A Life in Pictures… and Some Thoughts to Go Along With Them

While it might sound strange, if I am honest, I’d have to admit that I had not been terribly broken up the first few days after I heard that my grandmother died on Sunday. At least not the way I thought I would be if/when the time should come for such news. I was definitely sad, but I think stronger emotions of relief and joy {or celebration that she’s with Jesus} took hold. But I have to say… in looking at all these photos as I prepare this post, I’ve started to feel a lot more sad. I still rejoice, being confident of where my grandma is and in knowing she had a full life and saw so much in her lifetime. I mean, think of it… it’s amazing to be able to live 100 years. In 1915, she was not very aware of the world. But it would not be long before she would become aware. And think of how much has changed since then, much of which she was privileged to witness.

I think what I’ll miss the most is the steadfast example she modeled in a rapidly changing world, even though I know her example will live on without her here. It has always been one of many examples God used in my life when I was prone to stray from him.

Maybe a part of me is sad that she has escaped all that we find so hard to watch in our world today… happy for her, but sad for any who remain and have to watch what seems to only get worse {although, I know she would want us to keep working and standing up against it}. Yes, some things have changed for the better. I think I’m just a bit heavy-hearted with the most recent current issues that have me appalled {specifically, what I alluded to a couple posts back}. Things I should have been appalled at long before now… and have been, really… but are so much more at the forefront now that I can’t but help be mindful of them more than ever.

My grandma is now in a place where everything is sinless, painless and perfect… where there are no tears. And because I saw her as one of the most faithful of God’s servants that I’ve ever known, I am sorry to have such a shining example go. But I am grateful for one like her to have gone on before me and who, while she was here, taught me so much.

Anyway, I really wanted to share the birthday party photos I took last February when she turned 100. The photos have actually been ready to post for months, but I just never made the effort to put them on my blog. I wish I’d written a post shortly after that night… so I could recount more detail about it. What I can say about it is that it was special. It was not a typical birthday party… not by any means. But nothing needed to be typical about it. Whether thousands knew she turned 100 or just a small few, it was an honor and privilege to be in her midst for that occasion.

Society does not often celebrate the aged or aging… not so much because they are old and often frail, leaving them unable to keep up with the rest of us, but more so because they are seen as old-fashioned, out of touch or, to use a term that bothers me these days, irrelevant. Well, actually, it’s the root word of that term that bothers me—relevant—and more than the word itself, the trending use of it, because of how adamantly, inside and outside the church, many have come to expect that believers should be more relevant when it comes to culture, to the point of placing a relevance that is not God-honoring above truth. My grandma was one who held God’s word highest, above all else, whether it was seen as relevant to culture or not. She elevated the truth of the Bible over everything else, applying God’s word to her view of culture rather than applying the current culture to how she viewed God’s word. You might say she believed in absolute truths that are applicable {and are our guide} in every situation instead of the kind of “truth” that bends and shapes itself differently to fit each cultural scenario or pattern that comes along. She never wavered from what the Bible says in hopes of being more relevant to the changing culture in generations that came after hers, and always held firm to truths she’d learned from generations that came before her, believing God’s word to be relevant already.

I, myself, likely sound old-fashioned and out-of-touch to some in saying that I aspire to live that way and hold her same views. It might not be a popular view today, and I know that many would argue against my view of absolutism {or absolute truth} vs. cultural or moral relativism or tell me it’s problematic. I know relativism and the trend to be relevant are not the same thing. But they do have so much to do with each other in discussing biblical truths. So I do take comfort that there are and were others, like my grandma, who hold or held the same view. Though I know I often fail, I hope and strive to be like my grandma was—faithful to God and his word first and foremost, and only ever relevant to the culture that needs to hear the message of the Gospel when it was in line with his truths—and I want to remain so until I die, just as she did to the end.

Of course, my grandmother was not the only influence or teacher in my life regarding this, but she was definitely a strong one. Well, I guess all I am trying to say is that it’s difficult to live in a world where such a view is becoming highly unpopular {or at least feels that way}… one where you will be hated and labeled for having it. But I do know there are verses that address being hated, even preparing me to expect it, so I am not without a guide on how to be part of a number of people who are hated for what they believe. And I know there is still a great number of people who have been and will be steadfast in their belief in an unchanging truth that has remained as a thread throughout the history of the church. Still, I sometimes get discouraged. So, her death is somewhat untimely {or perhaps more timely than I realize} in that sense. It’s hard to lose such a pillar that I looked up to at this time, when already feeling so disheartened by so much in our culture right now, as well as much of the church’s reaction to it.

This might be a better way of saying it… It’s not that I elevate her as higher than anyone else who influenced {or still influences} me. But as my only grandparent, she was dear to me, and as one of many moral compasses in my life, she was an encouragement to me… especially in a season when there seems to be fewer and fewer moral compasses walking around. With these two {the relational and the influential} impacts combined, I find myself grieving more now than when I was first told she’d passed, more so tonight after looking at all of her photos and given the continued disheartening things I saw in the news today. I truly miss her.

But… I did not want to get into that so much, or at least not as much as I wanted to let her sweet face be seen… and the joy she clearly felt when her loved ones celebrated her having lived a century. I put all the photos of that celebration in a slide show below.

.A few thoughts about that night…

  • I had decided not to take Izzy with me to her 100th party, because the weather that night was not ideal, nor were the roads. Plus, I knew we’d be getting in to Chicago to see my grandma and aunt pretty late, so I though it was best he stay home. Had I known it would be our last chance to see her, I would have taken him with me.
  • My mom and sister made two wonderful scrapbooks to give to my grandma that night. They were full of cards and messages from many people in her life, both friends and family, young and old. My mom even wrote to George W. Bush and Franklin Graham, as well as the mayors of St. Louis and Gillespie, Illinois where my grandma was born and raised {respectively}, to have letters of congratulations on such a milestone written to her. Each of the four wrote to her, and those letters were also put in the scrapbooks, as well as some memories from her life. Other than contributing my family’s own birthday message and wishes, I didn’t do much to contribute in the making of the scrapbooks the way my mom and sister did. But they did ask me to create a cover page for them, which I did… and posted back in February.
  • My mom gave my grandma 100 one-dollar bills… a tradition she’s been keeping for the past several years on my grandma’s birthday. One dollar for every year of life. I don’t know if my grandma ever got to spend that $100, bed-ridden as she was for the last months of her life. But if she was the grandma I know, she requested that my aunt take the money to go buy loads of candy, cheese puffs and coffee for her… and maybe a Sudoku puzzle book or two.
  • Which brings me to my next thought. What a joy to watch my grandma’s eyes light up when she was given some of her favorite things… cheese puffs {a container so big, there are probably still some remaining all these months later}, chocolate-covered cherries, and other various treats. My sister also brought her a bunch of old-fashioned candies… several of the brands that were popular when my grandma was a kid, but are still manufactured today. I think there is a special web site where you can order all those old favorites. It was pretty cool. A very thoughtful and clever gift!
  • My mom gave her a pillow with the sweetest photo of my grandma’s three children printed on it. I’m sure my mom will inherit it now.
  • Someone gave her a book about Chicago, where she has lived most of her life, and a Grace Livingston Hill book… one of her favorite authors, whose many books my grandma has read through the years.
  • I LOVE the cake photos, especially the one where she is saluting it just before she blows the candles out. If I remember correctly, she didn’t need any help blowing out the candles… she did so on her own. I was impressed that she had such lung power at her age. I remember that cake being very delicious, too!
  • I also really love the photo of my mom praying with my grandma… where she has her hand on my grandma’s forehead.
  • The woman in the plum-colored sweatshirt is my aunt Nancy… who has been faithfully serving and taking care of my grandma for many years, and without complaint. I almost hurt most for her, as I am sure she’s sensing such a great loss now that my grandma is gone from my aunt’s home. She must walk by that empty room daily and feel a deep void that is my grandma’s absence. Both my grandma and my aunt were so special when we lost Anysia, reaching out to us multiple times to send word of their thoughts and prayers, as well as words of celebration about Anysia’s life… which meant even more than the condolences. They were a blessing to us. But I know they were hurting greatly about our loss, too. I now hurt for my aunt. I assume she also feels a sense of relief. My grandma was so tiny and frail at the end, and I know it was not always… was rarely… easy for my aunt. I’m sure she is relieved, like we all are, that my grandma is whole again, and free from her weak and failing shell. We all celebrate knowing my grandma had high hopes and expectations that God would take her home as soon as possible {but also in his perfect timing} once she couldn’t get around on her own or take care of herself anymore.
  • I remember we all had a good laugh that night. All evening, my grandma had to lean in close when someone wanted to talk to her, leading us to believe that she had a difficult time hearing our words. But then, at one point, my sister was on the other side of the room and quietly said something that wasn’t meant for my grandma’s ears. I don’t even recall what it was, but I think it might have been about when to eat the cake. My grandma shouted out in protest at what was said, and all of our heads turned rapidly in her direction, shocked that she had heard what she wasn’t supposed to. Then we all just burst out in laughter and called her out on her selective hearing. =)
  • There were other endearing moments with my grandma from that night to be sure. But it’s late and I can’t recall them. I hope someone else will when we are all together for her memorial service this weekend. Perhaps then I will add them to these.
  • I remember when we left that night… I thought, I wonder if this is the last time I’ll ever see my grandma. And when I did, I teared up at the thought. It would turn out to be the last time. And now I’m tearing up again.

I actually had not intended to write about that night, but rather, just share the photos. But I’m glad I took the time to record what I could remember from it, because I know I’ll cherish the memories written down long after I would have lost natural ability to retain them.

And like our words, photos can do the same to preserve our most precious memories. So, I also wanted to include as many photos as I could find of my grandmother from throughout her life, starting as far back as my collection of photos of her goes…

grandma as a baby

{She’s rather blurry in this photo of her as a baby with her dad, mom and brother. Cameras in 1915 weren’t very movement-friendly like they are today.
My mom gave me this photo… as is the case for most photos below. I think this is the only existing photo of my grandma as an infant, so I wish it were more clear.}
my grandma

{Not sure of her age here, but this is definitely a favorite photo. I’d guess it was taken in the 30s.}

{Her graduation from high school, I assume. I love this photo, and find it to be the most beautiful photo taken of my grandma… at least out of the pictures I have.}
alice and herman wedding

{My grandma’s and grandpa’s wedding day. I never got to meet my mom’s dad.
I like to think of them reunited in heaven right now, though I don’t know how it all works.}
grandma with grandpa and mom diptych

{Another shot of them on their wedding day on the left. Right: My grandma and mom, probably in the 60s. Sweet pic.}
gram and mom 2

{Another of my mom with my grandma.}
aunt g 3 generations

{I really love this photo. There are four generations of women here. The oldest is my great Aunt Georgie in the center… my namesake.
She was my grandma’s aunt. Pictured with them is my mom and her three daughters.
I’m not positive, but I think I am held by my mom here, which would mean my twin sister is in my grandma’s arms.}
gram aunt georgie

{Here is another shot of my grandma with her aunt, Georgie.}
grandma and me

{So, this is a favorite, because it’s one of the only pictures I know of of just me and my grandma. I must have been about two years old here.}
grandma on beach

{This is another favorite shot of my grandma. I’m not sure who took it, but I know it was taken on the beach in Florida,
where my grandma lived for a while before moving back to Chicago to live with my aunt.}
grandma side_bw

{She looks to me to be in her 60s here… but I’m not sure. My grandma had some native American blood in her, and I can really see it in this photo for some reason.}
grandma at piano

{Some of the last few shots might be out of chronological order, because I’m not quite sure when each were taken. But this looks like my aunt’s place, so it might actually belong after the photo below, as she did not live with my aunt until after she lived in her trailer /mobile home in Florida, which is where she is standing below.}
grandma at home in FL

{I have fond memories of visiting my grandma at this mobile home. We also lived in Florida for a short time, and my grandma was there for all of it. I was only six. Grandma’s are like gold when you’re six… especially when they are the only grandparent you have. I’m sure she spoiled us rotten during that time.}
brac and grandma

{This is the only photo I have of Mr. B. with my grandmother. So, of course, I treasure it very much.}
how beautiful is my grandma at 95 and my mama at 6

{When my grandma turned 95, Mr. B and I went to celebrate her birthday with her. My mom and brother were there as well. I remember hoping, at the time, that I was pregnant, and that if I was, this photos would be like a four-generation picture… my grandma, my mom, myself and a little one growing inside. I do believe I was, in fact, pregnant at the time. However, I believe I miscarried and was never able to confirm it as it was so early on. Though that was a painful experience, I still look back on this day and on this photo fondly.}

{This is just another shot form that night. I wish I knew what we were laughing at. Sweet moment to be holding her hand. So glad someone got this photo of us.}
grandma and me_2

{Well, this has to be an all-time favorite shot. Fast forward one year for her 96th birthday, and I was pregnant without a doubt… and showing quite a bit. We did not know we were having a boy, but my grandma loved this little baby already anyway, boy or girl. She reached out to touch my belly for the photo. And I am fairly certain that she prayed for little Izzy then, too. And for me. This was actually a crazy night. Beside me, my mom and twin sister had also driven out to visit/celebrate. We had all been sitting around eating dinner, when my grandma slumped slowly over and we all thought she’d fallen asleep. But then when a few of us tried to awake her, she was unresponsive. My mom tried to find a pulse, but couldn’t. Right then and there, we all though we’d been in the presence of my grandma when she took her last breath. We thought she’d passed right there before our very eyes. We were all in shock, and probably in tears, too. But when the paramedics arrived, the were able to find the weakest, faintest pulse. She ended up in the hospital for a while to get back on her feet again before returning home. It was a strange night. Carrying a child that would soon be born, I couldn’t fathom losing my grandma, especially witnessing it. I went home relieved to know she was still with us. But we had such a scare, we honestly did not expect her to live another 4+ years. As time went on, we could see it, but that night, we’d have never predicted so.}
grandmas 96th_83

{My sister brought her two dogs along that night, thinking that my grandma might enjoy seeing them.
She was spot on in her assumption. My grandma played with those dogs all night and loved every minute.}

{Back in 2012, when Isaac was only about a year old, my grandma had gone to stay with my mom while my aunt recuperated from a fall and broken shoulder.
I took Izzy out to meet his grandma for the first time. It was a precious time.}

{During that time with her, my grandma had some energy enough to get in the rocking chair. I found her to look so whimsical and tiny in that chair,
with her legs up like a teenage girl at a slumber party or something. It was adorable. So glad I was able to get a couple of shots of it!}
dsc_0649 (1)

{Well, I don’t know if I have words to explain how I feel about this photo. It’s dear to me. It was when I took it, and every day since.
But now… now it is just so precious to me, and it makes me cry, but with a smile on my face.}

Each photo I’ve seen tonight as I prepared my post has put such a big smile on my face. And many of them have brought tears.

Actually, putting this post together has helped me center all my thoughts about her, and it’s given me a chance to memorialize and grieve her death individually before we do so all-together this weekend. I’m grateful for that. I’m grateful that I have the memories to compile, and that she, as my only grandparent, did more than enough to fill in the void of not knowing my other grandparents.

This all added up to a lot more than I expected to post. But every minute I spent on it was worth it if it helped me remember her more. I have just a couple last things…

I remember learning/memorizing the 91st Psalm with my grandmother growing up. I remember her often pointing us to the Bible, but I specifically remember studying and learning this with her at one point. How appropriate to share it now as I remember this woman who, most certainly, dwelled in the shadow of the Most High and who lived a long and faithful life for the Almighty, her refuge and fortress, her God in whom she trusted. I thought it would be a wonderful way to wrap up my post about her life and the memories I have of her.

Psalm 91 {ESV}

My Refuge and My Fortress
He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High
    will abide in the shadow of the Almighty.
I will say to the Lord, “My refuge and my fortress,
    my God, in whom I trust.”
For he will deliver you from the snare of the fowler
    and from the deadly pestilence.
He will cover you with his pinions,
    and under his wings you will find refuge;
    his faithfulness is a shield and buckler.
You will not fear the terror of the night,
    nor the arrow that flies by day,
nor the pestilence that stalks in darkness,
    nor the destruction that wastes at noonday.
A thousand may fall at your side,
    ten thousand at your right hand,
    but it will not come near you.
You will only look with your eyes
    and see the recompense of the wicked.
Because you have made the Lord your dwelling place—
    the Most High, who is my refuge—
10 no evil shall be allowed to befall you,
    no plague come near your tent.
11 For he will command his angels concerning you
    to guard you in all your ways.
12 On their hands they will bear you up,
    lest you strike your foot against a stone.
13 You will tread on the lion and the adder;
    the young lion and the serpent you will trample underfoot.
14 “Because he holds fast to me in love, I will deliver him;
    I will protect him, because he knows my name.
15 When he calls to me, I will answer him;
    I will be with him in trouble;
    I will rescue him and honor him.
16 With long life I will satisfy him
    and show him my salvation.”
A long life she had, which I believe was given to her as a blessing… and not merely that she inherited the longevity gene. I still remember her words each time we’d visit, either during our time together or just before we’d part. I can still hear the words in my ear. She’d always remind me to be true to God and look to Jesus for everything, and if I did, I could not go wrong and nothing in this life could ruin me. She had Job-like faith and was always intentional about admonishing her grandchildren in that way. And she always remained humble. Though she had a feisty disposition {which we all loved}, she also had a sweet spirit… never judgmental and always gracious. At least that is how I remember her.
I know this last photo was also in the slide show, but I wanted to end with it as well. Unless my mom or aunt took another photo of her since I shot this one on her 100th birthday, this is the last photo that was ever taken of my grandmother. Looking up at her balloons. Or perhaps just looking up and knowing she was soon heaven-bound. I don’t know. But whatever it was, I treasure this photo and her adorable, old and weathered face in it.
I will miss you, dear Grandma.