For many in the community of Elsipogtog First Nation, Louise Francis was a woman of unparalleled kindness and strength.
“She’s one of those people that loves everybody and tries to take care of everybody,” said her son Brian Francis.
Louise Francis died peacefully at the Stella Maris Hospital in Ste-Anne-de-Kent, 26 kilometres east of the First Nation.
At the age of 97, she was the community’s most senior elder and leaves a legacy of supporting her family to the fullest.
A funeral mass took place Saturday morning at St. Anne’s Roman Catholic Church in Elsipogtog.
In her early teens, Francis lost her mother and became the family’s pillar of strength.
She would spend summers weaving baskets with her family, then would take the train to Saint John or Moncton to sell them to help provide for the family.
She married Anthony Francis, who was chief of the First Nation in the late 50s and early 60s and continued to be involved for years afterwards. Her son said she played a pivotal role in keeping the family strong during that time.
“She was a tremendous support to my father, who was involved in and dedicated his life to native politics in probably the late 60s to mid 80s….he was responsible for a lot of changes for Indigenous people in our province.” said Francis.
“My mother was basically the the backbone that kept the family going.”
Mourning during a pandemic
Because of circuit breaker restrictions, it was difficult for the family to gather to say their final farewells.
Tara Louise Francis did not see her grandmother in her final days, and said the decision to stay in Bridgewater, N.S., where she works, weighed on her.
The last time she saw her grandmother was in August when she was surrounded by family, smiling and laughing, and Francis said that made her decision easier.
“That’s really what I wanted to hold as my last memories of her and not her… in a way, suffering in a hospital bed. So that was just my own personal decision, but it absolutely was hard,” said Francis.
Brian Francis takes solace in the journey that his mother is now taking.
“We believe that when a loved one passes, that day they go to the spirit world for roughly a period of a year… after the anniversary of their death, we have a celebration or a feast. And basically, that’s when they come back and they’re able to be a guiding spirit for anybody here on this world.”
The passing of an Elder
In September, the First Nation lost elder Sarah Simon, a Shubenacadie Residential School survivor, who passed away at 96 years-old.
Her passing has made the community feel the loss of Francis more deeply.
“There’s a saying here that when we lose an Elder, it’s like losing a library …so much wisdom and knowledge that goes with them that we haven’t even tapped into,” said Brian Francis.
For Tara Francis, she hopes the loss will prompt younger people to value the time they have with their elders.
“Honour the elders who are left even more now, because you realize how precious they are… take advantage of the time they have with them.”
Louise Francis is survived by six daughters, three sons, and 88 grandchildren, great grandchildren and great great grandchildren.