Last night, my dear irascible old grandma-in-law, Gunvor “Lillo” Helenius, passed away.
This was not unexpected, as she had cruised past ninety years of age – in the style of one of the last remaining true Finnish-Swedish matriarchs – some time ago, sitting surrounded by her children and grandchildren and great-grandchildren … and had recently fallen ill. Even so, it was an unhappy shock.
Lillo and her siblings have been an institution of my adopted extended Finnish family ever since my arrival here. I never knew there could be so many cousins and second-cousins in the world, but it has always been enormously fun and greatly comforting to be a part of it. That, of course, isn’t going to go away, ever – but with Lillo’s passing, I can’t help but feel as if one of the great foundation stones has vanished.
I expect, however, that the new stones we’ve been laying over the past 10-20 years will be more than strong enough to take on the job.
Lillo never spoke English with me, so for the first few years we communicated mostly through pantomime and raising schnapps glasses to one another in toasts. She didn’t speak much Finnish either, but when I started to learn she was good enough to show willing and meet me halfway. In the final few years, I was even able to stumble through the occasional phrase in Swedish for her.
She was always there. Lillo and her sisters provided most of the catering for my wedding (not to mention providing the overwhelming majority of the guests, one way or another). They provided the goods for my 30th birthday party. The traditional Finnish-Swedish rapu bileet never failed to raise the roof. She enjoyed life, and the stories I’ve heard about her childhood and youth never failed to fascinate me.
 I never was quite clear on whether jokirapu are a type of freshwater crayfish, or a crab, or some variety of marron or yabby. Whatever they are, they’re delicious.
Thank you for all the good times, and thank you for bringing this wonderful family into being. You were greatly loved, and greatly respected. Your departure leaves a hole in our lives that will never again be filled – but I don’t think it’s supposed to be. Your presence has been replaced by memories, and those aren’t going anywhere.