This is a column that I had hoped not to write for some time yet. Even at age 102 my amazing mother Denise, an avid reader and supporter of this paper, seemed in fine form when I visited her in late June. In mid-July she moved into a wonderful new personal care home with no problems. Even after I received the news, while still travelling in Russia, that she had been hospitalized with pneumonia, recovery was my expectation until persistent infection and added complications proved too much.
After days in airports I reached her bedside while she was still aware of my presence, carrying with me an icon of Jesus in whom she had a deep faith. No one believed more in his promise of eternal life. She entered it on July 30. I have no doubt she was at peace leaving this world for the next. I remember her telling me the words of her patron saint, St. Thérèse of the Child Jesus: “I am not dying, I am entering into life.” As the Prayer of St. Francis concludes: “It is in dying that we are born to eternal life.”
I had these words added to her memorial card in French as well as English because the former was her mother tongue which she made a point of speaking to me and my siblings, sister Yvonne and brother Roger, as we were growing up on the Schmitz homestead farm near Englefeld. That was not easy in the 1950s with no local French resources, so she would order books in French for us from Madonna House in Combermere. Her lifelong love of learning, compassion for others and passion for social justice were qualities that set an example for us. Indeed my mom is the biggest influence and inspiration in my life. I say “is” not “was” because although I will miss her greatly I have faith that with me always will be her abiding spirit of curiosity, generosity, and openness to the loving grace of a Creator whom we encounter on life’s journeys until we meet again in a blessed reunion.
Despite the hardships of a pioneer upbringing in northwest Saskatchewan, Denise was an exceptional student, finishing high school at age 16 and becoming a teacher at 17. Born to Jean and Corentine Le Grand on the feast of St. Joseph the Worker, she worked hard through the Depression and war years. At one point she considered a religious vocation but decided it was not her calling. She married my father Bernard in 1948 and spent the next 25 years as a devoted farm wife. After moving to Saskatoon she certainly never “retired” or stopped helping others. The Friendship Inn, CWL Clothing Depot, refugee families, and organizations committed to the world’s poor, are among those that benefited.
My mom never lost interest in the world around her. We made good use of an iPad (gift of the Aschenbrenner family) she got for her 100th birthday. When I would bring out books on complicated subjects (some reviewed in these pages) she always wanted to read them too. One of her last requests was for donations to be made to the Prairie Messenger Sustaining Fund or the Canadian Catholic Organization for Development and Peace.
Denise had an amazing grace that touched many lives. For that I give thanks and remember a beautiful soul that has gone to its repose.