One Special Lady…

23rd September 2012

Today my grandmother died.

In many ways, I want to stop the post right there, but I can’t quite because grandmothers die all the time, and though loved, I’ve never known one quite as exceptional as my own. I’ve loved all my grandparents and have been lucky enough to have known them as an adult myself, a privilege many do not have. But this lady? Living proof that being a strong, independent woman doesn’t mean you have to sacrifice your jewelry or fashion sense.

She lived through a kidnapping, an upbringing in a convent during extremely lean years, a reunion with a mother she thought was dead, a child she would give to her mother to raise, a marriage, two kids in her late 30s and one at 40 (!), a broken back, two broken hips, the mental illness and death of her son, the decline and death of her husband, and the ruin of the house she and her husband built together (black mold), and at 88, she was still shopping, telling me not to bite my nails, and logging on to check her email.

A nurse for many years, she gave out shots, and some of my parents’ friends still remember her chasing them down to inoculate them. She and my grandfather helped several Vietnamese families after the war, teaching them English, helping them find work, and looking for homes for their families. All week, the children of the families they helped have been in and out, adding their own memories and stories.

Three weeks before she died, she asked me when I would finish writing the novel I’d begun on her fascinating life. She had a stroke days later, and her left side was immobile. That didn’t keep her from kicking that leg and exercising her left arm. It also didn’t keep her from nicking my straw fedora or fingering the earrings I wore on each visit (she also loved her bling).

Though she wasn’t a reader until the last few years, my MawMaw loved stories. She told me again and again about our family, passing down our history so I would remember. She especially loved sharing the odd family names, from nicknames to real ones – Mary Ottago, Sally Mustgo, Alfrus Jefrus Lounsy Warwick, and Raspberry Greene Newman.

We’ve been in hospice for the last week after a rapid downturn in her health, and my sister and I spoke on the phone one of the evenings after our nightly visits, talking about how grateful we are to know about our grandparents’ lives, and we talked until our cell phones gave out, about our Uncle Tiny who sent us $5 each Christmas for the movies and just where one or two second cousins fit in the mix. She assigns her 4th grade students each year an interview with their grandparents, telling them they may not listen now but that one day, they’ll appreciate having asked their grandparents about themselves.

They’re the keepers of stories. I’m grateful I was allowed so much time with mine.

  • Your grandmother sounds like an amazing woman and it was fun to read about her life. So sorry for your loss.

    • Lorren – she definitely was that. Thank you.

  • Leah Hess

    Sorry for your loss. What a wonderful legacy she left you with though–it sounds like she really knew how to live her life and overcome adversity.

    • Leah – amazingly so. I’m incredibly proud to be her granddaughter. Thank you.

  • I’m so sorry for your loss, Jenn. Your grandmother was certainly a strong woman.

    • She was, JoAnn, thanks.

  • Namine Mai

    what a beautiful post. sorry for your loss

    • Thank you, Namine.

  • This was really lovely post, Jenn. I’m so sorry to hear about your grandma. She sounds like a wonderful woman.

    • I know you recently lost your grandfather, Kim. Life is strange without grandparents in it. Thank you.

  • pattismith

    An amazing story and what wonderful memories to carry you through the rest of your life…and hopefully you’ll be able to pass them down as well. You’re in my thoughts and prayers…so sorry.

    • Thank you. It is an amazing story, and I’m grateful I know what I do about her life.

  • I’m so sad to hear about your family’s loss. Your words about her are beautiful, and it certainly sounds like her life would be wonderful inspiration for a book. Sending good thoughts your way.

    • Thanks, Rayna. And yes, it’s a pretty fascinating story.

  • lulu_bella

    I’m so so sorry for your loss Jenn. I wish I could be there to give you the biggest hug.

    • Thanks, girlie. I appreciate it.

  • heidenkind

    I’m so sorry, Jenn. 1000 hugs.

    • Thanks, Tasha. I accept all 1000. 🙂

  • I hope you DO finish that novel, both as a way for you to remember it all and also to share what sounds like a very unique life. Hugs and love to you and your family.

    • It’s so daunting, but I’d honestly love to. Thanks, Kristen.

  • What a wonderful lady…I am so sorry for your loss. You must finish that novel about her life, it would be a great inspiration to others.

    Love to you and your family. Take care.

    • Yes indeed, she was. Thanks, Nishita.

  • Steph (@ 20 Years Hence)

    This was a beautiful tribute and your grandmother sounds like an amazing lady. Both of my grandmothers are both still living so I can only imagine how hard this loss is for you, but it does sound like you will have many wonderful memories of her and your time together that will live on.

    • Thanks, Steph. I appreciate it. Enjoy those grandmamas. They’re pretty special.

  • Charlie

    Beautiful, Jenn, though I’m sorry to hear the news. Best wishes and love to you and your family. May I say though that i’s good you didn’t end the post with the first sentence, as reading about your grandmother was fascinating, she sounds lovely, and this was a wonderful tribute.

    • Thanks, Charlie. And good, I’m glad you enjoyed reading about her. I’ve always loved telling people about her.

  • Your grandmother sounds like she was an absolutely amazing lady. I’m so, so sorry for your loss. Losing grandmothers is really hard. Sending you my condolences.

    • Thanks, Sarah, I appreciate it.

  • Jenn, what a beautiful tribute. My heart breaks for you, and my thoughts and hugs go out to you and your family. You indeed bring up an excellent point of being able to know your grandmother in your adult years, as so many of us are not as lucky. It sounds like she most definitely had an incredible life, one that you continue through the story you are writing and if anything, writing that regularly just continues to maintain the bond you have with her. Welcome the dreams at night that you have, for it’s surprisingly then when we get a visit from our loved ones so soon after their passing. Please let me know if there is anything I can do. Much love and hugs to you all.

    • It’s amazing what you learn as you grow up, and yes, I’m so grateful I’ve known my grandparents as an adult. 🙂

  • What an amazing woman and what a wonderful memorial to her memory. My thoughts are with you

    • Thanks, Jennifer.

  • Mary Ryherd

    An amazing story told by a lovely grand daughter.

    • Thanks, Miss Mary.

  • What an amazing woman! I am so sorry for your loss. Your post moved me a lot – it is a beautiful tribute. I am sure that she will be proud of the book you are writing.

    • Thanks, Aths. She definitely was amazing. And funny. On Facebook at 88. Always makes me grin.

  • I am so sorry — my condolences! Last year my beloved paternal grandmother died, a woman who I found wonderfully complicated and inspiring. I was devastated, even though I too know grandparents pass away. It doesn’t make it easier. Sending love to you and your family — and I do hope you finish your novel about her. She sounds amazing.

    • Thanks, Audra. And I’m sorry for your loss. I love what you say about your grandmother being complicated. Mine was as well, and that’s a complexity that as children we don’t always recognize.

      • It’s always hard for me to see my adult relatives more honestly, but it is ultimately rewarding — and learning to embrace, love, honor, and recognize the complete woman my grandmother was has resulted in treasures.

  • Lindsey Stefan

    I’m so sorry. It’s so wonderful that you had the time to get to enjoy your grandmother. She sounds like a really special lady.

  • TNBBC

    Jenn, I am so sorry to hear about the loss of your grandmother. I lost my grandfather last year.. it’s never easy when a loved one passes, especially one as vibrant and independent as your grandmother was! Keep her in your memories and pass those stories on…

  • Sue

    Dear Jennifer ~
    My dad just notified me via email that your grandmother had passed away. I’m sorry to hear it, but I know that you have many fond memories to cherish. You’re picture is so beautiful. I wish I could see you. I think of you and your sweet family so often, and wish I could play cards with your parents, around their dining table, just one more time. What fun memories. Take good care. All my best, Miss Sue (Jim’s mom)

  • Yvette

    I’m sorry to hear of your loss, Jenn, but happy that you had your grandmother in your life for a good long time. She sounds like a very dynamic woman, a woman who loved life. And at 88, at least she had a good chunk of it. I never knew my own grandparents, at least not to remember, except vaguely.

    My own mother lived to 89 so at least my grown daughter had her in her life much as you did with your grandma.

    You should write that book. 🙂

  • Sending monster hugs!!! Your grandmother sounds like she was a phenomenal woman with a lot of really amazing stories. One thing that really comforted me after my grandmother died when I was still in college is that while she may not be here with me anymore, I still have her stories so in a way, she still lives on. I am certain that all of the amazing stories about your grandmother will live on as well!

  • Oh, so sorry for your loss. What a gorgeous shot of her, though. I am thinking of you and your family.

  • Midnyte Reader

    What a beautiful tribute to your grandmother. I’m so sorry for your loss. She sounds incredible.

  • I’m so sorry to hear about this! But you should DEFINITELY finish writing her story. Her legacy is in you! I would read it. And that photo? She looks so stylin’, classy, and a wee bit mischievous! (all the best qualities)

  • I am so sorry for your loss, Jenn. What a beautiful post – I hope you’ll finish that novel you’re writing of your grandmother’s life.

    • Thanks, Belle.

  • I’m so sorry for your loss. Your grandma sounds like one amazing woman and you being you, well it’s easy to see where you get it from. Keeping you and your family in my thoughts.

    • Thanks, Kimberly.