Goodbye Grandma

Dear Grandma Joyce,

When they carried your body out on Wednesday, the staff and residents of Chaparral House lined up to throw rose petals on you as you traveled down the hall like your own decorated float. I don’t know what you would have thought of this; maybe you would have said it was too much fuss over a dead body, or maybe you would have thought it was beautiful. You loved flowers. And you were loved every minute of your life.

Last week you told a nurse that Herb was calling you. I’m not sure how that all works, but I can see you together again, somehow, in some form, folk-dancing through the swirling universe.

(Herb died 2 years ago; it was a good death)

Here you are on the beaches of Trinidad in 1942.

This photo was taken before the births of your two daughters, when you were a carefree newlywed who typed letters on thin sheets of airmail paper, assuring your well-heeled mother that despite the house-dwelling insects and shoddy appliances, island life was “swell” and Herb was learning a lot at his new job as photographer for the US army.

At some point we all write this same letter home to our parents. In 1995, I wrote home to assure my parents that despite the fact that my roommates were sort of like house-dwelling insects, buzzing around the couches and television, life was awesome: my new friend Dan and I had just tapped a box elder tree for syrup!

Or even now, I could write about the fruit flies that mill around our indoor compost bucket like a singles bar, and I wish I had even a shoddy dishwasher somedays, but life at 6512 feet with a rumpled blanket of snow is fabulous and we’re learning a lot about following our hearts everyday.

Maybe someday my children will write this same letter to me, and I will press it to my chest, envisioning their adult lives while a grainy flash of their small bodies flickers across my eyes.

You quietly poured yourself into what you loved: piano, art, children, creating a beautiful home, world peace, helping people. I like thinking of you reading to the hardscrabble kids at the Berkeley women’s homeless shelter. Or laughing shyly at your husband’s jokes as you set the Thanksgiving dinner table with a poached salmon. I like thinking about you holding your 4 grandchildren, and your 7 great-granchildren – each child settling into the crook of your arm while your eyes crinkled in a smile. Or marching for peace amongst the wild wooly radicals of Berkeley. Or, when your daughters were small, hiding a woman in your house who belonged to the Communist Party during the McCarthy era (I think it’s okay to reveal this now).

But my favorite memory of you, Grandma, was a phone conversation we had after I finally brought Col home from the hospital. After 101 days of government-like regulations on when and how long I could hold Col, I called you; you, who had a long standing love of babies.

“Grandma, he’s home and I can hold him as much as I want.”

“Nuts to you Nurse!” You replied triumphantly.

It’s mind-boggling that you were here on this Earth for 93 years, in all your different life phases—from infant to great-grandmother—and now gone forever. When I think about how your genetic code is folded into your children and grandchildren, I can’t help but notice how your descendants—like you—love books, fresh vegetables and babies. Perhaps nothing is ever gone forever, just transformed.

Thank you Grandma.

Love,

Rachel

99 thoughts on “Goodbye Grandma”

  1. My son just looked at the picture of your Grandmother on the beach and asked “Mom, is that your princess?”

    Blessings to you and your family and you remember this lovely woman.

  2. My son just looked at the picture of your Grandmother on the beach and asked “Mom, is that your princess?”

    Blessings to you and your family and you remember this lovely woman.

  3. What a beautiful tribute to your grandma. I love, that that first picture of her! That’s crazy that she was getting a “call from Herb”. I bet she really was! I remember the very last time I saw my grandpa. He was very sick and I was leaving to go back to California. He came to me in the living room and basically told me that we would never see each other again, that he was dying soon. I’ll always remember that.

    Aren’t grandparents awesome?!

  4. What a beautiful tribute to your grandma. I love, that that first picture of her! That’s crazy that she was getting a “call from Herb”. I bet she really was! I remember the very last time I saw my grandpa. He was very sick and I was leaving to go back to California. He came to me in the living room and basically told me that we would never see each other again, that he was dying soon. I’ll always remember that.

    Aren’t grandparents awesome?!

  5. What a beautiful tribute to your grandmother. This hits home for me, as my 95 yo grandmother is in her final hours or days as I write this. I love marveling over generations and genes! Xoxo

  6. What a beautiful tribute to your grandmother. This hits home for me, as my 95 yo grandmother is in her final hours or days as I write this. I love marveling over generations and genes! Xoxo

  7. So incredibly beautiful. As I read your letter to your grandmother, I had flashes of my Great Aunt Iva who passed away a few weeks ago at the age of 87. She, too, joined her love, my Uncle Bob. This is such a wonderful tribute and it made me reminisce about my Auntie Iva and how amazing she was for me, too.

  8. So incredibly beautiful. As I read your letter to your grandmother, I had flashes of my Great Aunt Iva who passed away a few weeks ago at the age of 87. She, too, joined her love, my Uncle Bob. This is such a wonderful tribute and it made me reminisce about my Auntie Iva and how amazing she was for me, too.

  9. Sitting at my desk weeping….hopefully no co-workers walk by. What a BEAUTIFUL letter to your grandma. I only wish that I can leave this much of an impression on those that i love. I’m sorry for your loss, but it certainly sounds like Grandma lived a pretty wonderful, happy, and fulfilled life!

  10. Sitting at my desk weeping….hopefully no co-workers walk by. What a BEAUTIFUL letter to your grandma. I only wish that I can leave this much of an impression on those that i love. I’m sorry for your loss, but it certainly sounds like Grandma lived a pretty wonderful, happy, and fulfilled life!

  11. The picture of her in Trinidad brought tears to my eyes. Hope you have that framed. A life well lived and to be remembered. That is the definition of a successful life on the planet. Beautiful.

  12. The picture of her in Trinidad brought tears to my eyes. Hope you have that framed. A life well lived and to be remembered. That is the definition of a successful life on the planet. Beautiful.

  13. This is so beautiful. Your words are as beautiful as that stunning photo from Trinidad. And the line about airmail…so vivid. So sorry for your loss. How lucky you all are to have her in your family.

  14. This is so beautiful. Your words are as beautiful as that stunning photo from Trinidad. And the line about airmail…so vivid. So sorry for your loss. How lucky you all are to have her in your family.

  15. Lovely. How lucky are we who have had the gift of a grandmother’s friendship. They’re never truly gone; they’re in us all along.

  16. Lovely. How lucky are we who have had the gift of a grandmother’s friendship. They’re never truly gone; they’re in us all along.

  17. Rachel there is so much to say about this post but I’m too busy crying to write. What a gorgeous tribute to your Grandma. And what a joy it must have been to have someone like that in your life. She may have liked the roses but I think she would have loved this more.

    I’m so sorry for your loss, but like you said, there’s a part of her that lives in all of you. What a lovely legacy.

  18. Rachel there is so much to say about this post but I’m too busy crying to write. What a gorgeous tribute to your Grandma. And what a joy it must have been to have someone like that in your life. She may have liked the roses but I think she would have loved this more.

    I’m so sorry for your loss, but like you said, there’s a part of her that lives in all of you. What a lovely legacy.

  19. So precious. I love that photo—I feel like I know this woman thanks to the artfulness of your pen. Love to you,

  20. So precious. I love that photo—I feel like I know this woman thanks to the artfulness of your pen. Love to you,

  21. I came this way via Justine’s share. It’s a stunning, hopeful tribute. And how beautiful was your grandmother! An amazing post on so many levels.

  22. I came this way via Justine’s share. It’s a stunning, hopeful tribute. And how beautiful was your grandmother! An amazing post on so many levels.

  23. Beautiful, both your words and your grandmother. You’re right – she’ll always be with you just in a different, perhaps more subtle, way. Sounds like you have a lot of lovely memories to hold on to.

  24. Beautiful, both your words and your grandmother. You’re right – she’ll always be with you just in a different, perhaps more subtle, way. Sounds like you have a lot of lovely memories to hold on to.

  25. oh she’s not gone.. not by a long shot!
    I love to see photos of women in their prime( my she was a beauty!) and then as crones. the time between the two must have passed like the blink of an eye.
    We are here for such a short stretch, best to love while we can and risk a little ( really like the note about communist hiding!)
    I am sure you will miss having her here with you.

  26. oh she’s not gone.. not by a long shot!
    I love to see photos of women in their prime( my she was a beauty!) and then as crones. the time between the two must have passed like the blink of an eye.
    We are here for such a short stretch, best to love while we can and risk a little ( really like the note about communist hiding!)
    I am sure you will miss having her here with you.

  27. Gosh Rachel, you’ve done it again. Tears at the keyboard. Thank you for your beautiful writing. And for your honoring of Grandma. ps, my grandpa’s name was Herb, he held the door for his Jeneva when it was her time to pass on to join him. May we all be so lucky. Condolences to you….

  28. Gosh Rachel, you’ve done it again. Tears at the keyboard. Thank you for your beautiful writing. And for your honoring of Grandma. ps, my grandpa’s name was Herb, he held the door for his Jeneva when it was her time to pass on to join him. May we all be so lucky. Condolences to you….

  29. Awesome. Give thanks to your Grandma! Thanks for sharing her being with us. Her transformation is magnanimous and widespread and absolutely lovely. Big hug to you Rachel

  30. Awesome. Give thanks to your Grandma! Thanks for sharing her being with us. Her transformation is magnanimous and widespread and absolutely lovely. Big hug to you Rachel

  31. so any hugs to you and your family! I lost my grandma a month ago- she was 91 and even though that’s so many years…I will always feel the loss of her in my life. Beautiful tribute here Rachel.

  32. so any hugs to you and your family! I lost my grandma a month ago- she was 91 and even though that’s so many years…I will always feel the loss of her in my life. Beautiful tribute here Rachel.

  33. So lovely. One of my favorite sayings is “a happy childhood lasts forever”- well so does a fabulous grandmother. Mine was spectacular, she is with me in every single move I make and the one person I would hope to be like. She’s been gone from earth 4 years and I still think of calling her whenever something exciting happens. May your family have peace adjusting to life without your grandmother here.

  34. So lovely. One of my favorite sayings is “a happy childhood lasts forever”- well so does a fabulous grandmother. Mine was spectacular, she is with me in every single move I make and the one person I would hope to be like. She’s been gone from earth 4 years and I still think of calling her whenever something exciting happens. May your family have peace adjusting to life without your grandmother here.

  35. this is just lovely, rachel. what a beautiful life and legacy. i often think of my grandparents dancing out there in the cosmos, expect they would be doing the jitterbug. :)

  36. this is just lovely, rachel. what a beautiful life and legacy. i often think of my grandparents dancing out there in the cosmos, expect they would be doing the jitterbug. :)

  37. thanks for this glimpse into the life of someone special… you brought tears to my eyes with your words which make me feel as if I knew her and lost her too. so sorry and sad for your loss.

  38. thanks for this glimpse into the life of someone special… you brought tears to my eyes with your words which make me feel as if I knew her and lost her too. so sorry and sad for your loss.

  39. Moved me deeply, yes a life is filled with all the bits of us.
    To see her looking up at that tree on the beach –wow–life is good
    Thanks for sharing
    Sending much love Carrie-Anne

  40. Moved me deeply, yes a life is filled with all the bits of us.
    To see her looking up at that tree on the beach –wow–life is good
    Thanks for sharing
    Sending much love Carrie-Anne

  41. Oh, my sweet Rachel lady….. I lost my own great grandparents around the birth of my fourth. Grandma at age 89 left us in August and my sweet gentleman of a man (gramps) age 90.9 left that November. Just three moths apart. I’m pretty sure my Gramps was just waiting around for her to go! I wrote him a letter after her death, telling him how much I adored them. It was something he read often, I found out later. It’s a blessing to have your grandparents around as you grow up.
    Wishing you many beautiful memories.
    ~s

  42. Oh, my sweet Rachel lady….. I lost my own great grandparents around the birth of my fourth. Grandma at age 89 left us in August and my sweet gentleman of a man (gramps) age 90.9 left that November. Just three moths apart. I’m pretty sure my Gramps was just waiting around for her to go! I wrote him a letter after her death, telling him how much I adored them. It was something he read often, I found out later. It’s a blessing to have your grandparents around as you grow up.
    Wishing you many beautiful memories.
    ~s

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