Thursday, December 20, 2007

History of building grandma's box

I have been thinking about my grandmother's box for over 2 years. She is turning 94 this summer and she has no problem talking about her own death. I remember 15 years ago having a family celebration at her house in Mordon, Manitoba when someone noticed that there was a label on one of her pieces of furniture. When they asked my grandma about it she told them that she wanted to be ready for when she died and she didn't want anyone to squabble over her stuff. She had seen too much conflict when her friends had died and the family ended up fighting over "the stuff". For her she wanted everyone to get a long and thought the best way to avoid conflict was to label her things. Her family member assured her that she had raised her family right and they would never fight over stuff, relationship was much more important. For most of us in the family the thought of losing our grandmother didn't exist. The labels were ripped off however the lesson about being prepared for death hit home to me at this time because my grandmother was so open in talking about it. She has never been afraid to talk about dying as long as it doesn't offend the listener.

I have been working at a hospital for the past 6 years. The subject of death is always present in my work. As a social worker I try and assist families in discussing planning for their loved ones death or encouraging them to discuss other end of life issues in consultation with the doctors. I think being around death all the time makes you think about how to live your life. I know for me, being aware of my own mortality has encouraged me to focus on the present and not wait till some future event or date to "have a life". This has encouraged me in my career choices, my financial planning, and life with my family. I sometimes make those people around me uncomfortable talking about what my funeral would look like if it happened in the near future (not that I don't hope for a long and prosperious life) but I digress, I was talking about my incredible grandmother.

The idea for my grandmothers box started to take form about a year and half ago when I was on a motorcycle trip with my son (for more on this subject see While I was thinking, unable to sleep in a tent in Belle Coola I was trying to figure out a way to make my grandmothers box special. I knew that I could not be the creator of such a box but someone closer and more appropriate would be in charge of the task. The first person that came to mind is my uncle Ernie. As the youngest child of my grandmother he was the perfect choice. One of his many skills is that he was a carpenter by trade so he knew the skills involved. He was also last born and the most likely person to "think outside of the box" (no pun intended). I knew that I would have to approach him at the right time and discuss this possibility with him to get his feedback. My idea for the wood is that it probably would be birch. Birch I thought was a good hard wood and is a native species to all of the different places that my grandmother lived (although I was not sure about Russia) I knew that the box needed to be decorated by everyone in the family, at the time numbering over 100 people. I thought that having 4" x 4" squares that each family member could personalize and then mount these squares on the box. I shelved these ideas away in my head and continued on my trip with my son.

About 6 months ago the idea reappeared and I had the gumption to try to contact my uncle Ernie. I sent him an email but after the reply I recognized that this was not the appropriate forum to discuss this proposal. It needed to be face to face. The opportunity presented itself last weekend when he came to Williams Lake. This was close enough for a overnight road trip. I packed up 3 of my 4 kids and headed to Williams Lake. After having a great meal at my grandmothers lodge (we were celebrating my uncle elmer's 61st birthday) I had a chance to talk with my uncle ernie. He was receptive to the idea and said the idea had crossed his mind. He gave me the go ahead to look for wood, cut it down and begin the air drying process.

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