Seniors' Week 2018: reflections after death of grandparent

As Seniors Week draws to a close, reporter Carolyn Millet shares a piece she wrote reflecting on her relationship with her own precious senior, her grandmother, after she died in late 2016. Edith and Max Millet lived in France and had two children: Carolyn’s father, who immigrated to Australia in the 1970s and started his family here; and a daughter, who moved to Canada and started her family there. Mémé Edith, as her granddaughters called her, chose to remain in France. Max died in the ’80s and Edith lived independently until the end of her life.

This week the 102-year era of my Mémé Edith came to an end, about three months short of her 103rd birthday.

My parents and I travelled back to France to visit her twice when I was a very small child. I keep marvelling that the first time I actually remember meeting her, she was already 75 – and she lived for another 27 years! I was lucky enough to travel to France and see her twice more after that. This meant I got to introduce her to my husband, but sadly not my son.

I have regrets that there were such barriers of time, distance, language and technology between us, but we did our best through slightly stilted phone calls, letters, photos – and intermediaries including her neighbour, whom I found on Facebook through a weird coincidence. 

I always felt terribly sad and guilty leaving Mémé’s apartment for the last time on any given trip, painfully aware that all her family was so far away.

I will never forget the image of the last time I saw her: in a window of her third-floor apartment as I walked away from the complex – a tiny figure, with well-arranged hair as always, waving. If I felt so heartbroken leaving her, how must she have felt? 

I'll mostly remember her pottering around her apartment, fussing over “ma petite Carolyn/Natalie/Sophie” with the croaky murmur of a contented hen, urging us to eat more, sneaking us chocolate and francs.

She would warn us that such-and-such was bad for the liver/skin/lungs, and tell us of the horror of her latest ailment (with a tsk-gasp and an ‘Oh là là’ hand gesture – French people will know what I’m talking about).

She’d give us items of clothing that were hilariously daggy, and made the most incredible hot chocolate I’ve ever tasted.

She's survived by a son and daughter, six granddaughters and 11 great-grandchildren (six boys and five girls) in Australia and Canada.

Adieu, Mémé Edith.

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