We thought she would live forever…but on April 24, 2021, Hilda MacDonald died peacefully in the home she created and surrounded by the people she made.
Six of us were blessed to call her “Mom”: Mary Margaret (John Gillis), Alex (Valerie), Anne Louise (Alan Leith), Francis (Karen Head), Peter (Patricia) and Danny (Dany Martin). Those of us not born directly to her – the sons and daughters-in-law, her eighteen grandchildren and ten great-grandchildren – we just called her “Nan”.
Nan lived her very long life guided by her faith and it never wavered no matter what life threw at her. With that faith intact, she left this world swaddled in the belief that she would see, again, the people she loved and lost: her husband, Hector; her daughters, Mary Margaret and Anne Louise; her son, Alex; her grandson, John-John; she who was born a niece but became a daughter, Mary Catherine O’Donnell; brothers, Alex Peter, Brother John and Danny; and sisters, Christie and Peg.
A lot of living gets packed into almost one hundred years. There are countless joys and unavoidable sorrows and Nan met each with quiet strength – the quiet strength of women that is often unseen and unappreciated. Nan flexed that power with quiet dignity and the intensity of a nuclear blast. She raised six children of her own and countless others who lived close by, often alone because her husband worked at sea for months at a time. Each home she created had an open door through which people – lots of people – flowed. When she didn’t have much, she turned it into enough.
There have been almost a century’s worth of Christmases and holidays, birthdays and anniversaries, weddings and funerals, and new babies born. Years of Saturday night sleepovers with the grandkids where supper was always barbecue Shake and Bake chicken and French fries. The biggest treat was always a trip to bingo with Nan where she would inevitably start marking your cards because you were too slow.
Her power crossed generations and she was a presence equally in the lives of her children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren. She taught a lot of us to knit and a few of us still remember how. She kept a pantry full of delicious treats and created a family of dessert lovers. She made the world’s best tea biscuits and she is the Toronto Maple Leaf’s number one fan. Her greatest shame in life is that she made four people (at least) who turned out to be Habs fans…five if you count the husband she blamed for the creation of the other four. Peter may well be her favourite since his hockey colour matched hers.
At her knee and occasionally, for a select few of us (we’re looking at you, Francis) at the end of her boot, we learned the lessons she felt we needed to prepare us for life.
She made sure we knew that winning is better than losing but that life is easier if you can learn how to do both. She was a ferocious card player and she taught us all the love of a good card game. Losing with grace was optional but it wasn’t the option she usually chose. Smack talk was her love language and more than one of her kids and grandchildren were called some things that we all would have gotten our mouths washed out with soap for saying. There is one among us (looking at you Adrienne Lori Leith) whose greatest goal in life was to be called the nasty word that had been long reserved for her mama in a vicious game of Tarabish.
For more years than we can count she bowled and threw darts to show us the importance of being active. She continued to show us how important it was to keep your mind active, even when your body was not up to the task, playing weekly games of Tarabish and Cribbage right up to the end.
She made sure we knew the value of keeping things until they were old and worn because having things in your home with history is comforting. They will also help to remind you who you are and where you came from when you lose your way. She taught us that family is family, no matter what life throws at us.
Through Nan, we learned that it’s ok to laugh, long and hard, when someone stubs a toe, bumps a head, or slips on the ice. Little accidents, with minor injuries, are funny so laugh hard and laugh loud. Bigger accidents with slightly more significant injuries can also be funny…if you are with the right person, with the right sense of humour.
Wearing socks in winter is not a choice. Those who flaunt this Nan rule must be singled out and mocked until they mend their ways…and put their damned socks on!
Sugary treats are not bad for children and parents who seek only healthy fare are wrong and are too tightly wrapped. Those of us who call her “Mom” have this crazy notion that this resulted from a bump on the head because it not something that filled their childhoods; but they are old now and easily confused.
Perhaps, most importantly, she taught us how to be sons and daughters; brothers and sisters; husbands and wives; and cousins and ‘cuzints’. In her lessons we learned how to love one another even when we might not always like one another, especially then for she made sure we knew the importance of remaining connected. Her lessons gave us wings as well as deep roots.
Nan lived her life with integrity, energy and love; and she was the best of us.
In lieu of flowers, spend time (lots of time) with your Nan – or any Nan. Take her to lunch, do her hair, play a game of cards or have a great conversation. Show her that life’s highest honour is to care for those who cared for us. Tell them Nan sent you.
There will be no visitation for the late Hilda MacDonald. A Memorial Mass will be celebrated on Tuesday, April 27, 2021 at 10:00 a.m. at Holy Redeemer Church with Fr. Paul Murphy officiating. Public health restrictions will be followed. Livestream will be available at www.facebook.com/holyredeemerwhitneypier/live_videos/. Interment will take place in St. Andrew’s Cemetery, Boisdale.
Funeral arrangements are entrusted to the care and direction of Pier Community Funeral Home.
I am so sorry about the loss of your mom. Thinking of you in your time off need
From: Anne Marie (Gillis) McCarthy & Eileen Gillis