Tuesday, January 06, 2015

She was the best

Aida Marroquin Gardner: 1912-2015
My grandmother died on Saturday night. No pain, ambulatory until the day before, fell asleep in front of the Christmas tree, never really woke up. There are worse ways to go. Like, almost every other way.

I’m writing a short speech for the memorial service and while I could tell dozens of stories about her charm, quirks, strength, stubbornness, unnerving intuition, and unwavering devotion to family and friends, I keep thinking about how she blossomed in her 90s.

My grandfather died in 2002 and people worried my grandmother might quickly follow him, as partners in long-married couples sometimes do. Au contraire! They’d been devoted to each other, but he was a towering figure and it was as if she saw a fleeting chance to move out from under his substantial shadow and be more completely herself -- lively, sociable, game -- and she went for it. She had just turned 90.

94?

99th birthday party?
Amazing the light and vitality I see in those pictures from her 90s. My bookish grandfather disliked parties, to put it mildly. My grandmother loved parties and there she is at 92, 96, 99 sparkling at party after party, the last guest standing, dressed like a doll, making up for lost time. I have pictures of her eating “Abyssinian” food in obscure South Bay restaurants with me, photos of her hanging out in my kitchen letting Owen entertain her with his antics (he never found a better audience), shots of her batting around balloons with her great grandchildren. Both my aunt and I noticed that she seemed to actually get smarter in the years right after my grandfather died. It was a true Indian summer. 


95?
That’s what I want to talk about at the memorial, but I'm not sure I can do it without making my lovely grandfather sound like a repressive ogre, which he wasn't. I don't want to imply that their marriage was stifling to her, also profoundly untrue. I'm not sure I can give this speech without short-changing my grandfather's role in her life. In all our lives. I just want to say, and maybe I can only say it here, that these last thirteen years with my grandmother were unexpected and beautiful. I saw her in a whole new light.
94?

102 comments:

  1. May her memory be for a blessing. I'm so sorry for your loss.

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  2. I am. Sorry. I am a devoted reader and a big fan whose comments seem to always disappear into the ether. I hope this one makes it through. Thank you for all of your writing, but especially for sharing your grandmother with all of us. Her spirit clearly lives on.

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    1. Your comment made it -- and thank you.

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  3. I'm so sorry, Jennifer. I know from reading the blog how important she was to you. You are right about her vitality - it really comes through in the photographs. Wishing you strength. xo
    "And many nights endure
    Without a moon or star
    So we will endure
    When one is gone and far" - Leonard Cohen, "As the Mist Leaves No Scar"

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    Replies
    1. "As many nights endure
      Without a moon or star,
      So will we endure
      When one is gone and far."

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  4. What a life well lived. Wish I could have known her; feel like I do a little through your writing!

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  5. I'm so sorry for your loss. What a remarkable lady; her spirit really shines through your words.

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  6. This was so touching!! I absolutely think you can say this while making it clear that her time with your granddad was also a gift.

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  7. Wonderful! Make the apologies in the beginning and then go for it! Blossoming in one's 90s!
    My mother also blossomed after my father's death but she was only 67 and lived another 25 years.

    It shows their strength - that they could reinvent themselves!

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    Replies
    1. I think I remember you telling me this about your mother. It must happen fairly regularly. . . .

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  8. I'm sorry for your loss, so happy you have such beautiful memories of her. She sounds like she was quite the lady!

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  9. I'm so sorry, Jennifer. She was clearly a very special lady.

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  10. Oh wow. I'm glad you have a space to share what you want to say about her here. I'd also say go for it at her service. I bet everyone there will understand and may even feel similarly without degrading your grandfather's memory. Take care and best to you and your family.

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  11. What a beautiful post. Perhaps she blossomed because she had two lives to proclaim to the world in explanation of their lives, after your grandfather died--people need to express themselves; maybe she deferred to him in his lifetime, but found her own voice afterwards. Oh, I'm so happy she died so well. My grandmother died pitifully, subsequent to a hospitalization for a flu, pneumonia, a stroke, and months in a convalescent home in a sorry state. We all loved her so much, and her demise was so horrifying and drawn out, in the end we were hoping she would die, which is a terrible thing to hope. You are very lucky, as was she. I will always remember your lovely blog posts about her grace and sparkle.

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    Replies
    1. Oh no, that's terribly sad about your grandmother. And all too common.

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  12. PS You could pretty much just read your above blog post verbatim at her funeral and everyone would understand how you feel about her and your grandfather.

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    Replies
    1. I might do just that. Or some version thereof. I'm not the most confident public speaker and if I just read something already written I won't get tied up in knots. . .

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  13. So sorry to hear about your loss. I've just been re-reading your Make the Bread, Buy the Butter, and you are such a lovely writer. I am sure you will do your amazing grandmother justice, however you choose to approach the memorial speech.

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  14. I'm very sorry for your loss. Her eulogy is going to be beautiful.

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  15. So very sorry for your loss, Jennifer. She sounds like an amazing person.

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  16. Thank you so much for sharing Jennifer. The women in your family, as shown through your eyes are so strong and beautiful. It is a reflection on you and on the power of your writing. (Also, I'm so glad your house wasn't washed away in the rains! When you took a break in December I was genuinely worried)

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    Replies
    1. I have this great video of the storm -- of rain gushing down the street. I need to post it!

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  17. Everything you say about her shows in her face. Thank you. How lucky you were to have time with her in her 90s. Thank you.

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    Replies
    1. So lucky. Someone directed me to a blog post I wrote in 2009 about my grandmother -- I'd forgotten the whole incident. But there it was. Thank you, blog!

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  18. I think this post makes a fine eulogy. What a beautiful woman -- so sorry for your loss. Blessings to you and your family.

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  19. I'm so sorry for your loss. Your grandmother sounds amazing--what wonderful memories you and your family have!

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  20. I am deeply sorry for your loss. Reading your blog made me feel like I had the privilege of knowing your opinionated, lively, loving grandmother, who clearly took great joy from you and the rest of her family. Your devotion and care shone through every time you wrote about her. I agree that this post would make a very fitting eulogy. You could even, at some point, go through your blog and collect the posts in which your grandmother features and make a kind of book or e-book for family and friends. Thank you for sharing your grandmother with us and I hope you find comfort in the knowledge that she lived her long life to the fullest and was surrounded by your love. Again, you have my deepest sympathies.

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    Replies
    1. Thanks, Lee. As I said in a previous comment, someone remembered a post about my grandmother that I'd completely forgotten. I'd forgotten the whole incident.

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  21. "... standing in the winter night
    emptying the garbage and looking at the stars
    you realize that although the odds are fantastically against you
    when that single January shooting star
    flung its wad in the maw of the night
    it was yours
    and though the years are edged with crime and squalor
    that second wind, or twenty-third
    is coming strong
    and for a time
    perhaps a very short time
    one lives as though in a golden envelope of light."

    from "in celebration of surviving" by Chuck Miller

    I am sorry for your loss and so very grateful you shared her story.

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  22. Thank you for sharing her with us.

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  23. I'm struck by how young, beautiful and alive she appeared in every photograph. What an amazing woman she must have been, and how lucky for us that we got to know her through your writing.

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    Replies
    1. Very young looking! In more recent photos, not so much, but she kept it together for a lot longer than most.

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  24. I'm a 70-ish widow and I think I might have an answer for you. Once a woman knows she was loved by a wonderful man, it makes sense to want to continue to move forward - in order to honor the marriage but also because his love gave (me) confidence that (I) could continue without him. Perhaps your grandmother felt some of that.

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    1. This is very sweet. I'm so glad you had this experience -- I think it was also true of my grandmother.

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  25. This comment has been removed by the author.

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  26. I too can relate to your grandmother's new confidence in widowhood. Joan said it perfectly. Thank you for sharing your thoughts and sharing your grandmother with us.

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  27. Sorry to read about your grandmother's passing. I could not help noticing your grandmother's last name. Do you know how far back does your family in Guatemala go? The last name Marroquin pops up in Guatemala in the first half of the sixteenth century. I am really curious as my field is colonial history.

    Oz

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    1. They went way back in Guatemala -- but I don't know how far back. All I know is that there was no grandfather or great grandfather who came from Europe. It was earlier than that. This side of the family is a big mystery to me.

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  28. What a beautiful tribute to her life. Thank you for your willingness to share it with us.

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  29. What a beautiful person. It's so inspiring to read about her. This happened to a relative of mine, who famously took on a completely different demeanor, becoming more confident, after her husband died. Good luck with the eulogy, I cried reading this, I figure you'll have the same effect on your audience.

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    1. Thank you. I love all these little stories of blossoming widows.

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  30. I think you could say it exactly as you just did and it would be beautiful. Sorry for your loss.

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  31. I am sorry for your loss, but so grateful to be reminded that old age doesn't have to mean decrepitude--may we all have that kind of vibrancy that your grandmother showed until the end of all our days!

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    1. Thank you. I don't think she wanted to go, but she knew it was coming. Talked about it very openly.

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  32. Chiming in to add my condolences as well. It is a sad feeling when all of your grandparents are gone.

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    1. Very sad. You regret all the questions you didn't ask, though I think I asked this grandmother almost everything I wanted to. But the others!

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  33. I am sorry for your loss but so glad you had that wonderful light in your life.

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  34. This is a beautiful way to remember your dear grandmother.

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  35. Hmmmm, my last comment seems to have disappeared. I wanted to say that I'm so very sorry for your loss. Your grandmother sounds like one in a million and my thoughts are with you and your family in your grief.

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  36. I'm so sorry for your loss - but I know you will write something great that makes them both shine for who they were and who they were together and apart.

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  37. margi young1/8/15, 5:28 PM

    thinking about you and your fam a lot
    what a great post
    what a great life
    what a blessing to have her for so long

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  38. What a wonderful tribute to your grandmother.

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  39. I'm so sorry for your loss Jennifer. I can relate to what you are saying about your grandmother because I had the same kind of situation with my dad. Mom died in 2004 and their love story was classic...they were devoted to each other and had been together, dating and marriage, for over 70 years. Mom was small but mighty in spirit and loved to talk. As a result, Daddy never really got a word in and seemed to not ever have much to say about himself or his opinion on anything. When mom died, we thought he would decline rapidly and we would soon lose him also but we didn't know him as well as we thought we did. He lived by himself, learned to cook for himself, did his own yard work and generally blossomed into a really interesting raconteur until his death at the age of 99 two years ago. I never knew him before as well as I did those last nine years. He was a blessing and I miss him terribly. You were blessed as well. My thoughts are with you.

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    1. I love this story! It makes me so happy to think of you getting to know your father in his 90s like that.

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  40. That's a life to celebrate! Jennifer, your love just shines and glows when you write about family. That enormously vibrant feeling will stand by you as you continue your life without the actual presence of your mother and grandmother, and everyone else you care about, but passed.

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  41. Very interesting blog. A lot of blogs I see these days don't really provide anything that attract others, but I'm most definitely interested in this one. Just thought that I would post and let you know.

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