It’s nearly January 15th, which for most means the middle of the month. For me, it is the day my mom sprung into the world. Elaine Clare Grant, nee Muirhead was a jewel. I have missed her since the moment she left in 2017. When I was preparing to speak at her funeral, I remember thinking, how do I capture a life in a speech that will last just a few minutes, especially when that life belonged to your mother? Knowing that was, and continues to be impossible, I still love to share parts of my mom’s life and hope it honours her.
Elaine was born to William and Helen on January 15, 1947 in Sudbury, Ontario. She was the first of four girls, to be joined by Linda, Susan, and Laurie. Mom always described her home as a happy one. Her parents carried themselves with a calm that was striking. That same calm has also always been evident in the girls, oftentimes referred to as the “Muirhead glow”.
I have vivid memories of my Grandparents house on Roderick Crescent, located right by the shore of Lake Ramsey. Mom loved being from Northern Ontario. I remember her teaching us to dive off the point and swim deep so that we could grab handfuls of clay from the bottom of the lake. We made countless little pots out of that clay, some of which she sentimentally kept. Mom never tired of the northern landscape: the ruggedness, the birch trees, the sprinkling of blueberries, and the water.
Mom’s parents later built a cottage (though we always called it the camp) in Killarney. They also had a boat they kept across the channel in town, called the ELLSMUIR, a clever moniker that incorporated the initials of each girl and the first syllable of their last name. Every summer we would gather as a family there to spend countless hours in the water, read multiple books, and share meals. The big treat was to have Fish and Chips on the dock in town, and if we were lucky, ice cream cones after. Mom loved the laughter that accompanied those times together. She had a great laugh.
Always an artist, mom decided to study at what was then known as the Ontario College of Art in the 60’s. She studied material arts, a program she chose because she wanted to play with different media. It was at the OCA that she met my dad, Barry Grant, an aspiring interior designer. One of mom’s first jobs out of school was designing fabric for bathing suits. She went on to do a variety of things throughout her career: hand charting at the Bank of Nova Scotia, pen and ink renderings of homes, making jewellery, painting and firing porcelain, and in her later years, drawing with her remaining ‘one good finger’ on her iPad.
It was in 1969 that Elaine and Barry got married. I then came along, followed by Logan. Some years later our parents made the difficult decision to divorce. While this impacted all of us in a variety of ways, it was always clear that the two of them endeavoured to make their parting as good as possible. We lived with our mom and saw our dad frequently. I know that until his death in 2008, dad sought to take care of all three of us in the best way he could.
It was in the early 80’s that my mom came to know Jesus. She often described the experience as one where she moved from darkness to light. Mom’s faith became central to everything she did and it showed. We joined Grace and Peace, a little church that proved foundational to our family. There we were surrounded by a group of friends who nurtured our faith and became our circle of support. Subsequent church families also had a deep impact, all of which helped us understand the power of community.
The kind of home my mother created was warm, inviting, and safe. Our house was always filled with a mixture of antiques, family heirlooms and what mom affectionately called her “meaningful piles”. She would occasionally try to go through those piles, usually only successfully making different ones. We could easily put our feet up and feel comfortable, as could anyone visiting. I know it was a struggle for mom to balance her desire to be a homemaker, along with life as a single working mother, but she never seemed to complain. She did all of it with a serious amount of grace.
Mom loved food and could easily sit around a table for hours. She was the slowest eater I have ever known, preferring to savour every bite and bit of conversation over having a hot meal. She liked to cook, though didn’t fancy herself a gourmet- we ate a lot of what she called “cheesy macaroni” (I’m sure she would use an entire very large block of cheese). She often joked about how the picture of her displaying a pie was necessary because it was possibly the only one she ever made. For our family Christmas dinner, she would be delegated the job of preparing potatoes and inevitably peeled 20+ pounds of them, fearing there wouldn’t be enough. There were ALWAYS leftovers. When she lost her ability to eat food through her mouth, mom sought to maintain a connection to food, primarily via the Food Network (she would often call to rhyme off a recipe she thought I should try) and what we came to call her “aroma buffet”, a plate full of food that we would pass right under her nose (which always amazed me).
In 2004, after a few years of declining health, my mother agreed to have surgery to remove a brain tumour that was both benign and wrapped around the base of her brain stem, though there were massive risks involved in such an invasive procedure. Mom slept at our house the night before so we could get up together and leave for the hospital at a very early hour. I was with her right until they took her into the operating room, even helping the doctors with prep by being the one to shave the back of her head. Then I joined other family members and friends in the waiting room.
I had a hard time sitting still that day. I remember excusing myself for a brief walk through the halls. I found a quiet spot, leaned against a wall, and through a barrage of tears began to repeatedly pray Psalm 23, a passage my mom often turned to: “Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil…The Lord IS my shepherd.” My mom survived that surgery. The valleys frequently returned in subsequent years: her journey was marked with paralysis, infections and near death experiences in the ICU. Somehow all along she held fast to the Shepherd and made her home with Him. Though she lost much and certainly grieved, my mom refused to define herself as a “sufferer”. She was known for her patience, hope, love and joy, something her care-team at the hospital always noticed.
On the Friday night of the May long weekend in 2017 we received a call that Mom was not doing well. Logan and I walked together to be with her, thankful yet again to both live so close. The next day we were told to gather family and friends. So many of us were able to spend time with her throughout the weekend, taking turns to sit at her bedside, singing songs, telling stories, praying, laughing, and weeping. I slept beside her on Sunday night. By Monday it was clear that death was drawing close. We were confident of mom’s wishes and longing to rest, and so while the thought of her leaving was heartbreaking, we trusted it was time. At approximately 10:25 pm that night she died, surrounded by us. We toasted her with wine served in little Styrofoam cups (all we could find) and ate chips in her honour- two things she loved, and always together.
Mom, because of you I enjoy sitting around a table for a long time, savouring food and friendship. Thank you for teaching me and Logan to take creative risks, for supporting our choices as adults, and loving our/your families. You introduced us to Jesus and taught us about what it means to live in Him. You were always on my team and caught me whenever I failed. Thank you for being my mom, confidante, friend, and cheerleader. Your example leads me as I mother Cate. I trust you continue to celebrate with God, just as I continue to celebrate you.