A normal death
On August 31st, I lost a third of my remaining family members. My grandmother, my Nana, Beryl, died at the age of 98. This is the first family death I've felt in a while that is actually kind of…normal. People expect grandmothers to die, especially when they're almost a century old. And yet, this death is unique: my grandmother outlived her two daughters (one of them being my mother), her husband, her sister, her brother-in-law, and her son-in-law (my father). That means that my brother and I, her grandchildren, are it. We are the ones who are navigating her death—and all of the grief and logistics that come with it.
I have a million thoughts on what it has felt like, this anticipatory grief leading up to Nana's death (my friend Jess and I recently chatted about this. So timely!). I also have a million thoughts on what it feels like to somehow be cleaning out a second dead family member's house in the same year with my brother.
But for now, I'll share a just a bit more about who Nana was. Soon, when I'm ready, I'll write more.
About Beryl, AKA Nana Berry
Beryl was born in 1924 to Abe and Edie in Birmingham, England. Abe was a skilled tailor, providing his services to the British Army during World War I. He was injured during the war, almost losing an arm, and won a medal for his service.
Beryl had a younger sister, Shirley, with whom she was very close. They were eight years apart in age, so Beryl always felt an urge to be protective of her little sister.
Beryl experienced a change in her family’s lifestyle as a child: her father’s business success quickly dissipated during the Great Depression- it was a bit of a shock, she said, as they moved from what she described as a large and beautiful house to a smaller one in a poorer neighborhood... But her family pushed through.
By the time of the Second World War, Beryl found herself with a group of girlfriends working as a hostess at a canteen for soldiers stationed nearby her hometown. They wanted to meet some of the cute boys—and they certainly succeeded. Ralph walked in, and Beryl couldn’t miss him: he was 6’4 (and a half!). She, at 5’2 on a good day, caught his eye immediately. He was stationed nearby working on radar for the Air Force—he was too tall to actually be allowed to fly planes—and she was enthralled by him.
In a few more months, they were married, at age 21. And a year later, Beryl was crossing the ocean by herself to start a new life with Ralph in Canada. But Birmingham was never far from her mind, as she wrote letters and spoke on the phone with her family nearly every day from then on. She’d also find herself a community of other War Brides in Montreal, making friends with many women over the years.
Beryl soon gave birth to her first daughter, Susan, and a few years later to her second daughter, Pamela. The family moved from their first home in Three Rivers then to Montreal, where Beryl supported Ralph in his growth in business. She then saw her daughters grow into successful women, and both would marry men that they loved.
While Beryl and Ralph lived a beautiful life together, they faced the unimaginable in losing both of their daughters far too young. Beryl and Ralph were devastated when Pammy lost her life at the age of 31. Even in her later years, Beryl still struggled to talk about Pam, although she loved her so much.
About twenty years later, after a long battle with brain cancer, Beryl and Ralph’s eldest daughter, Susan, passed away, leaving behind Beryl and Ralph’s two grandchildren, Becki and Daniel, and a dedicated son-in-law, Mark.
Over the next twenty years, Beryl would lose her husband, Ralph, her son-in-law, Mark, her brother-in-law, John, and her beloved sister Shirley. And she lived through a pandemic!
Such immense challenges in a life would break the average person. But not Beryl. She was born with the British “Keep calm, and carry on” attitude—and that’s exactly what she did. She held her head high, and proudly lived on for nearly an entire century.
Toward the end of her life, it was her grandchildren and the chance to live comfortably at home that brought her so much peace. She was immensely proud of her granddaughter Becki’s career in education and government, and she loved when her dogs came to visit her. Beryl said she was “over the moon” when her grandson, Daniel, moved to Montreal in 2016 to dedicate time and energy to coordinating her care and well-being. It brought her tremendous joy to see both of her grandchildren living happy and healthy lives, and she loved that she got to spend so much time with both of them in her final years.
Beryl lived a full life: the joys, the sorrows, the challenges, the victories. She persevered through it all. And everyone who knew her is grateful for her.