Recently we traveled north to attend the memorial service of our Great MaMa. Just shy of her 96th birthday, Great MaMa left a world she could no longer see or enjoy. Her family celebrated the long and blessing-filled life of a strong-willed woman, a rather typical trait, I think, of her generation of women who lived and raised families through simple times of little money and hard work. Great MaMa was very close to her youngest daughter, my step-mom, and our family is fortunate that this daughter took the time to work with a legacy journal to capture many stories of her mother’s life. I’ve heard some of them, shaking my head at how she and her new husband spent their honeymoon traveling south through terribly hot weather to see a sister who could not come to the wedding, but just begged they visit her so she could somehow feel a connection to the celebration. They spent a few days sweltering in her tiny house, sleeping on the floor. All this instead of the (cooler!) Wisconsin Dells vacation they had planned. Now THAT is family love (and sacrifice!). I remember how my own sister and I enjoyed a quiet visit several years ago with blind and wheel-chaired Great MaMa, asking her to tell us about Great PaPa … oh, she enjoyed reminiscing about the love of her life, whom she missed dearly, and we sure learned a lot! At a time when there wasn’t much that this once proudly independent woman could do anymore, she felt valued as she contributed so much to the conversation.
Last summer, at the very end of an infrequent family gathering, my stepmom took a photo of a very frail Great MaMa, sitting in her wheelchair on the deck, surrounded by her beloved grandson and his family of four children, flowers everywhere in the background. It turned out so beautiful… such a forever treasure that almost wasn’t, had my stepmom not been thinking ahead.
Ask the questions sooner than later. Tell your own stories sooner than later. Take a lot of pictures. Give a lot of hugs. We don’t know who will live to be 96.
Co-author of Cherry Blossoms in Twilight, a WWII Japan memoir of her mother's childhood; author of Poems That Come to Mind, for caregivers of dementia patients; Co-author/Editor of Battlefield Doc, a medic's memoir of combat duty during the Korean War; life writing enthusiast; loves history and culture (especially Japan), poetry, and cats