My friend Emily McGrath was like a bright beautiful flower. For someone in her 80s, she had a lot of energy.
Emily woke early every morning out of a habit she kept after retiring from the Abitibi paper mill in Iroquois Falls. Her days were filled with keeping the kitchen clean, dusting and putting clutter back in its rightful place. On warm days when the sun was not too hot, she loved putting her hands in the soil to tend to her garden of perennial flowers she kept alive with thoughtful attention year after year.
When she grew tired of her daily chores, Emily looked forward to sitting quietly inside her lifelong home to peruse the newspaper or she would sit amongst her flowers in the warm sun to read a new book. She lived in the same house for 75 years in Iroquois Falls. She was a rock for her family and friends.
When I first met Emily in 1997 she was very vibrant but in recent years she slipped in her ability to do the things she always enjoyed. In the past few years, her energy wore down as she took on fewer and fewer tasks. Still, Emily belonged to many volunteer groups in town as she was always trying to make someone’s life a little better.
My friend Mike, her son, always admired Emily for her openness and understanding. He was always very proud of the fact that she was a really intelligent woman with a broad range of knowledge.
This came out of her love of reading. As a young girl, she was given a great education in English grammar. When I started writing this weekly column, she was ready to proofread every word I wrote. No matter how many people read my copy, Emily was bound to find a misspelled word, a grammatical error or missing punctuation. She was a patient teacher, a knowledgeable tutor and a joy to work with.
Emily helped a lot of young girls along the way with her commitment to the Girl Guides. She volunteered for the Girl Guides of Canada for over 50 years and her dedication was recognized when she was awarded the Governor General’s Award in 1991 at Queen’s Park.
There is a great picture of her accepting her award from the then Governor General, Lincoln Alexander. This was a very appropriate situation for Emily as she never saw people in colour. She seemed only capable of seeing the good in people and she treated everyone equally. For someone who came out of a time full of prejudice, Emily was open and loving.
Emily saw me for what I could do or what I was capable of. As I spent more time with her, I considered her more as an Elder that helped me to lead a more meaningful existence.
I learned a lot from Emily. She taught me that it was important to make good use of each day and in an organized way. I learned that it was a good idea to set boundaries so that one can be nice to people but still have time for one’s own life.
I learned that it is not right to judge others or to claim any moral high ground over anyone. I learned that it is love that really makes the world go around and not money. I learned that if you keep yourself strong and healthy than you can be capable of helping others.
I spent a lot of time with my friend Mike to help his mom Emily while she was in hospitals for the past several months. It was painful to see her suffer and go through so much pain and discomfort because of illness. One of her greatest discomforts was due to the fact that she was not able to be in her lifelong home in all that time.
It was also painful when she passed away at the end of May. It was like a star had gone out in the night sky. It was like one less bird sang outside my bedroom window. It was like part of me had gone away. Still, I know that her teachings will be with me for the rest of my life.
Meegwetch to my friend Emily.