Elsie Frances Morry Ranger
12 Sept. 1926 – 28 Apr. 2014
On April 29, 2014, I learned that my dear Aunt Elsie had passed from us the night before. She had struggled stoically with many afflictions in the preceding years but seemed somehow immortal nevertheless so it came as a shock to those of us who did not see here half as often as we should have done. In the end, she had her daughters there beside her to comfort her in her passing. But really, she was a consummate realist and knew the end was coming and accepted it with grace and dignity. My brother Glen and I travelled to the funeral on Saturday, May 3rd, bringing with us her dear granddaughter Alix. Many family and friends were in attendance to offer their condolences and to say goodbye to Elsie.
The high point of the funeral itself was the reading of the eulogy by Chrissie, Lisette, Alix and Brandy. Their words were a poignant reminder of all that Elsie had been and all that she had meant to us who loved her. The words of the eulogy follow along with a number of photographs from various phases of her long and full life.
Chrissie welcomed those in attendance and introduced Alix, who read Elsie’s favourite poem
Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening / by Robert Frost
Whose woods these are I think I know.
His house is in the village though;
He will not see me stopping here
To watch his woods fill up with snow.
My little horse must think it queer
To stop without a farmhouse near
Between the woods and frozen lake
The darkest evening of the year.
He gives his harness bells a shake
To ask if there is some mistake.
The only other sound’s the sweep
Of easy wind and downy flake.
The woods are lovely, dark and deep,
But I have promises to keep,
And miles to go before I sleep,
And miles to go before I sleep.
Chrissie then went on to give a brief résumé of her mother’s life:
Our mother was born in Ferryland Newfoundland in 1926, a village on the Avalon Peninsula south of St. John’s where she was one of 9 children. She headed to St. John’s in the early 1940’s where she resided with her sister Phyllis, to attend College. It was wartime and St. John’s was a hub for American and Canadian naval troop deployment.
During this time our mother entertained the troops, participating in musical shows. She also was a member of the Red Cross. She had many wartime stories to share about her experience and those of her brothers, and had one story published in the magazine Our Canada about her life at this period of time in Canada’s history.
She met our father, Rene who was posted to Gander with the Air Force. They married in 1946 and as Newfoundland was not yet a Canadian province, she emigrated to Canada after their marriage in March and moved to the Sudbury area.
Our parents lived in various areas of Sudbury as well as stints in Chapleau, Capreol, and Warren. Over her lifetime, they built 4 houses which became the hub for many of our friends and for family gatherings over the years. And when I say built, I mean they built mostly on their own with help from friends, the trades when required and the kids when we were old enough. Our mother was in the thick of things, swinging hammers, using table saws, carrying lumber and any other task required.
She had many passions. She loved the arts including ballet, opera, classical music and her favourite singer, was Andrea Bocelli. However in her collection were also Sinatra, Torme, Big Band songs, Newfoundland tunes, some Beatles, Jerry Lee Lewis and even Patsy Cline. She played piano, sang, painted and wrote poetry, as well as fiction. She was an avid reader and you would never see her without a book on the go, even when she was admitted to the hospice. She valued education and was a life-long learner. She instilled this in all her children. After completing College in St. John’s, she completed courses at Cambrian in design, took sewing and art classes and eventually returned to school, completing a degree at Laurentian University at the age of 64.
We spent our summers camping and boating, however on our family trips our mother would find every museum, art gallery, and historical site to drag us through… a love of which we have now passed onto our children. I will always remember going to Toronto when Mom had purchased tickets for a show with Carol Channing who sang “Diamonds are a Girls’ Best Friend” and Lisette, who was probably only about 6 or 7 years old, was sitting in a booster seat and caught some of the paste diamonds that Carol threw out into the audience. Mom also instilled a love of travel in many of her children and would have travelled more given the opportunity. Although she was able to travel to Hawaii and many of the Caribbean islands and across Canada and parts of the US.
She enjoyed playing card and board games, but was not a fan of losing so much. I figure that when you hit about 12 years of age you were fair game for competition. And don’t interfere when she was watching curling or hockey (especially Olympic hockey).
Mom took in strays sometimes animals like our first pet, Jingles. And sometimes our friends who needed a place to stay or someone to talk to. All of our pets were attached to her from the cats, to the dogs (Cleo, Hobo, Pepper & Penny), the odd duck and her horse, Bucky, who followed her around the farm.
I do not recall a time when our mother was not involved in volunteer work. Aside from raising 5 kids, she was involved in the church choir, in Girl Guides, rising to the level of Girl Guide Commissioner. She was CWL president, and after graduating from university she became a volunteer probation officer. When our parents spent their winters in Texas, she volunteered to teach Mexican immigrants English as a second language. She volunteered with her seniors’ group and when she moved to Finlandia, she helped other residents whenever she could. How did she do all of this?¼ and manage the family finances, organize and plan the family… including kid activities like ballet, piano, cadets, singing lessons, brownies, cubs, work in my father’s business, as well as hold down various jobs over the years as a librarian, in the lighting department at Sears, at a chiropractor’s office¼ well, she had excellent planning, and organizational skills. It’s funny, she could never see where Marc and Debbie got their OCD tendencies from, but I think we all knew. While in the hospice, she awoke and told me to remember to send thank you cards after the funeral…. Always planning and organizing.
Newfoundland was always in her heart and as anyone who has visited this amazing land knows, Newfoundland is a special place that captures your heart with its beautiful ocean vistas, and its generous, friendly and fun-loving people.
Lisette took over from her sister at this point and discussed the final weeks of her mother’s life:
When the subject of the eulogy came up, I did not think I would be able to get through delivering it. But it became evident to me, that I had something important to talk about so, I’m going to try.
My niece Brandy and I want to share with you some of the special moments that we had with mom at the hospice, where she spent the last 3 weeks of her life. There are so many stories to pick from which made this both easy and difficult.
When Gramma arrived at her new home at the hospice she told my mom, Debbie, that it was a preview of heaven. She had a room with a fantastic view of the lake. She always loved being near water, which we can likely attribute to having been born and raised in Newfoundland.
The hospice is set up in order to make the residents and the family as comfortable as possible. Very quickly we learned the routine, who the staff was, their schedule, the names and times of Mom’s meds. We monitored her heart rate and her breathing (with the help of Brandy our family nurse) and we gave each other multiple daily updates.
They even have a family room you can book for overnight stays. In the family room is a massage chair. I love massages, so I made myself comfortable and picked up the chair controller. I punched buttons turning everything on that I could.
The more the better right? I sat there while the chair punched its way up my spine. It was quite rough, but I thought that would be good for the many knots in my back and neck. Little did I know that there is a height adjustment, and when it got to my neck it kept going and proceeded to punch me repeatedly in the back of the head on both sides!! Of course I tried to set up as many of my family members as possible so they could get a punch in the head too. Unfortunately, it did not always work!!
There is also a beautiful kitchen and dining area where you can find tons of baking which is available twenty-four hours a day. Needless to say, blueberry pie, ginger snaps and butter tart squares will forever hold a special place in our hearts, stomachs and thighs. Usually, along with the delicious deserts, came the 4:00 a.m. laughing episodes between Andrew, Auntie Lisette and myself. They were uncontrollable and often ended in tears. Leaving us wishing for a comforting bedtime story from Debbie. Although when we did receive our bedtime story from my mom, it ended up being more graphic and twisted, than comforting.
Comfort however we found on a sunny Easter day when Auntie Chrissie and Grandma met a little boy named Ethan. Ethan was a four year old volunteer who came to the hospice with his grandmother to deliver sock monkeys to all of the residents. Grandma cried when he gave her, her sock monkey, and she thanked Ethan for the kind gesture, and then a few days later… threatened to sock the sock monkey in the face.
On that note, I can’t say enough about the staff and volunteers. They chose a very difficult, but I imagine, a very rewarding place to work. Each and everyone of them are amazing and special. As an example, my mom asked to turn on the fireplace channel when she first got to her room in the hospice. It was not on the TV, but one of the PSWs went home after her shift and thought about it for 2 days, when it finally occurred to her to check YouTube!! It’s there by the way.
There were several staff who said they were going home thinking about mom… she was loved. There was one nurse in particular we all loved. When he came on shift, and checked in with Mom, and once he left her room, we’d be whispering and texting each other that he was back! He was the spitting image of Chrissie & Denis’s son Andrew, and he was so gentle and compassionate. When Mom would see him, she would smile with a sparkle in her eye, and reach up to his face cupping his cheek and call him angel.
Another special moment was when Alix came rushing home from England. Mom took her into her arms, a hush fell over the room, they spoke quietly together for a few moments… then Alix suddenly laughed through her tears. When asked later what made her laugh. She told us that Gramma reminded her of the time, when she was as a child… she had made her pancakes, cut them up, and served them in a pile. Alix being a little OCD, burst into tears, and once she calmed down, she told Gramma that the problem was she would not be able to put the pancake back together before eating it. Without missing a beat, Gramma made a new one, and made sure to cut it up keeping the “pancake shape”.
Through all of this, our family has bonded in a way that has changed us forever.
Mom’s final time was spent with her three daughters by her side, holding her as she passed, the men in our lives standing by our sides. Her final 17 minutes were the most amazing 17 minutes of my life. I had some worries that it would be too much for me, but I pushed my concerns aside in favour of honouring our Mom’s wish… not to die alone. It was the best choice we could have ever made, because it was not scary, it was not depressing, and it was not morbid. It was wonderful, fulfilling, uplifting and freeing. I know I will carry that with me the rest of my life.
Chrissie concluded with the following comments:
Elsie’s greatest legacy and life’s work was as a mother and grandmother. She would do anything for her children, and especially for her grandchildren. I was sharing with a co-worker, the circumstances involved in Mom’s declining health, and she said, “Your mother must have a lot of heart”. And I thought, “Yes she did, and she still does!” Her heart will live on in Amanda’s compassion and thoughtfulness (and they were both Virgos); it will live on in Alix’s love of and amazing connection with children, her zest for life and for travel; in Brandy’s caring nature, passion for health care, and determination in returning to school; it will live on in Andrew’s kind and caring soul and dedication to community service; we see her heart in Jessica’s, Katlan’s, and Veronica’s gifts for artistic and musical talents and compassion; and in Destiny’s sense of humour, who will have many precious moments to remember her by; her heart will live on in Casey’s determination, caring and artistic talent, and in Kira’s generosity, creativity and sense of humour.
We will keep her in our hearts always. And as she told Andrew while in the hospice, “When you need me, I will whisper in your ear!” ¼. Sleep tight, don’t let the bed bugs bite.
Thank you from all of us, Marc, Rose, Debbie, Ronnie, Kim, Lisette, Dave, Denis and I and all of her grandchildren for sharing in honouring our mother’s memory.