care but we humoured her because whenever mamie wasn’t happy in her life, she was moving, and she had done so all her life.

She was a character. I don’t know whether she was a good mum—I suspect she wasn’t, not in the traditional loving way—but she was a good mamie to us, grand-children. I spent hours with her. She lived a five-minute walk from my mum’s and her apartment was my shelter when life at home was too chaotic with my two younger siblings.

It’s funny I can joke about trusting mamie on her sense of timing, passing away right after Christmas when it’s hard to plan funerals, but a few thoughts make me sob uncontrollably. The final aspect of it. The end. I won’t hug her anymore. I did until the very end, I was afraid that as an officially very old person no one dared to touch her.

Mamie was a complicated person. This is another topic and maybe another article one way but she had a secret and we never figured out what she was hiding. Until the very end, she would either tell a completely different version of events we knew for sure didn’t happen this way or just change the topic. She would do this even for the most inconsequential things—she wasn’t drinking hot chocolate but coffee and she didn’t like cookies much except the entire box was gone. As I said, reinterpreting reality was an art to her. She fit right in with the other dementia residents, a world where everybody assumes a new identity as if part of the witness protection program—except that with mamie, we didn’t even know for sure what was dementia and what was just… her.

Do you know when it’s time to go?  I hope so. In this case, dying becomes the last free choice you’ll make.

Mamie was scared of dying, like everybody else. But she was also always moving forward so maybe this was the best option she had to “move” again.

I have sand in my eyes or maybe I’m just crying, who knows.


Nantes (44)

Martine et Daniel Boisriveau
Monique Giannesini, ses enfants;
Juliette, Adèle, Lidivine,
Léo et Mélisande
et leurs conjoints, ses petits-enfants;
Mark et Aurèle, ses arrière-petits-fils,
ont la tristesse de vous faire part du décès de
Madame Colette GIANNESINI

veuve de
Monsieur Michel GIANNESINI
survenu le mardi 26 décembre 2023, à l’âge de 93 ans.
Les obsèques seront célébrées dans l’intimité familiale
samedi 30 décembre 2023,
à 10 h 30,
au cimetière Sainte-Anne nouveau de Nantes.
Cet avis tient lieu de faire-part et de remerciements.

Praia do Campeche, Santa Catarina
“All we are is dust in the wind”, Praia do Campeche, Santa Catarina
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French woman in English Canada.

Exploring the world with my camera since 1999, translating sentences for a living, writing stories that may or may not get attention.

Firm believer that nobody is normal... and it’s better this way.

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