Thank You for Being a Friend: A Very Late Goodbye to the Golden Girl That Was My Grandmother

NOTE:

Firstly, I was lucky enough to be on The Marilyn Denis Show with one of my best friends a few weeks ago. The two of us are featured for being thrifty university graduates who get spoiled with makeovers! The episode airs tomorrow (Friday April 21st) and I cannot post any behind the scenes pictures until after it airs, but next week’s blog will explain how we got the makeover opportunity (a contest may have been involved), what the process was really like, and of course lots of pictures. Looking forward to sharing it all with you next Thursday on here!

 

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The front and back of the bookmark given out at my grandmother’s Celebration of life.

Until then I thought that I would write a virtual letter to my grandmother. My husband and I are attending a friend’s celebration of life this coming Saturday and I’ve been thinking about the celebration we had for my grandmother approximately a year and a half ago. I was much too emotional to sing or even speak at the event we had and I thought that I’d put those thoughts and feelings down in a blog post. As an atheist, I’m reminded of my grandmother in my thoughts. I don’t believe that she’s with me or watching me, but that her memory lives on in stories and photos which is why this blog post has a lot of meaning to me. If I had been able to bravely speak at my grandmother’s celebration of life (like my mom and my grandmother’s sisters had), this is what I would have said:

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A photo taken of my mother (the child) and my grandmother in the late 1960s.

My grandmother, Heather Campbell, was a beautiful, funny, and fun-loving woman who was born October 16 1945 and died September 7th 2015. Although she passed away just one month shy of her 70th birthday, she had lived a full life. Growing up, I had thought that my grandma was different than those that I heard about and saw on television. She was single, young, and didn’t really cook us meals, she was more like my mom’s best friend who we would share laughs with. We would crack jokes at each others expense and sarcasm was a staple element of our conversations. I only truly appreciated the unique relationship that I had with her when I had gotten older, this is when we often treated each other as equals – she had become my friend as well as my mothers.

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Grandma and my mom just before she was diagnosed with cancer.

I became closer to my grandma after she was diagnosed with colon cancer. At first, I wasn’t entirely sure what to think or what to do until someone had told me that I didn’t want to regret not spending enough time with her. I started visiting her by myself, which I had almost never done before. We always saw my grandma with my mom, but I was going to university and my school was near her apartment so I started touching base with her throughout the week. I would stop by after my morning class and we would watch The Price is Right, play along with the program, and make fun of the contestants. She often made me a sandwich and we would gab like girlfriends until I took the bus home or my mom picked me up.

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Photo of my grandma with my mom and her younger brother in approximately 1970.

When she had gone into the hospital for a long period of time (approximately 120 days), I’d started reading Pride and Prejudice to her, a favourite of mine. She had never read the book and enjoyed being read to, it was a nice change of pace from the few entertainment options that were provided by the hospital. I’d read for a few hours at a time and start to lose my voice, occasionally I’d stop to ask her if she was sleeping, but she rarely was, she would tell me to continue on and I would. I had gotten half way through the book when she had recovered enough to go home. She had fought with her body over a period of four months, a body that had gone through chemo and radiation only to develop a hole in her stomach that required multiple surgeries and months of hospitalization. She had been in there for so long that I didn’t think that she’d be leaving alive, but she did – incredibly she did.

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Some photos from Push for Your Tush 2015.

From there she took day trips with her friends, sisters, and my mom, but mostly she rested and looked forward to my sister’s wedding. A handful of us raised money and walked in the Push for your Tush colon cancer charity event in honour of her and she had such a big smile that day. She then celebrated at my sister’s bridal shower and she smiled her beautiful smile once more. By the time that my sister was getting married, my grandma was quite weak, but excited. Heather, my sister and my grandmother’s namesake, and (my

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A collection of happy photos from my sister’s wedding.

now brother-in-law) David had an intimate wedding of just 45 guests in their backyard and then a reception at a local pub. I really love the photos of my grandmother that day, she was so proud and happy to be able to see one of her grandchildren get married – another check off her list of ‘big-life-moments.’

My Grandma lived only two weeks after my sister’s wedding, she passed with pneumonia in the hospital surrounded by family. She is the first person that I have ever witnessed pass away and it was a difficult process. After the grueling six or seven hours of watching her body finally give up, we all cried and some people talked about that place called heaven. I knew that for me, she was gone, and that this would be the last time I would ever see her. Through tears, I kissed her on the forehead and felt like I would see her tomorrow, because goodbyes rarely feel real at the times that they’re said.

At the end of her life, Heather Campbell was a sister, a mother, a grandmother, a great-grandmother, and more importantly a friend. Her best friends were her family members and there’s something really beautiful about that. I was lucky enough to grow closer to her in the two years that she hadIMG_6076.jpg colon cancer and even though she was in pain, I think that a lot of moments that took place in those two years could have been some of the best in her life. She was loved by many and she knew that. I loved her and she knew that too.

If I could stop by her apartment this afternoon to watch The Price is Right, I would update her on what’s happened in my life. I would tell her that Chris proposed a month after she passed away, that I won the opportunity to pick a wedding dress, that I missed her sitting on the couch as I chose my bridal gown, and that I graduated top of my university class. I would explain to her that I missed her at my

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Grandma and mom in approximately 1967.

bridal showers and that I couldn’t help, but feel jealous that she could attend my sister’s wedding, but not mine. I would tell her that I married the most wonderful man who lets me make fun of Jeopardy contestants and shares our sense of humour. I would tell her that I got to meet Marilyn Denis (who she, my sister and I love) and accidentally made a dark joke that she would have thought was funny, but Marilyn didn’t really get. I would tell her not to feel bad about not being able to be my mom’s best friend anymore, because I’ve taken on that role now and that we talk about her often. I would tell her everything that she’s missed and thank her for everything that she was because she was pretty awesome.

PS. My Grandma was a total Blanche and I’m closer to a Sophia… or maybe it’s the other way around, some days I don’t know.

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Strangers I Admired in High School

(See Life lesson at the bottom)

Celebrities play an interesting part in our lives, often times without directly meeting us. They were especially influential to me personally when I was in high school.

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My dreaded grade 9 yearbook photo (Almost 14 years old [December birthday).
For me, I had a select group of actresses, singers, and models who I looked up to, groomed myself to look like, and secretly wanted to be. Some of these resulted in good practices and others resulted in questionable fashion choices. Interestingly enough, high school-me had mostly good taste because I still admire a lot of the same women today that I did then (in a much less obsessive way).

In no particular order, here are the women I admired most from ages 14-18:

-Ella Fitzgerald
-Natalie Portman
-Audrey Hepburn
-Leslie Feist
-Ingrid Michaelson
-Edie Sedgwick
-Twiggy
Agyness Deyn

Since high school, I have transitioned from idolizing to admiring. I also recognize a lot of unfortunate life choices as less than admirable for ‘idols’ like Edie Sedgwick and look back on the time when I loved her as very misguided on my own part. The main issue was that although I respected and adored the talents of a number of these women, I often focused purely on their beauty.

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The many colours of the rainbow that I sported on my head from ages 16-19 (also my best friend Hanna can be seen in many of these photos – met in hockey at age 11).

For someone who took haircut risks in her teen years, I was definitely a wall flower in school. I spent a lot of time in the art classrooms, all my friends were in band even though I wasn’t, and it took years before I sang in public – it also shocks a lot of people that I was shy and very quiet. A lot of my friends were male because of our shared pop culture interests and sense of humour, but I always considered myself to be one of the guys rather than a potential love interest to any of them. I was not popular by any means.

I knew that I wasn’t a typical teenage girl and due to catholic school uniforms I was limited to expressing my personality through avenues other than fashion (I’m an atheist now, but it wasn’t out of bitterness toward the uniforms I swear). This meant that my hair and eventually my makeup were a big deal to me.

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Top to bottom: Twiggy, Edie Sedgwick, and Agyness Deyn.

Lacking confidence and a self-declared tomboy (not a term that I’m a fan of these days), I didn’t do my hair or wear makeup until I was around 15-16 years old. For six years after that, I sported a variety of pixie cuts, had almost no eyebrows, grew my eyebrows back, wore dark 60’s inspired eyeliner, and dyed my hair a rainbow of colours.

 

THE MODELS:

The likes of Twiggy (60’s icon), Edie Sedgwick (60’s icon), and Agyness Deyn (modern model) inspired me to chop all my hair off around 2006 and confidently bleach my brown hair while keeping my dark brows. The realization that hair could grow back quickly when short, that I could do whatever I wanted to it and cut it off again if it looked bad, allowed me to try just about every style I wanted (basically I tried each short hairstyle that Natalie Portman, Keira Knightley, and Winona Ryder ever had).

Twiggy, Edie Sedgwick, and Agyness Deyn didn’t only fuel my desire to make impulsive hair decisions, but also fed the destructive appetite of a low-self-esteem teenager who longed to feel beautiful. These women were skinny like I was and applauded for it, they weren’t ‘typically’ beautiful yet they were famous for their looks. Although their body shapes were unhealthy ideals for myself (I’m not naturally model-height-tall), their being different-looking eventually helped me see my own type of beauty – and for that I thank them.

THE ACTRESSES:

I watched a stupid amount of television and movies that I do not regret one bit. When I was 12 years old I had a crush on Hawkeye Pierce from MASH and Mr. Kotter from Welcome Back Kotter – I found older programs (and men apparently) fascinating.

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Left to right: Characters Hawkeye Pierce and Mr. Kotter.

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As a brunette who grew up in a blonde Barbie world, I didn’t always appreciate my natural hair colour. Society/the media often subtly told us that to be blonde was to be better than other girls. This is why The Beauty and the Beast stood out to me amongst other Disney movies, and why I so easily fell in love with Audrey Hepburn in Breakfast at Tiffany’s and Roman Holiday (surprise, surprise, she chops off her hair in that film) – brunettes for the win!

Audrey was the most beautiful and classy woman that I had ever seen. I loved everything about her and she was the positive role model that I needed after Twiggy and the girls. She showed me that my natural beauty was special and that a good personality can make someone much more attractive than their dull counterpart. I still admire Audrey, but know that she had her share of issues and wasn’t as happy as she appeared.

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They look so similar!

I can’t remember which movie I first saw of Natalie Portman’s, but I know that I’ve seen just about everything that she’s been in. I really fell in love with her when I first saw one of my favourite movies Garden State, the scene where she cries in the airport (see scene here) is when I thought “wow, she is a brilliant actress.” She seems like she could be the modern day Audrey Hepburn in resemblance, but she expanded my ideals once more.

Natalie Portman went beyond looks and personality, she taught me that being smart was totally cool. She made time to complete a Harvard Degree in Psychology (see her speak on her time at Harvard during the 2015’s commencement) in the middle of an increasingly successful acting career. I have always been quite the keener and my competitive spirit drove me to want to be the best in all my classes (I’m a bit of a sore loser and hate getting a bad mark). Natalie Portman taught me that intelligence and ambition should not take away from a woman’s beauty – it should add to it.

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THE SINGERS:

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Top to bottom: Ella Fitzgerald, Feist, and Ingrid Michaelson.

Pre pixie-cuts and any belief that fashion was important, I found a female jazz singer. I was 14 years old when I first heard Ella Fitzgerald and Duke Ellington’s It Don’t Mean a Thing if it Aint Got that Swing in a history class. I loved singing, but hadn’t sang in public since I quit elementary school choir at a young age. I feel as if it was Ella’s collection of jazz songs that convinced me that I wanted to take the vocal class at my high school and really discover my own musical tastes. Chris and I danced to one of my favourites at our wedding, Ella’s version of Cole Porter’s Let’s Do it.

Come grade 11, I had sung with some other students at a make-shift school library event and a friend at the time told me that I sounded similar to a Canadian artist, Feist. It was love at first sight/listen when I watched the video for My Moon My Man; she was everything that I wished that I could be.

Soon after this, iTunes used her song 1234 in a commercial and she was getting wider recognition. Leslie Feist, was unique looking, a private person, she wrote songs that didn’t need to compete with mainstream pop hits, and she was able to live her life as a successful musician. She inspired me to want to be a professional singer (this goal is on a long hiatus).

I began paying closer attention to commercials as I realized that the music they used behind their promotions were frequently up my alley. I found a massive collection of songs from commercials, as well as in the background of television shows and movies that became the soundtrack of the last years of my high school career. This was also how I stumbled upon Ingrid Michaelson’s Girls and Boys album.

Ingrid Michaelson wrote in a new way that I related to, it was quirky, untraditional, and sweet. She is still one of my greatest influences in songwriting style. Ingrid is particularly special because she exceeded my expectations when I saw her in concert. She was talented, but she was funny – so funny. She wore glasses, wrote quirky songs, and told jokes throughout her set.

 

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Left to right: Me graduating from high school in 2008, college in 2010, and university in 2016 (had some years off between academic gigs) – now happier and healthier than ever.

LIFE LESSON:

No woman is perfect, it’s too much to expect of any human being. I think that it’s important to talk about who we admire with younger generations so that we can share insight into recognizing the good and the bad that they might influence.

The society that we live in makes it too easy to fall in line with what celebrities say and do, to act like them, and idolize them so we should incorporate healthy conversations about them into our lives. Looking back, I see a lot of beneficial ideologies that I took from women who were strangers to me, but I wish that I focused less on their beauty and more on what not to do from their mistakes.

All in all, I think that there are a number of female celebrities that are good role models for young women and I hope that teenage misfits like young-me find the right ones.