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Goodbye Grandma

March 1, 2012

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.



50 Comments leave one →
  1. Michele permalink
    March 2, 2012 10:15 am

    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. March 2, 2012 10:22 am

    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?!

  3. Steph permalink
    March 2, 2012 10:29 am

    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

  4. Anonymous permalink
    March 2, 2012 10:29 am

    o my gosh RAch, I am clutching my heart… well done friend and prayers to you and your family in these days

  5. March 2, 2012 10:33 am

    The first paragraph brought a tear to my eye. It sounds like your Grandma was swell, indeed. Sending love and light…

  6. March 2, 2012 10:34 am

    Oh Rachel…. that is just so perfect!!

  7. March 2, 2012 10:44 am

    teary. in the best possible way.

  8. janie permalink
    March 2, 2012 10:44 am

    Thanks Rachel.

  9. March 2, 2012 10:51 am

    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.

  10. March 2, 2012 10:52 am

    What a lovely celebration of what was clearly a beautiful life. I love the Trinidad photo, and I love that she was being called by Herb.

  11. dad permalink
    March 2, 2012 10:58 am

    So beautful!
    Too many tears to write more

  12. Anonymous permalink
    March 2, 2012 11:00 am


  13. Christy permalink
    March 2, 2012 11:09 am

    Beautiful. Wishing you and your family peace and comfort while you remeber her.

  14. Peggy permalink
    March 2, 2012 11:22 am

    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!

  15. March 2, 2012 11:25 am

    I’m crying too hard to leave a coherent comment, so I’ll just say this is absolutely beautiful.

  16. Jan permalink
    March 2, 2012 12:09 pm

    What a perfectly lovely tribute to Joyce. I’m sure she would have loved it. Keep the memories close.

    Aunt Jan

  17. March 2, 2012 12:16 pm

    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.

  18. March 2, 2012 12:24 pm

    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.

  19. The Slow Foods Mama permalink
    March 2, 2012 12:32 pm

    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.

  20. March 2, 2012 12:42 pm

    Hiding people and celebrating nursing mama…along with sunning yourself on beaches: A good life.

  21. March 2, 2012 1:08 pm

    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.

  22. March 2, 2012 1:23 pm

    Breathtakingly beautiful. Makes me miss my own grandmother, who also made it 93 years before “going to be with the Lawhd.” :-)

  23. Nasha permalink
    March 2, 2012 1:48 pm

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

  24. March 2, 2012 2:39 pm

    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.

  25. March 2, 2012 2:49 pm

    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.

  26. March 2, 2012 3:12 pm

    Oh, Rachel… much love to you and your family. Thank you for sharing your Grandma’s story. What a beautiful life and legacy.

  27. Jessica permalink
    March 2, 2012 3:48 pm

    Beautiful heartfelt tribute. May she and Herb be reunited forever.

  28. March 2, 2012 3:53 pm

    rachel, there are no words. you are beautiful, and loved, and hugged from afar.

  29. March 2, 2012 4:08 pm

    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.

  30. March 2, 2012 4:41 pm

    Very, very sorry to learn of your loss. Blessings to you and your family.

  31. Anonymous permalink
    March 2, 2012 4:45 pm

    So wonderful to celebrate such a beautiful life! You are walking in her spirit. Love you.

  32. March 2, 2012 5:53 pm

    Oh, Rachel. What a beautiful tribute to a beautiful woman.

    Much love to you and your family.

  33. Anonymous permalink
    March 2, 2012 6:04 pm

    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….

  34. March 2, 2012 7:15 pm

    sending you lovelovelove. beautiful words for a beautiful woman. xo

  35. Anonymous permalink
    March 2, 2012 7:26 pm

    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

  36. abozza permalink
    March 2, 2012 7:37 pm

    Beautiful, Rachel.

  37. Emily permalink
    March 2, 2012 10:49 pm

    Ah, dude, I’m sorry about your Grandma. You wrote beautifully for her. Hugs to you and your family.

  38. brigid permalink
    March 3, 2012 1:16 am

    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.

  39. March 3, 2012 5:31 am

    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.

  40. rose permalink
    March 3, 2012 11:11 am

    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. :)

  41. Bree permalink
    March 3, 2012 6:30 pm

    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.

  42. Carrie permalink
    March 3, 2012 7:47 pm

    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

  43. March 3, 2012 8:09 pm

    Good on you, and on her. xo

  44. Dan permalink
    March 3, 2012 10:13 pm

    Thanks for sharing these memories and emotions. Love, Dan

  45. March 4, 2012 12:14 am

    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.

  46. March 4, 2012 10:07 am

    broke my heart with this one, then mended it all back up again.

    what a gal.

    the both of you.


  47. Twwly permalink
    March 6, 2012 9:07 pm

    Grandma was a fox!

    Lots of love to you all!

  48. March 17, 2012 5:02 pm

    Oh, honey, your grandma was so lucky to have such a talented, gorgeous creature as a granddaughter. What a beautiful, loving tribute. Thank you for sharing her light (and yours) with us.


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