by Roxanne Tellier
Sometimes grief will steal the words right out of you. All morning I have struggled with how I could possibly explain how devastating and final it feels to know that my aunt Pat is gone.
For too long, I kept putting off a visit to Ottawa to see her in her nursing home. She’d been such an integral part of my early life, and yet – there was always a reason, some excuse, why I couldn’t jump on a bus or a train or a plane, and spend a few hours in her company.
She would have been 95 this December 14. That was one of the many things we had in common, our December birthdays. She was the first to gift me turquoise jewelry, our shared birthstone.
Of all the people, places and things that have made me “me,” it was her guidance, especially in literature, that informed the person that I continue, daily, to become. When we lived in Alberta, it was her annual gifts of classic children’s literature that I most appreciated on Christmas morning. I would gobble up the works of A.A. Milne and Noel Streatfield. I would revel in the never-ending adventures of Edith Nesbit‘s plucky children, ignoring the snows of an Albertan winter, dreaming of the Five Children and It, and wishing that I could be one of the talented – yet never vain – Fossil sisters. Through the books she sent, I played in the Thousand Acre Woods with Christopher Robin, Pooh, Piglet, and the ever depressed Eeyore. Those books taught me to dream, and to know that there was so much more world than just what I could see around me at this moment in time.
I always admired her exquisite taste in all things, be it jewelry, clothing, or art – she had an innate flair and sensibility that made her every surroundings special. Her talents were many – she could write poetry, fiction, or non-fiction with equal flair and ease. She painted as well, usually monochromatic and faintly geometric figures. There was one painting – a symphony in shades of blue – that she told me she’d created in an homage to the novel, Don Quixote. I would stare at it for hours.
But she could not sing – oh my lawdy, lawdy, she could not sing, and yet she did .. often, and enthusiastically! Sadly, in a family as musical as ours, she was the only one completely unblessed with a musical ‘ear.’ She loved music, even as she murdered it in it’s cradle of song.
In her youth, she’d worked as an executive secretary in several companies, with her longest and final stint being with British Petroleum. At one point in the sixties, she worked in Washington, DC, where a chance invitation to a party got her hauled in before the FBI, to explain why she had briefly visited a home where there were posters of Che and Lenin on the walls.
But by the time we’d returned to Montreal from Alberta, my aunt was living with my grandmother. From then on, and wherever we landed, in Park Ex, NDG, or Westmount, we always lived very close to my aunt and gram. For a very long time we actually lived in adjoining buildings, with second floor balconies that were literally a stone’s throw from each other.
When I moved to Toronto in 1976, my family weren’t far behind me, and soon, first my sister, then my mother, and finally, my aunt and grandmother, had all taken up residence in two buildings in the Yonge/Eglinton area, literally across the parking lot from each other. There was comfort in the proximity.
In 1986, my sister died, and in 1992, my grandmother went into the hospital, for the last time, in the last week of March. She’d had heart issues for decades. But she hung in, as was her style, right up until April 1st. Such a joker, my gram … it was like she wanted to have one last laugh with us, and pass on April Fools Day, at the age of 95. My mother died eight days later.
And now my aunt is gone, on Friday, March 29.
There is the feeling of a circle closing in my aunt dying almost exactly 27 years after her mother and sister. They had always done everything together, as much as they possibly could, and she must have been very lonely. living nearly another thirty years without them. I know how lonely I have been, without my mum and sister, and despite having had the love and support of husbands, children and grandchildren. There are some rifts of the heart that can never be mended.
Patricia Donovan was very much loved by her family, and the many nieces, nephews, and great-nieces and great-nephews that knew her. She gave so much to us, and I would like to think that we gave back a little bit of what she needed in return.
You know, you get to be a certain age, and it’s harder to cry, harder to justify the tears when you rationally knew that death was always to be expected at some point. And so on Friday night, I hid in my bedroom and watched the film, Christopher Robin, the recent follow up to the films about Winnie the Pooh .. and I remembered. And I wept.
There was so much more to my aunt than these few stories, but I have lost my words. In late spring or early summer we will gather in Montreal to inter Pat’s ashes, and then, I think, this very talkative family will share our memories, and laugh at the crazy antics of this passionate, talented, wonderful family.
My cousin Rita was the family’s bridge to Pat, visiting her, keeping her up on the family’s adventures, and keeping us informed on her health. Rita was the one who notified us of my aunt’s decline, and then death. In her email, she included a few photos, and this poem. I hope you will enjoy it.
FALL ON ME
Pale pink petals
Dropping from a tree
Fall on me
Fall on me
A minute ago
You were the tree
And now you’re
Part of me
From your branches
Rain on me
Rain on me
A week ago
You wouldn’t let go
And now you rain
Pale pink petals
Waiting on the tree
Fall all over
Patricia Donovan (1924-2019)