June’s passing

She just bought two pairs of new shoes.

This is the refrain my brain keeps returning to, as if that will make the outcome any different. She hardly ever bought new shoes, or clothes, and especially furniture. Yet in the past year, as she decided she’d go on dialysis and stick around awhile, she purchased all of that. The shoes were just mere weeks ago. So she can’t really be gone.

My Grandma had been preparing for her death for literally decades. She’d occasionally show me things–knick knacks, collectibles, heirlooms, etc.–that she’d tagged with a sticker on the bottom bearing my name. She’d been methodically going through her belongings and identifying who should get what in order to minimize any issues after her passing. She and Grandpa bought their cemetery plots long ago, just a few blocks from their house, and joked that any other moves they made would be to their plots there.

She taught me how to bake, and made the best desserts ever. She was way more precise with her recipes than I am; I tend to dump flour and sugar and use “rounded” everything for measurements; she always meticulously scraped the extra flour off the top of a measuring cup, and laid down spoons as counting devices for large recipes to keep track of how many cups she’d already added. She knew where to go for the “best lard” in the area. She used to make her own strawberry jam and keep a garden; as kids, we’d snap beans at her house and watch the hummingbirds at her backyard feeders.

She was immensely patient. We stayed at her house quite a bit as children when my mom was in the hospital. One day she was making breakfast for myself and my siblings, including my younger brother, who was maybe 4 years old at the time. He wanted “dipping eggs”– basically made over-easy. Every egg she made, she cracked the yolk and he refused to eat it. Finally one came out unbroken–and she said she “could have killed him” when the first thing my brother did was take a piece of toast and break the yolk.

She was a fan of both sports and politics. She loved the Buckeyes and the Indians, and was disappointed when hometown hero Ben Roethlisberger kept screwing up his charmed life. Though she’d never gotten a driver’s license and had only been employed a few weeks out of her life, she was progressive and couldn’t stand the right-wing mouthpieces. She routinely clipped newspaper articles on MRSA and other infectious diseases to mail to me. She still used words like “oleo” and “davenport.” She would have been 86 in just a few weeks, and we were already planning a party for her and my Grandpa’s 65th wedding anniversary in June. Though she was also obsessive about sending everyone birthday and anniversary cards (always written in her neat, small cursive) but I didn’t know until just a few weeks ago that she’d never gotten a card for Grandpa. She figured 65 years was enough time to wait, and just bought him his first birthday card. It was on the mantle yesterday when my sister went over to visit.

She seemed, in many ways, both fragile and invincible. Over the past 20 years, she’d survived breast cancer, Clostridium difficile, a heart attack (and ~5 minutes of death in 2008), and “The E. Coli” as she called it, like it was a person rather than a bacterium. The E. Coli put her in the hospital with hemolytic uremic syndrome. It was this foe, with its subsequent reduction in kidney function, that necessitated her dialysis. She started the latter in late summer of 2011, after feeling incredibly tired for much of that season. Initially she fought it–she “didn’t want to trouble anyone” and there were no transportation options for seniors going to and from dialysis in her county–but after a family intervention (“you need this or you WILL die, and soon”) she decided she wanted to stick around for awhile. Indeed, she’d mentioned more than once that she felt better in the past 6 months than she had in quite awhile. She’d lost 50 pounds, some of it fluid due to the dialysis, and some due to better eating via a “meals on wheels” program she started with Grandpa–and was confident enough to make some purchases, like the shoes and a new sofa.

Two days ago, Grandma June was unable to do dialysis at her clinic as a clot was identified. Yesterday, my aunt took her to a hospital facility to have it checked out and receive dialysis there. I’m not yet sure of all the details; sounds like she had another heart attack (due to the clot?) but this time, there wasn’t any coming back, new shoes and sofa be damned.


  1. #1 HP
    March 29, 2012

    OMG! “Oleo” and “davenport.” My grandma used those exact same words. I think I’m maybe half a generation older than you, and my Grandma passed away in 1997.

    Unlike your grandma, mine would write out recipes for my Mom and sisters (boys don’t cook) with measurements like “butter the size of an egg” and directions like “cook till done.” I never understood why her food tasted so good, until I caught her pouring sugar on the asparagus.

    When her time came, she asked my uncle for permission. Permission! My heart breaks every time I recall that story. My uncle and I wept together and held hands when he told me about it.

    My sincerest condolences on your loss. She sounds like a lovely woman, who knew what she was doing all along. I’m glad to hear that her last acts were doing something nice for herself. Great presence of mind for a generation of women that knew only self-sacrifice.

  2. #2 OmegaMom
    March 29, 2012

    I’m so sorry. She sounds like she was a wonderful woman. I’m glad she got the shoes for herself.

  3. #3 SteveC
    March 29, 2012

    Never sure what to say in such circumstances, but I offer my condolences, and… (hope this doesn’t come off too weird) I’ve been a fan since back when you went by “Roland98”.

  4. #4 HC
    March 29, 2012

    I am sorry for your loss, my best wishes to you and your family.

  5. #5 John Tyler
    March 29, 2012

    Nice people, usually beget nice people.
    Your sadness will pass, and your fondness will live on. (As it should).
    So; Keep pluggin away, tomorrow is most likely not you last.

    (A total stranger)

  6. #6 Liz Ditz
    March 29, 2012

    I could just about see her, your words were so vivid.

    I am sorry for your loss.

  7. #7 Adrian A Gardner
    March 29, 2012

    I am so sorry for your loss. Thank you kindly for taking the time to write about her, it sounds like her life was one that was well lived. In time, I hope you find a way to ease your sorrow. Godspeed June.

  8. #8 Bob
    March 29, 2012

    Beautiful tribute, Tara.

  9. #9 Dean Morrison
    March 30, 2012

    Thanks for sharing that moving story Tara. I was very close to my Gran and owe her so very much. I’ve recently fallen in love with the Bill Withers song ‘Grandma’s hands’ for that reason.

  10. #10 Mr Epidemiology
    March 30, 2012

    I’m so sorry for your loss Tara. It sounds like you have some wonderful memories, and your post was beautifully written. My condolences to you and your family.

  11. #11 wright1
    March 30, 2012

    An eloquent and moving account; thanks for sharing both your grief and your affection. My sympathies, as someone whose grandparents have all passed away in the last twenty years.

  12. #12 John McC
    April 2, 2012

    Thank you for sharing your memories of your grandmother. They made me think of mine, long lost. All my condolences.

  13. #13 RBH
    April 3, 2012

    I knew both my maternal grandmother and great grandmother until I was in my 20s. I see lots of both in your grandmother, Tara. Oleo indeed! 🙂

  14. #14 DaveC
    April 6, 2012

    Beautiful piece, rest in peace. Condolences for your loss. The question now is, what are you going to do with those shoes?

  15. #15 personel saglik
    June 23, 2012

    Thanks for sharing that moving story Tara. I was very close to my Gran and owe her so very much. I’ve recently fallen in love with the Bill Withers song ‘Grandma’s hands’ for that reason.

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