Saturday, May 12, 2012

Grandma Ann

Dear Riley,

I'm not sure how well you'll understand this being as young as you are, but your grandma Ann passed away on Wednesday at the age of 84. She had a massive heart attack Tuesday night and the doctors didn't expect her to live more than a few minutes. She lasted another 14 hours or so. She was a fighter like that though. Of course, the heart attack was a shock as we thought she was in pretty good physical health... besides having Alzheimer's Disease. She hadn't been herself for a couple days, but it seemed like she might be getting better Tuesday evening. Unfortunately, that wasn't true.

In the hours after the heart attack and leading up to her passing she seemed to sleep peacefully, something she often did anyway. As you know, grandma's not much of a talker, but she wasn't always that way. I know your memories of grandma are of walking with her and papa Frank around her memory care facility... Of watching her fall asleep in her chair... Of watching her diligently, if slowly, eat her food... Of hearing her talk occasionally, but not being able to make out anything she says.

No, grandma wasn't always this way. She was a spirited woman. She loved playing games (Kismet, puzzles, Royal Rummy...) and sports. When she was younger she played softball and bowled on up to three leagues at a time when she was older. She loved to watch the MN Vikings and was so excited when she got to meet  Kirby Puckett and Kent Hrbeck at a MN Twins event. She loved Little House on the Prairie and wished direly that she could have gone to Michael Landon's funeral. She had many collections... one of which was cows as you've been witness to. She was many things that you never got to see.

There was a time when your grandma was a very different person. She talked loudly and animatedly. She was 100% Italian - Sicilian. She was one of 9 kids and went on to have 8 of her own - your aunts and uncles. And I know I call her my mom, but technically she's my step-mom. It's been so long since I referred to anyone from that side of the family as 'step'. They are our family.

But grandma also used to be really mean to your mom. Growing up with grandma was very hard and I will forever be impacted by it. Your grandma used to take a lot out on me and on your papa. She struggled with a mental illness which caused her to be paranoid, jealous, and unpredictable. She often accused me of things that were pretty outrageous. And she tried so hard to break the bond I had with my dad, your papa. No child should be treated that way. Your papa tried to help her, but he also supported me. He was my rock and the stability I needed to get through that time.

I moved out right after high school and things got better. I no longer was a daily reminder to her, but that didn't mean things were 100% better. We still had a tumultuous relationship for many years. Then about 15 years ago she started calling me every morning demanding that I return one item or another that she thought I took from her. Something was wrong. Something similar, but different from the past. Papa noticed it too and thought it was some sort of dementia. And it was. Over the past 15 or so years we have ridden the waves of Alzheimer's. You slowly see a person fade away only to see hints of the person they once were. It's heartbreaking, but I was relieved to see her softer side come out.

As sad as Alzheimer's is it turned out to be a good thing for our relationship. It was as if she forgot how much she didn't like me. She smiled at me genuinely. She laughed. She stopped saying mean things. She held my hand. And in a strange way we grew in a good direction. I would have never wished Alzheimer's on her, but it allowed some peace in our relationship.

I'll admit that her death stirs up some of those old feelings. Things that I would rather leave buried and forgotten. Regardless, I am greatly saddened that she is gone. Her quality of life wasn't what it once was, but I think she was happy and we were happy to have her here with us. She's been a part of my life for 33 years so it's hard to believe that I won't be able to take you down to see her this weekend as we often do. It's hard to believe that she is gone. It's like I've gotten to the end of the book, but I'm not ready for the story to be over. Sure, we'll have our memories, but it's not the same as having the story keep moving forward.

Yesterday you pointed to a picture of grandma and said "grandma" and I thought "how am I going to explain this to you? Will you notice that we no longer go to see her? Will you ask about her?" I hope you do, but I have no idea how I will respond. I know it is unlikely that you will really remember much about your grandma when you get older, but I at least hope that you remember how happy you were to go see her.

Papa's going to need a lot of our support so I need your help on this one. He spent a lot of time caring for grandma. He was her biggest advocate and the reason she did so well up until the end. He's going to need a new walking partner so I hope you are up to the challenge. Plus he'll benefit from your hugs and kisses.

I know I don't have the same struggles that grandma did, but I don't want to ever let you down and make you feel less than. You, kid, are my life and I want to give you the world. I want you to feel like you deserve good things... that you are worthy of them. I know I won't be perfect, but I promise to be a good mom and to love you with all my heart.

Love you,



  1. This was beautiful Jo. I'm sorry that you went through what you did. I also think that it is wonderful that you were able to move on and be there for Ann as you were. I loved Ann and wish that life was not so crazy and I would have seen her more than I did. Life is precious and so unpredictable at the same time. I know that we cannot be there during the traditional times the family gets together like the holidays and such but I do think that it is important that we make the time to see everyone more. Lexi enjoyed getting to know her family more. I think that you are a special person.

    1. I think we all wish a lot of things were different, but we do have a lot of good memories as well and I know Ann appreciated her time with you and your family. I understand why we can’t always see your family, and am grateful to see you when I can.

  2. I'm sorry for your loss. Your willingness to care for and connect with someone who hurt you was a wonderful gift to your family and will be a powerful lesson for your little girl throughout her life.

    1. Your sentiment was so well said. Through all of this I worry most what impact I have on my daughter and what kind of woman she will become.


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