Last Wednesday, September 23rd, my eighty-seven-year-old grandmother passed away unexpectedly. If you remember, I shared earlier this year that my other grandmother, my dad’s mom, passed away in May after a long battle with Alzheimer’s Disease. This time, there was no battle. There was no physical illness or mental issues – my Grandma Jeannie, who was in great health, my mom’s mom, a person who had been a huge influence throughout my entire life, someone I expected to have around for at least a few more years, suddenly was gone.
I was shocked and honestly didn’t know how to react. Of course, I flew home to Chicago as soon as I could to be with family. I had moments of grieving, moments of sobbing uncontrollably, but mostly I just tried to be strong for everyone else, especially my mom and aunt. I helped as much as I could with funeral arrangements, talked with family about the money/inheritance situation, helped figure out what bills needed to be paid and what accounts to cancel, started the process of cleaning out her home, all while feeling sort of numb to the whole thing. As I said, I had my moments of breaking down, but they were few and far between.
And now I’m back in Florida, back to reality and have a few days to reflect and regroup before starting work on Monday. And I just have to take a minute to share with all of you, my friends who have gotten to know me over the years, what an amazing woman my Grandma Jeannie was.
My grandma was a fiercely independent person. She bucked the trend of her era and didn’t get married right out of high school – she got a job and lived an exciting life as a single woman. She didn’t marry until just before thirty (ancient, at that time!), and had two daughters, my mom and aunt. When her daughters were 12 and 5, she courageously divorced her alcoholic husband and went back to work full-time to support her daughters on her own. She was extremely involved in her girls’ lives, they both have fond memories of their hard-working mom showing up for them in every possible sense of the word.
My grandma was the most fun, funny, involved, and loving grandparent I had. She was involved in every activity her seven grandchildren participated in, showing up at every single sporting event, dance recital, vocal performance, graduation, and anything else that was significant in our lives. Every single one of the seven of us thought we were her favorite – she made each of us feel special and unique, showering us with the kind of undivided and unconditional love and attention that can come only from a loving grandparent. I was so lucky to have her love for as many years as I did.
My grandma was truly the most kind person I’ve ever known. She loved everyone with a ferocity that is not seen in most people. She got to know strangers in elevators, formed extremely close bonds with friends at work, church, and other places, and took care of anyone who was in need of a helping hand, loving hug, shoulder to cry on, or just a kind listening ear. There were people in her life who didn’t do right by her all the time, yet she forgave them time and time again. She truly saw only the best in people and had the unique ability to forgive the bad while at the same time, not allowing someone to mistreat her twice.
Everything that is good in me came through her – either directly from her, or through my mom, also from her. When I feel myself reacting with unkindness or anger, I ask myself how she would respond. I remind myself that she taught me to respond to negativity with words of encouragement, to respond to hate with love, to be kind to others not because they deserve it, but because it’s just the right thing to do.
Truly, she was the most incredible person I’ve ever known. I am so very lucky to have had thirty-one years with her. I know she had a wonderful, long life, and to die at eighty-seven, still living independently and volunteering at church, with all of her wits about her and no physical pain, is just about the best possible way to go. I will miss her every day but I know she’s always going to be with me. The grief I feel for her loss is masked by the incredible impact she’s had on my life and the knowledge that I would not be half the woman I am today without her influence. Not everyone gets a perfect example of how to live a life full of love and joy – but I did.
Thank you for taking the time to read about my amazing Grandma Jeannie. I’ll be back in the next week or so with more bookish posts. :)