Obituary for Hélène Malenfant
This is a Facebook Post I wrote after mom passed away which I thought I would share here. Below it I’ve shared some of the comments made on the post which reflect their love, touching sentiments and high regard for her:
My mom, Helene Therese Malenfant, passed away on September 10th at 1:15 a.m. Although she had been struggling with her health over the past months, she surprised us time and time again and bounced back. She was just short of 90 years. After having a relatively good week, we got a call early Saturday morning that she was cyanotic. After rushing over we texted her family physician who quickly mobilized resources so that home oxygen was there by afternoon and the palliative nurse by late afternoon to do a consult and put in an IV. Mom wanted to die at home and she did so peacefully with minimal suffering. My sister Jeanne was able to make it on time arriving at 11 p.m. so she could sit with her for a few hours before she passed. Mom had made her peace and was ready to go.
What do I say about my mom? She was fiercely devoted to her children and supported us uncondi-tionally. Our home was the 'drop-in centre' amongst all our friends, either just to hang or, in times of strife, to bend her ear or even come stay with us for a while. We similarly had cousins who joined our family for periods of time becoming honourary sibs! We were given far more freedom than most of our friends but there was an implicit understanding that it was conditional and the crit-ical boundaries were always firmly in place. We were allowed to question and discuss but only if done with respect. Mom gave us space to learn and to create, even if it meant a shitload of work for her. From a very young age, my sister and I would make Christmas cookies on our own and my mom would take over without complaint if we tired before we finished rolling, dipping and cover-ing our double batch of peanut butter balls! And she would always help us clean the mess we had created. She allowed us to decorate the Christmas tree as we saw fit, happy to park perfectionistic tendencies, something I'm not sure I could manage! She put up with my resistance towards attend-ing high school, preferring to stay home and self-teach the material and then just read to my delight or listen to music. And then I gave her a heart attack when I quit grade 12 when challenged by the Principal that they would fail me for insufficient attendance even though my average was in the 90's....she was a school teacher after all...but she stood by me when I reassured her that I would earn money for university and then return for grade 13 the next year, which was a separate diplo-ma.
Mom was an amazing teacher. Though my brother might say he would have preferred ANYONE other than his MOTHER as his grade 5 teacher... can you say reverse preferential treatment? Mom started in a country school with a blended grade 1 to 6 class but, over the years, taught French grade school, French high school, English high school, adult retraining and Business English at the Com-munity College. In grade school, I would go to her class when I had a PD day with many of those years in male/female segregated "Occupational Level" at the English high school. She took over part-way into first semester from a teacher who had had a nervous breakdown...there were some tough guys with real attitude in those classes. I'll never forget mom telling me of her first day walk-ing into a room as two students were having a fist fight. Mom told them to sit down. One of them retorted that there was no f*ing teacher who was going to tell him when he could and couldn't fight... to which mom retorted, without missing a beat: "Well you've just met the f*ing teacher so you'd better f*ing sit down!". In shock, he quickly complied and by the end of the school year he insisted on giving her a pocket knife that his grandfather, the only positive family figure in his life, had given him because he had grown so fond of her. That story still chokes me up all these years later!
Over the years, my mom sought to inspire the gifted students but especially made it her mission to advocate for and help those who struggled academically. She constantly challenged other teachers who were dismissive of students with learning disabilities long before such conditions were formal-ly identified, assessed and accommodated through the school systems. She tried to be an agent of change for those who acted out and were labelled as 'difficult', arguing that the school system cre-ated self-fulfilling prophecies in labelling and harshly treating such students from a young age ra-ther than trying to understand the origin of their behaviours early on. She recognized that children from harsh home situations needed boundaries but also support and understanding. She recognized that 'acting out' and divesting from school work was often a coping mechanism for kids who strug-gled academically and were being made to feel dumb and singled out rather than empowered to achieve. She argued with the Principal that she wasn't teaching Shakespeare to kids who were bare-ly functionally literate and couldn't fill out job applications long before their curriculum had been tailored accordingly. I remember that going shopping downtown with mom invariably meant at least one former student came up to greet her and often to introduce their children with pride. Really, it boiled down to this: she gave a damn and was willing to raise some hackles and challenge the status quo in pursuit of 'doing better' for those who were being short-changed by the system at a time when attitudes were regressive and unenlightened. Above all else, this is probably her essential at-tribute that I most respected and our greatest commonality for she inspired me to also challenge en-trenched beliefs and behaviours and strive to improve the plight of others. PLUS, she could let loose and laugh, get silly and giggle like a school girl still now, even in her 80's...I've always really loved that about mom!
Judy Gignac: Well said Syl! I still hear stories about her from her former students. By all accounts she was an amazing teacher. And, how could she not be? She cared!!! I will always think of her as my "second Mom". From the time I first met her when I was 16, she was one of my favourite peo-ple! So many wonderful memories. My heart goes out to you all. RIP H.T. You will always be so loved.xoxo
Cat Gignac Belisle: Loved reading these stories about your mom and especially the one about the two kids fighting in class when she walked in. Your mom was so kind and generous but I am not surprised that she didn't take any sh*t in the classroom either. That story brought tears to my eyes. Thank you for sharing all this. So many great memories of your mom that we will all hold dear to our hearts. Hugs to you all. Xoxo
Deanna Chartrand Gignac: Thank you for the pictures and beautiful tribute. She was lovely and kind and so understanding And funny!! I was a better person for having known her…I’ll miss her!
Anne Barr: Thank you! How perfectly you described your mom! Beautifully said!!! Xo
Holly Richard: Our sincerest condolences, Sylvie, to you and your family. Wish we could be there to pay tribute to Helene’s life. Thank you for sharing. She was a truly wonderful lady. Send-ing love and hugs xxoo
Louise Rousson: Well said Sylvie,! Your Mother and My Aunt was a great Lady and she will be missed by so many people! My heart goes out to you and your family!
Gloria Joanisse: A grand lady in every way and a great legacy through her children. It was an hon-our to know her.
Roxanne Leonard: What a loving tribute to your mom Sylvie. She was an amazing woman who stood up for what she believed; she wore her heart on her sleeve and loved helping others, includ-ing me, in my time of need .... the door was always open. She will forever be in my heart XOX
J D Tremblay: My condolences to the family. Your mom was like a mom for us Tremblay's. She was definitely one of mom's best friends.
Sylvie: Thank you for you warm wishes and kind words Dan. I have fond memories of your mom as well, including as my grade 5 teacher! She, mom and Louise Beausoleil (whom I loved as my grade 6 teacher!) provided one another with great friendship and also support through difficult times during their retirement years. It was wonderful of your mom to come visit once mom moved 'down South' to Burlington and a treat for me to see her as well!
Laura Isabel Corral de la Pena (an exchange student from Mexico who lived with us): Sylvie Malenfant I am just reading about aunt Helene!! I really don't know what to say. Your mother was a wonderful woman!! For the time I stayed at your home, she gave so much love. Siempre la llevo en mi corazón, me hubiera gustado volver a verla, pero tuve la dicha de platicar con ella através del chat. Mis condolencias y mi cariño para ti Jeanne y tu hermano.
Sylvie: Gracias Laura! It was such a pleasure having you live with us so many years ago. It was great to connect with you on Facebook and it made mom happy to see pictures of you and your family and to hear your comments as I read them to her. And your family was so generous in wel-coming Jeanne into your home for the summer after the school year spent with us. But that is the wonder of student exchanges...learning about other cultures but, especially, making connections with people and families far away from your home country. Please be reassured that mom was at peace as she left this world, her corazon full of love and light. She did not suffer or linger for days...she died at home with Jeanne and me by her side as she had wanted. xox
Ken Chartrand: Very well written❤️❤️. My sincere sympathies to you and your family Sylvie. Your mom was an amazing woman who was loved by many people.
Judy Besner: The most amazing teacher and person ever, rip