Thursday, October 03, 2013

A Tribute to My Dear Grandma

Today my wonderful grandma was released from this life. She was 91 and died very quietly and peacefully.

I feel such an odd mixture of emotions. I'll miss her so much. But I'm so happy for her at the same time.

In her youth, Grandma (Ruth) was a beautiful dancer and a smart, strong-willed woman who knew how to get what she wanted and needed. She met the dashing Dean through mutual friends and they fell in love as they danced together in competitions. Dean worked hard to get himself set up in the restaurant business while Ruth finished her college degree in Early Childhood Education. Their love letters and journal entries during their courtship show that they simply adored each other.

Once they were engaged, Grandma saw exactly the wedding dress she wanted in a fancy magazine and figured out how to sew a beautiful replica for herself. When it was almost their wedding day, they heard friends were going to play a prank on them and keep them separated for their wedding night so they decided to evade the pranksters by getting married at the Logan Temple a day early with only their closest family present. It worked! There was no kidnapping! But the photographer wasn't there since he was scheduled for the following day instead. So a little while after their wedding, they got dressed up in their wedding clothes and had this wedding portrait taken.

They had five children, four boys and a girl (just like me). Grandma insisted on natural labor and childbirth and breastfeeding at a time that these things were totally shunned by a society enthralled with "modern" methods of childbirth involving basically sedating women and pulling the baby out and "scientific" methods of feeding babies using "formula."

Grandma and Grandpa scrimped and saved by living with Grandma's parents for quite a few years until they could afford to build their own house. Together, they designed a lovely modest home where every square inch was carefully planned to maximize space and functionality - there were built-in's and cleverly designed things everywhere in the house (pull-out step-stools built into the bathroom cabinets so small children could get up to the sink, a silverware drawer that could pull out in two directions - towards the sink so you could put clean stuff away and towards the table so you could set the table without walking around to the other side to get the silverware...). Grandma always worked to find the very best way to do everything.

Then when their youngest child was just 3 and their oldest child (my dad) was only 15, Dean died of cancer. Grandma was a widow for 53 years and talked often and fondly of her beloved Dean. There were plenty of good men who were interested in the beautiful young widow but Grandma had eyes only for Dean.

Here's Grandma with her children a few years after Dean died:

Grandma worked as the volunteer coordinator at the hospital to support her family and took in boarders to help make ends meet (plus when they were building their house and Dean was starting to be sick, they wisely decided to build two tiny but very well-designed apartments into their attic space so they could rent those out for extra income).

After quite a few years of work at the hospital, Grandma was excited to be able to use her Early Childhood Education degree to do what she loved the most - work with young children. For over 30 years, she ran a very popular preschool called the Joy School which was based on the Joy School curriculum she developed which is now known and loved around the world.

Here's Grandma at the original Joy School (that's my sister Shawni in the front). How we loved visiting the Joy School and bragging to the other kids that their fabulous teacher was our grandmother.

Grandma had this amazing knack when it came to teaching young children. She knew just how to explain important concepts in language that made perfect sense to little ones. She was always ready with a story and a song that would teach a principle in just the right way. I love reading over the Joy School lesson plans because I can almost hear my Grandma's voice in my head, telling each story, explaining each concept. So much of her original words are still in the Joy School lesson plans and her approaches are amazingly effective and timeless.

Grandma taught me so much. Grandma taught me to always always always clean up one thing before I got out another thing, how to make a bed with nurse corners, how to do the dishes the most efficient way, and how to wring out a rag or washcloth just right. She taught me to speak up when I had something to say and to ask for help when I needed it. Through her example, she taught me how to teach, how to make things interesting and fun for little kids, how to make people feel really special, how to stretch money and make-do, and how to organize things neatly and efficiently in a home.

She also taught me how to endure to the end with patience and sweetness and love.

Her memory started to falter maybe 4 or 5 years ago now. Then for the past couple years, she hasn't known who any of us are. "Now which one are you?" "I'm Saren, your oldest grandchild." "Oh, I knew that! I just wanted to be sure YOU knew!" (said with a sweet smile and a chuckle - her sense of humor stayed in tact for a long time). Then 2 minutes later: "Now which one are you?"

She told me that she felt like she was moving through molasses to try to remember certain things and that it was pretty frustrating sometimes.

When I'd take the kids to visit her, she'd always perk up and say how happy she was to see us. She'd show such love and interest in each of the kids and ask them questions (usually the same one or two questions lots of times...). Then the kids would do all the great wooden jigsaw puzzles she made for her children when they were young and she'd always remind them to be sure to finish doing one puzzle and put it away before starting on the next one so the pieces wouldn't get lost (after 60 years, all the pieces are still there!). While they'd do the puzzles, I'd talk with my dear grandma about long-ago things since recent things didn't stick in her mind at all. She'd rattle off the names of her 8 siblings and every time she'd ask how many children I had and I told her about my four boys and a girl, she'd tell me about her four boys and a girl. Then she'd tell me how much she longed to go be with their father, with her dear Dean. "When do you think Dean will come get me? an " she'd plead with tears running down her face. I'd tell her I knew it would happen at the right time and then we'd cheer things up by singing some of the old Joy School songs with the kids. She'd always say she didn't remember the songs but when we'd start singing, she sang along with every word.

When we'd get ready to leave, I'd tell her I loved her and she'd hold my hands in her cool, papery-soft hands and look right into my eyes with her watery-blue mostly-unseeing eyes and earnestly say, "I love you so much."

Me and Saydi with Grandma in 2009 (when she still mostly knew who we were):

Grandma with some of her 50 or so great grandchildren.

Visiting Grandma on her birthday in 2011:

Then a year or so ago, Grandma started to sleep for all but a couple hours out of the day. Her eyesight was poor. Her hearing wasn't great. She couldn't remember anything. She'd sometimes go through manic phases where she'd talk non-stop and have paranoid delusional ideas. But mostly she seemed to be in a sort of in-between stage between life and death during the time she was awake. She'd often ask, "Am I still alive?"

But her physical health was still quite good. She's always been very healthy and month after month, her body kept going even though her mind was done.

This last Monday evening, all Grandma's children gathered to have a special prayer with her. In the prayer, they asked that she could be released soon to be with her beloved Dean.

That night, she got up to go to the bathroom and somehow fell and broke her hip. At the hospital, they found she had some different infections as well as the broken hip. Then today, she peacefully and quietly slipped away.

Oh, how I love my dear Grandma! What a privilege it is to be related to her. And what a gorgeous thing it is to picture her back in the arms of her beloved Dean in Heaven now.

Here's Grandma with her family - Grandma's holding me in the front. This picture makes me remember all the times she tucked me in bed with a story and all the times she told me how special she thought I was.

Grandma with just her five children: Chris, Rick (my dad), Sheri, Kevin and Rawlin

Grandma with her grandkids (me, Adam, Josh, Shawni and Alisha - the first of the 23 grandchildren she would have):

Here's Grandma with my brother Josh:

Grandma with me on her lap and my parents on the right with Shawni, my aunt, uncle and cousin on the left. 

Oh, I'll miss you Grandma. But I'm so happy your suffering is over and that you're with Grandpa Dean. It brings tears to my eyes every time I think of the two of you together after all these years.

 *** For a beautiful tribute to Grandma from a few years ago by my sister Saydi, click here.


Linda said...

Oh WOW Saren, what a spectacular post! This is such a wonderful collection of memories and fun old pictures that we will all treasure forever. Thanks for the link to Saydi's post too. SO happy that you have captured Grandma's life for all of us!

What a gal! (both)

Kristin said...

This is beautiful, a great expression of your love for her.

Tyra said...

I found your blog from your sister Shawni's I love reading her blog so I thought I'd check yours out and the first post I read has me crying. I don't even know your grandma but the thought of her up there with her sweet Dean brought tears to my eyes. It seems she missed him so much.

anna said...

What an amazing woman and what a legacy! Thank you for sharing this, Saren.

Shawni said...

Beautiful Sar. Love that woman so much. And love Dean so much. And sooo happy they are together. Love you.

April Perry said...

I was thinking of you all morning and wondering how your grandma was doing. You've done a beautiful job writing about her life, and after working with you so closely for so many years, I'm not surprised one bit at what a wonderful woman she was (and is). I hope this weekend and the coming funeral is a special experience for your family. xo

Unknown said...

I read your post as well as your mom's and the older one from Saydi. What beautiful tributes to a lovely woman! No wonder you are all so amazing- it runs in the family. I know this is a day to celebrate a longed for reunion but I also know you will miss her greatly. Thank you for sharing.

emily ballard said...

What a beautiful post, Saren. I'm pretty sure I told you that when Steve and I were newlyweds, we almost rented her upstairs apartment. I remember lots and lots of built-in drawers, and that it was meticulously clean. Thinking of you!

brittanimae said...

Thank you, Saren, especially for the wonderful pictures! Your family seems to have so many wonderful pictures of grandma that I need to save. It was SO GOOD to be with you. Love you.


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