A Grand Lady: Margaret "Iris" Fandrich / by Leslie

I knew July 29th would be the last time I would see her.

When I visited in May she was having difficulty breathing, still happy as usual, but when I was close to her I found myself taking extra deep breaths, trying to breath for her. When I said good bye I told her that I would see her in July with Chris and the kids. She told me she might not be here. I was shocked, "Grandma! You HAVE to be here, I want the kids to see you!" She heard me, and she waited. We all came back at the end of July and spent one more day at her house in Calgary, a lot of the family there with us. My cousin Luke made this video, which totally makes me cry.

July 29th was one last idyllic day that our family was all together with her. I'm so glad that my cousin made a video of that day. It's a wonderful memory and a bittersweet contrast between my kids running around joyfully and my Grandma near the end of her life.

Three weeks later she is gone. She died last night probably from complications with chronic lung disease (COPD) and pneumonia.

When I saw her in July I had this overwhelming desire to take care of her, to wrap her up in my arms and hold her. Of course there are family members and home care workers who have taken very good care of her over the last few years and to them I am so grateful. 

She had a good life, filled with family who enjoyed seeing each other. She told my sister recently, in one of those frank conversations you have when people are getting sicker and not healthier, that she hoped she would be remembered as a good mother and a good grandmother. She was one of the best.

She always remembered birthdays. She had an encyclopedic knowledge of our extended family, and always knew whether someone was a first, second or third cousin and exactly how many times removed. She loved her family and loved to have her family around. I'm sure if she could have had us all living around the corner from her she would, although no matter how often you saw her, it was never enough. She always wanted a little more time to tell you some fascinating fact about prairie kangaroo rats or show you pictures of a fantastic sunset that she saw or share a magazine article about barns in Maine with you. There were endless things to share.

She knew all the American States and their capitals and when we visited, my American husband would go head to head with the Canadian Grandma to see who could name all 50 states and their capitals first. I think she always beat him.

She loved magazines and newspapers, cross words and puzzles, the natural world and animals. Birds especially and maybe owls the most. Although I think she told me once she was getting tired of getting gifts that had owls on them so one Christmas I got her things with roosters on them. I don't know how well that went. I always knew though that I could always give her something with an Iris on it. I don't think she ever got tired of her namesake.

She was never shy about telling you what she really thought and had comments and opinions about everything. She could actually be a little sharp with her children and those closest to her. But for me, as a grandchild who lived far away, I only ever saw her happy and having a good time. She loved to laugh and anytime I made her laugh so hard that she started gasping or coughing, I simultaneously felt proud and terrible.

I have so many fond memories of being at her house as a kid. Asking for money to visit the candy store across the street and coming home with a little brown bag filled to the top. Chocolate eggs in a bowl in the guest room. The ticking clock in the living room. The box of toys. Grandma's bare feet under the kitchen table. Homemade chicken noodle soup for lunch. Pickles in mason jars in the basement. Fresh raspberries in the backyard. Quilts in various stages and stacks of flannel she used to make pajamas for the kids. Her old sewing machine that was attached to a table. I still have the blanket that she made for me when I was born.

My greatest attachment to her though was our shared birthday. I always felt like it was a special connection to share a birthday with her, that I was her gift. She tried to make it to her 89th birthday, it is coming up in a few weeks, and I'm sure it would have been an epic birthday. It's a good long time on this earth and I think she had a happy life and enjoyed her time here very much.

I'll miss her so much.