A tribute to Shirley Marchese

Yesterday we laid our angel down to rest and said our final goodbye.

I first met her when I was nine and my mom, little brother and I moved to Edmonton after fleeing a bad situation. We moved into a neighborhood near the stadium where we gained her as a neighbor. We bonded immediately when she threw us some carrots and potatoes over the fence from her garden. She was a retired nurse and lived with her husband Oreste. She always had a menthol cigarette in her mouth, was always talking on the phone and her tv was on extra loud ALL day long. Her best friend was her bird, Birdie. She loved Jesus and had pictures of him everywhere in her house along with a door stopper holding open every door in the form of a pig or dog which now holds opens the doors of my mom, brother and I.

She was strong, overly independent, never asked for help and she was as resilient as concrete. Somehow, she balanced that part well with her gentleness and kind spirit.

Shirley was a very memorable character. So much so, that I don’t think people always believed the stories I told about her most of the time.

Shirley Marchese was many things, but of most all she was the most caring & thoughtful person I’ve ever met in my life.

Week after week as if she’d forget, she’d call mom and make sure she remembered to watch the voice or American Idol at 9:00pm and cue you in on what channel to turn to. 4 hours later you were lucky if you’d get a word in edgewise but upon hanging up she’d sweetly say “angels on your pillow”.

She would always ask you whether or not you ate lunch, if you have been eating enough meat or getting enough iron. A simple yes never sufficed, she wanted to know what exactly you ate.

She always talked at my little brother in awe of how handsome he was, instead of having a real conversation.She was always trying to convince him to join the military and didn’t understand why on earth he didn’t want to do that.

She never wanted to talk about herself but always cared about how your job was going, got overly concerned with your hair color and split ends, and asked too much how your romantic life was doing. Her most favorite remark to no avail was “so when are you going to get pregnant and have a baby?” and every time like a broken record I would say “when I’m ready”. And she then she would reply with “there is no right time to have a baby and making the baby is the fun part don’t ya know?” and from there she would traumatize you with her expert sex tips.

Shirley loved her Avon. She would find a piece of jewelry in her Avon catalog that she thought you might like and give it to you on a monthly basis until eventually your jewelry box would be overflowing.

Shirley was always watching and guiding us all and was the neighborhood Mom to quite literally everyone.

She was always making sure people had food.
She taught the neighborhood people about gardening. “Potatoes like sand” and always shared her extra veggies and pickled goods. Her beets were the best and spaghetti was delish, her secret ingredient was cinnamon.

If a neighborhood adult needed money or cigarettes I remember she would be the first to offer them a job around the yard and if they didn’t have a car she would drive them to get their groceries.

Shirley had an extraordinary video collection, therefore was the neighborhood video rental store and of course, she always made sure you’d sign it out and that it would find its way back to its bunk within 3-4 days.

She always wanted to be updated on all the neighbors lives. She told people what to do and got all up in their grillz. One time she walked straight into our house, asked where Mom was and we pointed to the bath. She marched right in there, flopped down the toilet seat and welcomed herself to a nice little chit chat. My mom, was wide eyed as to be expected… and Shirley said “oh be quiet, I was a nurse… as if I’ve never seen a damn boob before? Come on!” And proceeded with her chat.

See, you can’t help but love her.

We didn’t have grandparents around so when my brother and I were out of school for the summer she claimed herself as Grandma. Because she thought people needed to eat 24/7, she stuffed us full with cake, arrowroot cookies and ginger ale. She took us for happy meals at McDonalds with what little pension money she had and would bring me to Zellers at Kingsway and dress me. She always was concerned about having nice hands and nails so I got lucky when she often took me on girls dates and got matching manicures.

She had confidence much larger than one would expect and even if she was looking like hell towards the end of her battle, you could tell her that she was beautiful, she would really believe you and happily accept your compliment and absorb it as if she were a Queen ❤

Even though she was old, she truly had the most impressive & sharpest memory of ANYONE I’ve ever known and could clearly recount stories long forgotten by me, from our childhood.

She’s been living at Norwood Capital care for the last two years. She broke her arm, broke her hip, got her leg amputated, and got breast cancer in such a short amount of time. But she never complained and was always positive about bad situations and lectured you to do the same.
She was great until November when had a scare, she stopped breathing in her sleep for 30 minutes and was in the ICU for a few days.

With her stubbornness, in December she recovered, but she was definitely showing signs of being ready to depart. She starting seeing things and spoke about her deceased husband and daughter as if the time line had reversed to when they were both alive 15 some years ago. She truly believed they were alive. I believe she was communicating with their spirit to prepare herself to go. I appreciated the warning to start saying goodbyes.

At this time, she said she’d been having real weird near death experiences, floating around and it seemed similar dying but more of a premonition of what was to come. I wanted to hear more so she explained and was shocked we believed her (but I’ve been fascinated and studying this subject for years). She said she was in and out. “Wondering like is this right now or do I have to wait another year or so?” She said “it’s like a slow moving night train. You don’t know when it will arrive to pick you up for good but you know it’s coming”.

When asked how she felt about that she said: “I am ready to go. I believe in God & the Angels and I know I am going to heaven but I don’t want to die quite yet because there’s lots I haven’t done. I’ve got lots of loose ends left ya know? I have people to say goodbye to people that I haven’t yet, but I don’t think I have time for all of them. Just remember when I die that I want you to be happy so don’t cry for me Argentina. I don’t want you to be sad, but If you cry that’s your business because I know you’re going to miss me so much. I hope your going to emanate some of the things I like and you will say, “it’s just like Aunty Shirley”. And also I hope whatever I’ve done and said has made a difference in your lives. Oh and wait, there’s something else I was hoping to do before I go…I’d also still like rob a bank and live high the hog for a while and eat lots of steak and lobster! Oh and for my funeral I would like to be buried in a cadillac.

Leave it up to her to be funny when talking about something so somber. She always had a way of making you laugh your ass off at the most unexpected comments that you’d never expect out of the mouth of an 82 year old. Besides her faith, there was nothing traditional about her. She did swear but also said “swearing too much is bad.I can only take a small diet of swear words”.

She was SO incredibly funny, witty, and sharp tongued. She was overly honest about whatever was on her mind, she said it how it was and totally was inappropriate all the time. And that’s what I admired the most.

If you asked her what’s new? She’d reply with: “what’s new? New York! New Jersey!”

She mentioned back in November as if she had a chance, of course I have a crush on Dr. Morsey – he’s like a Persian cat with the most beautiful eyes, but I hear he’s married so I guess I’ll be nice and won’t go after him! I laughed and said you’re funny and she said “I know. I trained as comedian for years and I just think now I’m about to make it”

Instead of straight up asking for something she would say “I sure am craving some double butter caramel popcorn from Kernels.” “I sure wouldn’t mind some veggies & ranch” and “I sure have a hankering for chocolate”. I happily obliged to her hints and continued to even when she was an ass. One time I brought her a pie and she said “that pie was no good”. Shirley had no filter. She was old and she didn’t give a shit if you didn’t like her ways. Instead of being insulted she always made me laugh my ass off. This woman was 100% herself, and I accepted her 100% for who she was and loved her unconditionally even though she had a way of pushing people away.

She always had a tough life, she grew up in an orphanage and was raised by nuns. She outlived both of her husbands and 1 daughter. She had no family around. Her niece came once that I know of and her son never bothered.

I could tell her anything of my struggles and she would just listen and give great advice. I always felt safe with her because she understood my tendencies and I saw my own self inside of her. I understood 100% why she was the way she was, the way she pushed people away and was uncomfortable with vulnerability and it helped me to understand those hard parts of myself. Spending a lot of time with her over the last two years helped us help each other.

She was tired of her battle towards the end and was looking forward to being free again and getting out of the bed for good.

With both our strong belief in the afterlife and that our loved ones are always with us, I asked her what sign she would give me that she was around. She told me, oh you know… I’ll surprise you and scare the crap out of you…. You’ll know its me.

When I told her I would cry when she was gone she said “Well what the hell you wanna cry for me for? You’ll miss what it was. Once I become a puff of smoke you won’t remember me. We say we will remember people when they’re gone but we don’t.”

I promised her that would never happen.

This comment bothered me so much that here I am today sitting here, writing about her to people who were strangers to her because the sad thing is, there were under 15 people at her funeral and they were all from our neighborhood growing up. There was not an ounce of family to be found. There was not even an obituary for her in the paper. It breaks my heart that not many people got to love her or be loved by her. So here I sit trying to spread her memory so that it can be carried on because that’s what she would want. That’s what she deserves. As long as one or two people got to know her today by reading this or she made a person laugh today, I’ve done what I set out to do.

She sure made a difference in my life and it was my pleasure to know her. I’m not looking for sorries or condolences because I am not sorry. She is happy and peaceful now. And I was privileged to be part of her life.

She would want to tell everyone not to take life so damn seriously and learn to laugh a little.

May Rest In Peace you crazy, beautiful and wonderful woman.