My year with Lucille
“Oh my beautiful Lucille, how I love her...” were the first words of Caroline Laurence, Human Resources Business Partner at Groupe Maurice, when I asked her to tell us about her meeting with Lucille Meunier, a resident of Le 22. Although the COVID year was a trying one for many, for these two women it was a gift brought on by the twists and turns of life, the power of friendship and mutual love. Here is Caroline’s story. I had to share this story with you because there are too few of them, and they do so much good...
As you know, the arrival of COVID-19 in residence has forced us to comply with public health regulations as of early 2020. But these restrictions have kept residents confined to their apartments for several months, forcing them into a kind of isolation. To counteract the negative effects, we asked for voluntary contributions from head office staff so that every day, residents living alone would receive a call from them, whether it was to talk about the weather, to tell them about their day or how they were feeling. We wanted them to know that they were not alone, that we were with them even from afar, and most importantly, to help them remain hopeful, because the pandemic would eventually end.
I was not surprised to see Caroline Laurence eagerly raise her hand to participate in this initiative. We all know her. Caroline is a loving, empathetic and generous soul, a gem in our organization. For her, this new task was more than just a few words over the phone; it was a return of the pendulum that sprinkled her daily life with magical moments with “her beautiful Lucille.” I’ll let her tell her story now; it will touch your heart as much as it has mine.
My beloved Lucille
“Lucille was the 4th person on my list. It was early April 2020. The Groupe Maurice had assigned me 20 residents to call daily. From day one, my life, then pulsating with the vagaries of COVID 19, both at work and with my family, changed colour. It’s hard to believe, I know some people will be skeptical, but as soon as Lucille said ‘Yes, hello?’, I knew I would love this person deeply and I began to tell her about myself as if we had known each other forever. I found out a few days later that she had had the same feeling; we were on the same wavelength, and from that moment on, nothing and nobody could separate us. We continued our daily calls, even when the Group’s initiative to call the residents ceased. Lucille had no children or relatives, and her spouse had been dead for over 40 years. I called her in the morning when I got up and at night when I went to bed.
For a year.
I was looking forward to these meetings with Lucille. Thanks to them, I have lived an extraordinary year. Lucille brought me indescribable happiness. She made me laugh out loud, cry, dance, think... She is such an intelligent woman, so lively and epicurean—my God, she loved good food and tasting everything—and she was filled with an incredible joie de vivre. Despite her 97 years, she was solid on her feet, her hair and nails always perfect, her little earrings hanging from her ears, ready for anything. This woman never gave up. She remained present, invested in life. She was an example of avant-gardism like I had never known.
I learned almost everything about Lucille. She came from a family of 7 or 8 children of which she was the eldest. But at the turn of the century, for the eldest of a large family, the die was often cast: Lucille had no choice but to take care of her younger siblings rather than go to school. Because her mother was depressed and therefore not very helpful, her father required her to stay at home to keep the family going. There wasn’t a day that went by that Lucille didn’t tell me how it wasn’t in her nature to fill that role, how it wasn’t what she wanted. She wanted to study, a lot, for a long time... and become a doctor! She was far from achieving her dream...
So my Lucille has had a life full of major grief. Fortunately, she has come through it well, because she has an incredible spirit and temperament, but I swear I don’t know many people who have gone through so much with such resilience. Maybe that’s why she lived so long. She had the gift of happiness.
So in her early adulthood, Lucille left the family nest to make a life for herself. She married her handsome Robert, ‘Bob’ as she so warmly called him, quite late for the time, in her thirties. He was a firefighter. In those days, the job was even riskier than it is today, because the products used to put out fires were highly toxic. Unfortunately, he died at the age of 48, his lungs burned by these substances. What’s even more appalling in this story is that since he did not die while putting out a fire, Lucille was never entitled to any life insurance; the regulations were much less accommodating at the time.
Lucille was devastated. They had only lived together for 17 years. He was the love of her life. She never wanted to remarry... and she was a beautiful woman, my Lucille, in her younger days! But no. She was the wife of one man, faithful in life and death.
The other great tragedy of her life was the loss of the child she had with her beautiful Bob, due to medical errors committed by the doctor who assisted with the delivery. Her baby died three hours after birth, but since she was hemorrhaging and they had to rush her to the hospital, she never got to hold her little one before he passed away. I’m telling you this and I still get goosebumps.
But because she is resilient, a woman who fought to get by, to keep her head above water despite the fact that she was childless, unmarried and without family—her father having done much to separate her from her brothers and sisters, due to family squabbles—she managed to find happiness. It’s amazing how resourceful she was! Lucille has lived her life in her own way, with a great deal of independence, autonomy and, above all, integrity. She has always managed to have everything she needed and, if she didn’t have a family, she created one with her friends, with the people she met along the way. A bit like with me, in fact. The children of her friends became ‘her children.’ She called them ‘her little girls at heart.’ She called me that too...
You know, Lucille was one of those rare people who are interested in others, who are curious and always ask you a lot of questions about yourself. After I asked her how she was doing, she would always tell me, ‘Okay, now tell me about yourself. How was your day?’ It was impossible not to love her. I think I told her ‘I love you’ a thousand times, for all the times those words were missing in her life.
Finally face to face!
I was so excited to see Lucille in the flesh! She may have been a forward thinker, but to communicate, it was the house phone. She didn’t have a cell phone; she didn’t feel comfortable with technology. When they finally allowed residential visits, it was such a joy! I went to see her with my boyfriend because we wanted to offer to wash her windows. She was so happy! We brought supper and ate with her. Another time, we went to a restaurant.
At Christmas, she was on the phone with us during our family dinner. She still wasn’t quite comfortable meeting lots of people, as COVID obviously scared her. So I would go to her house with Logan, my dog. Lucille LOVED animals. She was a National Geographic enthusiast. Logan also created a unique bond with her!
I would bring her little dishes, pancakes or maple syrup desserts. She had a sweet tooth, my Lucille! Before leaving home, I would hide little sweet words everywhere for her. For example, when she opened her toothbrush drawer, she would find a little piece of paper with the following written on it: ‘To my dear grandmother. I love you! Caro x.’ When she went to bed, she would feel a paper under her pillow. I thought that at least with those little words, she would feel less alone. She didn’t deserve this loneliness. Nobody deserves that, actually.
In April, I ‘forced’ her to finally get out of her house and come to my house for dinner. I picked her up with Logan. She was all dressed up and smelled so good... I made her a great meal, which she ate with appetite. I treated her like a queen. Then we talked for a long time. We laughed so much too! When she returned home, she told me, ‘Caro, this is one of the best days of my life.’ I couldn’t believe it! She was going to be 98 years old! I couldn’t imagine that these little pleasures, simple to me, had made up one of the best days of her LONG life! Of course, I started to cry.
A week after that beautiful day, on April 24, Lucille passed away.
Her heart gave out on her without warning, after a stroke that put her in the hospital.
She went to be with her little baby and her beloved husband, whom she had not seen in 40 years.
For me, Lucille was the impossible incarnate. She was so alive and open-minded, I couldn’t imagine her being gone one day. I talked about EVERYTHING with her: politics, sexuality, death, discrimination too, like homosexuality or racism... there is not a single subject we didn’t talk about in a year. That’s what’s extraordinary: she had no judgment, no taboos. I hoped the good Lord had forgotten about her. She was too young to die.
Today, Lucille is with me. I carry her in my heart, in my memories. I have a picture of her next to my computer and when I work, my Lucille is in front of me. She has been an important person, an example for me to follow. I think it’s important to keep alive the people you have loved so much. That’s why I’m happy to participate in this blog. This is my tribute to her. I’m happy to know that, posthumously, a few more people will know the story of this modern, resilient and curious woman... of this wonderfully endearing woman.
For me, meeting her was an eye-opener on the importance of living in the moment, of taking the time to stop. It was while I was stopping work to call residents that I met Lucille. It was light too, in such a dark year. If it was a gloomy day outside, no problem, I would talk to Lucille later to get some sunshine. She was always in a good mood.
I think that’s why we ‘found’ each other, because we both had joy in our hearts. And if I was able to bring her just a little bit more of that in the last year of her life, I take comfort in that. I tell myself that she left this world happy. We all deserve to have someone caring in our lives. Especially towards the end. To leave with a smile on your face. At least, that’s how I imagine my Lucille’s departure. And it makes me feel good.
Goodbye my Lucille. Thank you for inviting me into your life, and for entering my heart. It is even fuller now because of you. I will always love you.