Goodbye to Granny

Granny raised 7 children and helped take care of 20 grandchildren and 4 great grandchildren,

She played ping pong with us,

She came to graduations,

And more graduations,

She was a tremendous Scrabble player,

And she was perhaps the most beautiful person I’ve ever had the pleasure to know.

She died this past Saturday, June 20th, a little less than two months short of her 100th birthday. This is the eulogy my sister presented at the funeral this morning, by far the best eulogy I’ve ever heard:

“My name is Josephine Anderson. Agneta Wright was my Granny.

I was in Nova Scotia, looking out over the Atlantic Ocean when I got the phone call that Granny’s time had come. I thought of what it feels like to hug her. I’ve been hugging Granny for as long as I can remember. When I was a child, I used to go over to Gran’s place after school. The rule became that the first of us five siblings to call dibs on Granny in the car ride home from school would get to go over. I usually blurted it out the fastest, and I remember visiting Granny as one of my fondest childhood memories.

Gran used to tell me that when I was a baby she’d hold me on her shoulder, and I’d fall asleep without a care in the world. I don’t remember this, but I think the feeling stuck, because to this day the most vivid feeling I have about Granny, the thing I miss the most, is nestling into Gran’s neck, giving her a great big hug, breathing in a whiff of her rose water scent, and feeling the best feeling in the world: true, genuine, unconditional love.

Granny had an extraordinary life. She lived through WWI and WWII. She contracted and survived the Spanish Flu. She witnessed the change from the telegraph to the cell phone. And still, at 99 years old, she had a dimpled, beautiful grin on her face as if she were entirely delighted. And after all these years, after bringing up 7 children, and living in England, Scotland, India, and Canada, and after reading hundreds of books, and crossing paths with thousands upon thousands of people in her lifetime, she still felt charmed by the world, still felt engaged and passionate, still felt full-hearted joy at the tiny details that made up a single day out of nearly 100 years lived.

Though I myself have only known Gran as a white haired beauty, she wasn’t always 99 years old. Once, she was a little girl with rosy cheeks and a penchant for getting into mischief with her siblings. She told us about the time her brother Jack convinced her to climb out of their landing window, onto the glass-roof passageway that joined their house with their father’s surgery. They didn’t manage to get away with it though; there was a huge clattering when Jack put his foot through the glass roof. Or the time that she and Jack snuck out of the house for an hour to go to the town gardens and play make-believe in a game called Conquest, sure that no one at home would notice their absence. They didn’t get away with that one either. Or there was the time Gran had had enough of a local boy, a “big lout” who’d been bullying her and her friends. She finally socked him one right in the face and gave him a bloody nose. Turned out the boy’s father was a patient of Granny’s father. Gran remembered her dad bringing it up the next night over dinner, and him chuckling a bit. She got away with that one.

Gran ripened well with age. She was tall and slim. She was an actress, a field hockey player, a children’s tutor, and a painter. She met a man named Henry who’d spotted her while she was acting on stage one night, and they soon fell in love. She remembered the time she returned to England from India with a lovely pair of tailored grey trousers, which she knew looked good even if she was the only woman around wearing pants.

She was a mother to Peter, Josephine, Cecilia, David, Raymund, Jim, and Rosemary. She managed to cook and care for all seven of them, and even became an impromptu secretary when her eldest son started up his business in their garage. Gran was very proud of her children, and loved to tell stories of when they were young. Like the time Uncle Peter locked her out of her house in Scotland so he could eat the Christmas cake. Gran was also very proud of her husband, and his abilities as an engineer, and often recalled to us how, during the war, he helped rebuild the very ship that later brought their family of nine from England to Canada.

When Granny was sadly predeceased by her beloved husband Harry and sons Peter and Raymund, she showed the remarkable strength and stoicism she was so well known for. Gran always took care of her family. Up until two weeks before her death, she looked forward to preparing dinner every single Friday night for my mom. And on trips to Bowen, while Uncle David worked hard to take care of the property, Granny would lovingly make him meals too.

Until three years ago, Granny attended daily mass here in this parish. She was well into her 88th year when she finally gave up her post as the Thursday Morning Mass reader. She was also a founding member of Saint Gerard’s Mission on Bowen Island. Granny’s faith guided every aspect of her life, from her love for her children, to her remarkable generosity and love for the poor.

Granny’s friend, Father Murray Abraham, who lives in Darjeeling, India, emailed my mom a few days ago to offer his condolences. He wrote, “If anyone deserves to enjoy the loving presence and joy of God your mother surely does. I feel a great sense of loss. It was so comforting to me to know your mother was ‘just there.’ She was so kind and so encouraging to me in my work for the poor. It was through friends like her that God gave me the strength and the kind of love that helps the poor most of all. It gives me great joy and gratitude to God that he arranged that it would be ‘through’ me that your mother fed the hungry and gave homes to the homeless. May she prepare a place for you—and me—when the time comes that God calls us.”

In her time as a mother, grandmother, and great-grandmother, Granny was the matriarch, the centre of our family. She was a very special person.

When I think of Granny I think of her laughing from the deepest reaches of her diaphragm when retelling one of her favourite old jokes. “What did the ear wig say when it fell off the wall?” “Eeeaaaar we go!” I think of her love of poetry, and the way that from time to time, she would spontaneously erupt with a piece of poetry she’d memorized in her youth. I think of the way she’d catch flies, ants and spiders in her bare hands without flinching. I think of how excited and happy she got when a deer would wander into the garden at Bowen. I think of the way she used to sit in the sunroom, looking out over the ocean so peacefully, with a lovely calmness, a contentedness.

I spoke to Granny on the phone from Nova Scotia the day before she passed away. I told her I’d seen a wild rabbit in the yard that morning; she said, “Just like I used to see when I was young.” I told her to reach out her arms because I was giving her a big hug, and she said “I’m imagining it now.” I told her I loved her, and I said “Goodbye my love.” And she said “Goodbye darling.” And it hit me that we were in two very different, yet similar, places.

I looked out at the Atlantic Ocean, while Granny rested within view of the Pacific Ocean. Gran sounded peaceful, happy, calm. Gran was at the end of a life well lived, a life full of love and laughter, a beautiful life. And we, her family and friends, remain here, to honour her, to share our love for her, to remember a little girl named ‘Neta who climbed trees with her brother and mischievously snuck mulberries from the orchard; to remember a mother who raised 7 caring children, who grew into a graceful woman with permanent laugh lines, whose eyes spoke with the wisdom of age, whose smile showed true beauty, whose laugh spoke love.

A couple of days ago Uncle David noticed a scrap of paper by Gran’s bed. As he looked closer, he realized Gran had written on it. In her dear handwriting was a quote she’d scrawled down. It said, “Live truly, and thy life shall be a great and noble creed.”

Now it is Gran’s time to leave this life. Granny, we love you. And we will try our best to live truly, as you did.”


(Sorry no links in this one as I’m posting from a friend’s computer in Germany and have to jump in a car in 5 mins)

My maternal grandmother grew up in England, and went to school for a time in Bristol, not too far from her parents’ home in Bridgwater, Somerset. Nearly six years ago, after returning from my three week trip to Uganda, I spent several days with my great-aunt and great-uncle in Taunton, Somerset, and got a chance to visit Bridgwater and pass by the house in which Granny lived on Castle Street.

My boss during my internship, Fraser, lives in Bristol and invited me to work from his house there for a few days after our mountain biking weekend, so I could have a look around. Of course I had to try and see if I could visit some of the places Granny would have been over 80 years ago. I got my mother to ask Granny a bunch of questions about her time spent in Bristol, without letting on that I was actually there. I then set about town looking for a bunch of stuff she spoke of, using Google Earth and Google Maps and the various references and names Granny gave my mother. I was really surprised at how much of it I could find.

First, though, a funny photo for my friends. 13 years of primary and secondary school with a majority of students being Filipino, I thought some of my friends might appreciate this. It’s some sort of candy bar from Spain that was in Fraser’s house. So now you can buy and eat Filipinos for less than a Euro.

One thing that wouldn’t have been around when Granny was in Bristol: Banksies. This one, a relatively old piece of street art by the world famous Bristolian, who now lives in London, is quite high up on the side of the building. It ‘just appeared’ one day:

There was an old bike in Fraser’s garage, so I spent half an hour adjusting and fixing it, then off I went to explore Bristol by bike.

Here’s a somewhat strange building in the Clifton Downs, a nice semi-wilderness area of Bristol near the River Avon:

Looking East, South, and West from the cliffs above the river:

Granny told Mom that she went to a school called Felixstowe School which was in a large house right next to the Mayor’s house. Google Maps told me that the Mayor’s house was in the Zoo grounds, which was wrong. It also told me there was a Felixstowe Cottage located a few blocks from there. As it turns out, there is no Felixstowe Cottage on the street that Google Maps lists, but there IS a Felixstowe House on the next street, which happens to be right next door to the Mayor’s mansion. I find it quite impressive that, despite Granny’s 99 years of age, her memory is more reliable than Google Maps.

This is one of the buildings the school used to own. It’s now something private, not sure what. The other attached house was also part of the school and is now a fancy building for a bank.

The Mayor’s mansion is the building on the left. The one on the right is the old Felixstowe School.

Granny said she used to cross the Clifton Suspension Bridge to go to a church she liked in Leigh Woods, so I decided to find it. The Clifton Suspension Bridge was designed by the very well known (at least in Britain) architect/engineer Isambard Kingdom Brunel. It’s now 144 years old and still carries tonnes of traffic and people across every day.

The view from the North end of the bridge, looking West. I bet I could convince many Vancouverites that this is somewhere near the Upper Levels or similar.

The bridge is undergoing some maintenance; as far as I can tell it’s just repaving the deck. Looking South:

Looking back North:

Looking back North, on the West side of the bridge. Check out the tunnel that comes out of the rocks. I haven’t yet taken the time to find out what the deal is with that, but it sure looks neat!

Looking North:

When I got across the bridge, I cycled up a side road and found the only Anglican church in Leigh Woods: St Mary the Virgin. Near as I can tell, this must be the church that Granny would have attended all those years ago, as it did exist at that time. It’s in a really nice area, which actually felt to me a bit like Bowen Island.

I then went off to look for a cycle trail through the woods to take me down to the river’s edge. A few blocks along, I spotted this awesomecool roof:

Down at the river’s edge, while I was looking at my map and deciding where I was, I saw this:

Turning about 120 degrees, this was the view on the other side of the trail: a bridge for the old decommissioned railway:

And behind the bridge, in the forest, oldschool stone walls to channel water under the bridge and into the river:

Looking East from the same spot:

I then cycled East on the trail along the edge of the river, in the direction of the suspension bridge. This is a proper sized tree growing out of the side of a retaining wall for the old rail line:

I was standing on top of these cliffs when I took the first three photos of the river, at the start of this post:

Not sure why I find this funny, but it is:

Read the story, it’s neat:

Looking East toward the bridge that I had crossed earlier:

The cycle trail:

My poor attempt to make a panorama shot of the bridge’s underside by stitching together three photos taken from direcly beneath the South end:

East of the bridge, still on the South shore of the river, looking North:

Eventually I returned to the city centre. This replica boat, the Mathew, is on display there. Apparently it used to sail to the Americas, but it’s pretty small.

Old school loading crane:

There was a dragon boat race as I passed by, so I watched. Team 2 won I think.

This crazy boat caught my attention. The sign on the stone wall just left of the bow says “No Mooring”

And that was my Bristol adventure!


Chan Centre ceiling

It’s been 3 weeks since my last post, not for lack of events and photos, but for lack of time. I’m just concluding what has probably been the busiest, most sleep-deprived short period of my life. And I once pulled an all-nighter at least once a week for an entire semester (term 2 in 2nd year), so I know what sleep deprivation is.

Over the next few weeks I’ll try and put up some interesting photos and a bit of what’s been going on lately. Today’s topic: Graduation at the Chan Centre.

On November 22, my brother Matt graduated from UBC with a Bachelor of Commerce in Accounting from the Sauder School of Business.

The next day, November 23, my oldest brother Dan graduated from UBC with a Bachelor of Science in Computer Science and Mathematics, with co-op option.

Matt spent 5.5 academic years (2 terms = 1 academic year) in post-secondary education, and Dan spent 7.5 academic years at UBC. When I graduate in May, after 5.5 academic years, I’ll be the third to graduate in the space of only 6 months! And to think, for a little while, 4 out of 5 children in my family were UBC students. My parents both have UBC degrees and my baby sis will end up here too. Talk about family tradition.

And now for the photos:

Nov 22:

Singing Oh Canada at the beginning:

Dad, Granny, and Mom

This guy is definitely not paying attention to the grads walking across the stage

I believe this is the only photo I’ve ever seen in which I can honestly say that Matt and I look VERY alike:

Hey, it’s never too late to get a degree! University is free for senior citizens in BC.


Luckily, despite somewhat similar looks at times, I’m significantly taller than Matt, and almost as tall as Dan.

Nov 23:

Immediately after this photo was taken, as he was still on stage, my two sisters and I yelled out in perfect synchrony and the loud projection of three chamber choir singers, “FINALLY!” Definitely a crowd pleaser. (yes, I used to be in a chamber choir, my sister was as well, and my baby sis still is)

It was cold and windy, hence the forced smiles:

Another Visit to the Hospital and an Interview

On Monday the 14th, I got to Mount Saint Joseph’s Hospital at the bright and early hour of 645am as planned several weeks ago. After some waiting, I was taken to a hospital bed and given a gown and knee high green socks to wear.

After asking a few questions, I was wheeled to an operating room where they put me on an IV drip (not sure if it was antibiotics or morphine or both at different times). The anaesthetist missed on his first poke on the back of my hand, so he taped that and tried again with more success on my inside elbow.

They then put a mask on my face and turned on the oxygen. I remember faintly tasting some rubbery smelling chemicals then the next thing I knew I was waking up in some other room. It was like waking up one of those mornings where you know you slept just the right amount and the sun woke you up with the wind billowing the curtains in your room.

I spent another hour or so in the recovery room, then got wheeled back to my original spot and after a while more they let me get dressed and I walked out to the car when I saw my dad drive in to the parking lot.

Oh, I guess I should elaborate on why I was there – it was a routine, minor procedure to repair a hernia. About 10% of guys will get one during their life because of a weakness in the muscle tissue which hasn’t yet been solved by evolution (nor will it likely, seeing as how it no longer really affects chances of survival or reproduction in the developed world).

Yesterday I hobbled to an interview at the Liu Institute for Global Issues at UBC. The interview was for a position as French-language research assistant with the Human Security Gateway, an innovative online database project launched in January, 2005. For a quick look at this concept, check out

The interview went well I think. It seemed a bit short, so perhaps my answers weren’t detailed enough or I spoke too quickly. I was in a bit of pain but I did my best not to let it distract me. Even if I don’t get the job, however, I did get something out of it: they gave me a copy of the 2005 Human Security Report free of charge!

(This cover image is taken from the Human Security Report website)

It’s a $30 publication, compiled by the Human Security Centre at the Liu Institute and sponsored by the governments of Canada, the UK, Norway, Sweden, and Switzerland. Impressive, to say the least, and definitely a convenient and interesting research tool for me.

And now, in a few minutes, I’m heading out to Bowen Island to stay until tomorrow afternoon for my granny’s 97th birthday. I missed her 96th last year when I was in New Zealand, and I’ll be working on the 20th when she celebrates, but tomorrow is her actual birthday so we’ll have a smaller birthday lunch with her then.