Happy birthday, Grandma

Every October 2nd I think of my grandmother, Annie, who was born on that day in 1912 and actually died on that day in 2013. Annie was a unique individual who influenced my life in many ways. She was brave and went back to college in her 50’s when my grandpa, Jim, found out how much she had always wished to attend (but raising 3 children and living through the Depression did not provide that opportunity to her when she was young). She was an inspiration in so many ways to me – a pioneer in how she approached the world, especially for someone of her generation. When she went to work as a teacher after graduating from college, my grandfather was so proud of her.

She was a person of great faith. She told me that when I was facing an important decision in my life, I was not alone. I could pray about it and ask for wisdom. She never pressured me to attend church, but as a teacher in her church, I valued her way of asking us to interact with the texts and discuss how they apply to our lives. Her methodology was open and inquiring, and I think this modeled for me a way of being committed to learning and open to challenges.

She was never afraid to share her opinion, and we had many lively political debates, both with each other and with other family members or church members who did not always agree with her perspective. Since she had studied history and politics extensively, and was actually self-educated in terms of her reading choices long before she ever attended college, she was a formidable debater.

At age 69 she became a widow when my grandfather, after undergoing chemotherapy for cancer, passed away at home. So for the next 32 years until her death at age 101, she was without Jim (in body, but not in spirit, I believe she would say).  All of us felt the loss of Jim, and I was only 7 years old but very aware of the effect of this loss on my mother and on other members of the family. My school pictures that year reflected a sad little girl, and I expect it was also difficult because my father lost his mother in that same year to cancer. Both my parents suffered and grieved that year.

Annie would probably say that her faith was a big part of how she got through her grief, and how she was able to get through that loss and keep living a vital and active life well into her mid-90’s. She eventually had to go into a nursing home when my parents, who had moved home to help to care for her, were no longer able to manage her care.

When she no longer had the physical strength to do basic things, she had to receive more help than my parents could give. It was sad for her, and she resisted strongly (as she always had in her life) any move that would take away her autonomy, which she treasured.

In 2013, my last conversation with her was related to what I could bring her in the nursing home that she might like. She seemed uncomfortable, and I asked if she needed water, or if there was something I could get for her. She thought for a moment, and told me was she wanted was chocolate. I laughed, thinking it was funny that she would ask this of me. Sure enough, my mother had given me my belated birthday gifts during my travel there, and this had included chocolate.

At age 101, we were not always sure Grandma knew what was going on around her, or could remember certain things. But sure enough, she wanted chocolate and I was likely to have it. I told her: “just wait, I have some in my car.” When I retrieved the Dove chocolates, and shared with her, all she wanted was one piece. But she seemed very satisfied, and I was so happy I could provide something to ease her pain, and more than that, to connect with her in this way.

There are times in my life when I feel my Grandmother is with me in spirit, a gentle presence that helps to guide me. In fact, I know she is always there, but this time of year I seem to feel that spirit more than at other times. Thank you, Grandma. Happy birthday.

Grandma hands

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