Elisabeth Margarete Gehmacher (nee Hensel), was born in Neukirch-Hoehe, East Prussia, June 8, 1920, the only child of Hermann Hensel and Elise Colmsee. Franz Xavier Gehmacher, her husband of sixty-seven years, recounts that when he and Lisbeth met on a perfect spring day in 1946, there was “just one way to go, and that was forward, forever together.” In 1952, “forward” meant, in part, leaving post-war Germany and starting life anew in Canada. In Toronto, Elisabeth became a working mom, ultimately serving as the bookkeeper for a small manufacturing business. She and Franz took great pleasure in designing and building their own homes, and they enjoyed many trips to Germany and Austria, as well as road trips throughout Canada and the United States.
Elisabeth was the mother of Evelyn Gehmacher (Russell), Cordelia Hare (the late Joe), Doris Gunnell, and Arlene Gehmacher (Dave), and the grandmother of Antonia Kalmacoff Jennings (Andrew), Marissa Maitland Hare (Peter), Courtney Hare (Christopher), Crystal Hare (Andrew), and Lauren Gunnell, all of whom will miss her terribly, but who will find comfort in the sweet laughter memories bring. She was a loving great-grandmother to Caleb and Audrey Maitland, and Jake Jennings, who will come to know the happiness they gave her through the photographs of her holding them and playing with them, and in the stories we will share with them. She would have behaved atypically with them, too, doling out vitamins instead of sweets.
Lisbeth, a veritable force of nature, passed away on April 9, 2014, at 6:30 a.m., just as a rogue springtime snowstorm blew through Calgary. She was two months shy of celebrating her 94th birthday. Beautiful, and especially so in spirit, she was the epitome of a whirling dervish. She loved to go for nature walks, take in the seaside, dance up a storm, do the “pelvic tilt,” solve the daily Herald crossword, discuss politics, and dispense her wisdom to her children and grandchildren alike. To her, “family was everything,” as she was to them.
Donations to the Heart and Stroke Foundation of Canada or a charity of your choice are gratefully accepted.
A celebration of life service was held at the McInnis Holloway Park Memorial Chapel on April 11, 2014. In living memory of Elisabeth Gehmacher, a tree will be planted at Burnsmead, Fish Creek Park, Calgary in September 2014.
Celebration of Life for Elisabeth Gehmacher – Tribute by Cordelia Hare
Thank you, all, for being here today and participating in this celebration of life for my beloved mom. As you all know, Mom was in vigorous health until two weeks ago. She was the quintessential example of “93 is the new 83,” or perhaps more aptly in her case, the new 73. I truly thought she would be with us for many more years. It turned out though that Mom had been having glimpses of her own mortality, and on more than one occasion she had talked about this service and reminded me that a spiritual element should be incorporated into it. And that is why I’m standing here now.
I want you to know that even though Mom was not a formal churchgoer, she believed in a loving God, and he played an important part in her life. She instilled her beliefs in us during our childhood, reciting along with us a German prayer and then sending my sisters and me off to dreamland with beautiful hymns and lullabies, again in German. A Lutheran by birth, she freely borrowed from the Roman Catholicism of my dad’s people in paying tribute every night to a wooden crucifix that had been beautifully carved by a master artisan in Bavaria. In the past several years, she also spent about fifteen minutes in a darkened room every night, reflecting quietly upon her day, praying for intercession in troubled times, and above all, expressing gratitude.
Mom was also a firm believer in guardian angels, a conviction that stemmed, I think, from surviving a number of close calls during the Second World War. From time to time, I argued with her about this, pointing out that if they existed, many among us must have angels with diminished powers or no angels at all. Mom, however, never budged from her position. And so, dear Mom, I hope you’re right and that you are now applying your boundless energy to a new role as a guardian angel. You were such a whirlwind in your earthly life that I’m sure you can take on multiple assignments!
Earthly life and afterlife. Mom did not subscribe to any Biblical notions of the afterlife, but she did believe in one. She had developed an interesting theory that after death our souls travel to reside on distant stars in our vast universe. I once gave her a passage from the German writer Goethe that complements this theory. Goethe said: “I am fully convinced that the soul is indestructible, and that its activity will continue through eternity. It is like the sun, which, to our eyes, seems to set in the night; but it has in reality only gone to diffuse its light elsewhere.”
“What goes around comes around.” I’m not absolutely sure what Mom thought of this notion of Karma, but I can tell you that the love we gave to her, and still give to you, Dad, is quite simply a reflection of the love that you both bestowed upon us all. Thank you for that abundant love.
And now, in conclusion, I would like to quote some lines from a well-known and beloved passage of Ecclesiastes:
There is a time for everything
And a season for every activity under heaven:
A time to be born and a time to die,
A time to plant and a time to uproot,
A time to wear down and a time to build,
A time to weep and a time to laugh,
A time to mourn and a time to dance,
A time to scatter stones and a time to gather them,
A time to embrace and a time to refrain,
A time to search and a time to give up,
A time to keep and a time to throw away,
A time to tear and a time to mend,
A time to be silent and a time to speak.
Yes, there is a time for everything. Mom, it was your time to leave us, and you’ve now embarked on a new journey. I hope it’s a pleasing and gratifying one for you. We’ll miss you.
Tribute to Elisabeth Gehmacher by Evelyn Gehmacher
Our mother was an only child, and she sometimes laughingly said she had wanted 10 children of her own. Fortunately there were only four of us, plus five beautiful granddaughters – and we all had the benefit of her love, her attention, and her hopes for the future.
At 93 our mother still lived her life with gusto. She was interested in what was happening in the world, had forthright opinions about the national and local political scenes, and continued to exercise her mind by taking on the challenge of the newspaper crossword puzzle every morning.
Her energy was amazing, but it was always purposeful – raising a family and running a household while working full time; helping our dad design and build three of the family homes; flying out to Vancouver to run Cordi’s household when Cordi was ill; taking pleasure in helping her sometimes overwhelmed daughters by tackling mountains of laundry or creating order in chaotic cupboards. In fact, she loved order, and simplicity and precision, and that was reflected in her professional life as a bookkeeper, and in the ways she organized her domestic life and surroundings.
Mam had a gift for friendship, with some of those friendships going back to her youth. Even though English was her second language, her letters and Christmas cards were beautifully written and personal. You all know that Mam was frugal, so it was a blessing when telephone long distance rates fell, and she and our dad were able to regularly stay in touch with family in Germany.
After their move to Calgary in 2002, our parents’ main focus became their own family – daughters, granddaughters, and the new partners they were bringing into the family, and in the last few years the “great grands” – Caleb, Audrey and Jake. Mam’s eyes ALWAYS lit up when one of the “little ones” came through the door. Sunday tea time became a ritual – a chance for some or all to get together to catch up with each other, and to have that weekly “sugar fix”.
The most important person in our mum’s life was our dad. They always addressed each other as “Liebstes Mein” and last week our dad said he knew, as soon as he laid eyes on Mam, that she was the one for him. Their example of devotion and caring is a gift to us all.
I want to close by quoting some lines of a poem by Robert Louis Stevenson that beautifully expresses how our mum lived her life:
To have lived well,
Laughed often and loved much;
To have gained the respect of intelligent people
And the love of children;
To have filled a niche and accomplished a task……….
To have looked for the best in others,
And to have given the best of yourself,
That is achievement.
So now I say – Mam, go in peace, your work here is done, we will look after each other, and we will always love you.
Tribute to Elisabeth Gehmacher
by Lauren Gunnell on behalf of all the granddaughters
Omi was not your typical grandmother. She didn’t sit around knitting – instead she would be speed walking around the neighbourhood, doing all the dishes by hand or doing the pelvic tilt. She didn’t hand out cookies or candies but tried to give us vitamins and get us to “Eat Right 4 Your Blood Type”. But even once in a while she would surprise us. I was blown away when we were driving back from Killington, in Vermont, and Omi agreed to stop at McDonalds. Omi eating French fries was amazing. And one of my favourite memories from my first trip to Germany was at the Weihenstephan brewery where Omi downed some beer. That might actually be one of my favourite memories from my entire Europe trip!
She was a miniature powerhouse and one of the strongest people I’ve ever met. With Opa, she raised four beautiful daughters and helped raise five of us grandchildren. She was always trying to teach us grandchildren things, many of which have stuck with us to this day. One of the biggest themes was “possessions are a burden”. Instead of accumulating things, she preferred to collect memories and photographs in her beautiful photo albums. As a kid I would spend hours going through all of the letters. Looking at them was one of my favourite things to do at Omi and Opa’s. Another big theme was “never have any credit card debt”. I really never want to have any credit card debt! Omi thoroughly enjoyed saving money and keeping track of it in her bookkeeping.
But perhaps the biggest thing Omi taught us was about love and devotion to family. A few weeks ago Omi told me that her greatest joy in life was family. Omi and Opa would do almost anything for us grandchildren – they would let us turn their home into a hotel, a runway for our fabulous fashion shows or a stage for our plays. And when I was growing up and my mom had to work downtown, Omi and Opa would be at our house by 7 a.m. every morning and would be there when I got home from school. Omi even did my paper route for me when I was not able to. All the neighbours loved seeing her pulling my grocery cart stuffed full of papers down the street.
Omi prepared us well for life and the challenges we may face. She was a true inspiration for us and she will forever be missed.
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