Genevieve remembered

Eulogy written by Genevieve’s parents, and delivered by the Rev. Allan Box at the funeral service on 25 May 2004

We are here to remember and celebrate the life of Genevieve Ruth MacKinnon.

All present will have their own unique memories and images of Genevieve, but from what I understand, you will all also share a common image – that of a radiant, compassionate, laughing sprite of a girl, a young woman whose first impulse was always to help and to engage with others. Genevieve truly was "other-oriented," and everyone who met her responded instinctively with love.

Genevieve’s family and her friends were immensely important to her. And she was interested in all people, including those much older or younger than she, and people in very different circumstances from her own.

One of Genny’s great joys was canoeing. She led wilderness canoe trips for the Ottawa Y, and often said: "There’s just nothing better." She loved the sheer beauty of the Canadian lakes and the boreal forest. "It is incredibly thrilling to do whitewater," she wrote in one of her canoe journals, "a huge adrenaline rush. I like the tricky manoeuvring, and figuring out the river morphology; it’s like a puzzle," she wrote.

Many of us knew Genevieve as a musician. She was a natural fiddler, and played a good stock of Canadian and British fiddle tunes. She often asked her father and brother to play with her, and music was a bond, and a salve, and a potion for the family. Recently, her brother Matthew started to teach Genevieve guitar. Later in this service, we will hear one of Genevieve’s and her family’s favourite fiddle tunes, "My Lily," by the Cape Breton master, Jerry Holland.

Genevieve was also a wonderfully able and engaged artist. Her friends and family prize her prints and drawings and paintings. Genevieve recently did six linocuts for a collection of poetry written by her father. One of the poems in this collection provides a sketch of Genevieve when she was nine years old:

Genevieve at nine

rooted in wonder

brimming with childhood’s plen

pledging her love

and fledging her life . . .

and this now,

her ardour:

poised for flight

Genny’s "fledging" – her development as a person – was a joy to behold. Her curiosity, her appreciation of beauty, and her capacity for wonder grew with each passing year.

In 2001, Genevieve started a B.A. program at McGill University. She experienced some difficulties adjusting to life away from her family, but she successfully completed two years, and made new friends, some of whom are here today.

While at McGill, Genny started to run. She tried to run three times a week. She loved to skate. She was a great reader, always trying to close the gap between what she’d already read and one or another list of the great books one should have read. Recently she read Rohinton Mistry’s A Fine Balance. She loved this novel, and noted how people with very little still instinctively struggled to make the world a better place.

Three years ago Genny fell into a depression, and her mental health suffered. The depression came back and she recently sought psychiatric help. Those of you who talked with her since she returned from her travels will not have known about her suffering, because, for better or for worse, she was determined to keep it to herself. But behind the seemingly happy demeanor, she was struggling with severe mental illness: the black abyss of depression.

Genevieve’s middle name is Ruth, which means "compassionate." She cared deeply about others’ welfare; and was disturbed and upset by any injustice, poverty or misfortune. She did a good deal of volunteer work, including work at a hospital, teaching at a school in Senegal, and helping to produce binders of essays written by the residents of an old folks’ home here in Ottawa. As many of you know, Gen loved kids and babies. She was a favoured babysitter, in part because she had a genuine interest in and affection for the kids in her care. She saw and spoke to and cultivated their individuality, and they would respond in kind with care and affection and a growing sense of self.

She made friends easily, and she kept many of her friends from high school, some of whom are here today. In one of her journals, she noted that "making friends takes time," but she took this time . . . the time required to cultivate those soul-to-soul friendships in which we come to know who we are, in which we learn and experience love, and in which we gain a sense of the world beyond ourselves.

Genevieve was recently in Senegal. She found West Africa a "spiritual home," and she was enchanted by the culture and the friendliness of the people she encountered. In Dakar, the capital of Senegal, she fell in love with a young man, Ousmane, whose family she stayed with while volunteering there. She hoped, some day, to marry him.

Genny’s travels in Senegal, Italy and Spain were the fulfilment of a dream. In March, her mother had the opportunity to visit with Gen near Barcelona, where Genevieve was teaching English as a second language.

Impressions of Genevieve: that of boundless, joyful energy . . . of quietly, almost surreptitiously, buying or making a present for a loved one and tucking it away for an appropriate occasion . . . of paddling down the Spanish River or the rivers of Temagami in those glorious months of July and August . . . of playing fiddle with care and concentration, her eyes in the middle distance as she felt and translated the song . . . of loving her family unselfishly . . . of chatting and giggling with friends as they talked about life and lives and meaning and love.

Genevieve truly was a person about whom one could say: "to know her was to love her." We are all blessed in having known her.