On the 4th Anniversary of my Grandma's Death


The 4th Anniversary of my Grandma's Death just passed. I have been finding myself thinking about her a lot lately, especially as we get ready to head home to Michigan for the holidays. I recognize how incredibly lucky I am to have had my grandma in my life until I was almost forty.

When I found out that my grandma died, I was at my home in Los Angeles. I felt far away from family and wasn't sure what to do with myself. So, I sat down and wrote.

My Grandma Pahl died today. She had been losing herself through the horrible disease of dementia for many years. Her 7 children, their spouses, and local grandchildren worked together to care for her at home until the end.

Today, I remember my grandma before the dementia days. A strong German woman who subscribed to routine and hard work. We used to have family dinner at my grandparents every week while my brother and I were growing up. Sunday menu never varied; a baked ham, a bunch of hot dogs to supplement the ham that ran out, boiled potatoes, white Tupperware filled with beets, another Tupperware filled with carrots, and then being that they were bean farmers, a giant bowl of typically now lukewarm beans. Zucchini bread for dessert although once in a while some Neapolitan ice cream. Every week of my childhood this was the Sunday meal at grandmas house. The woman loved her routine.

When babysitting me, for a snack it was always graham crackers dipped in milk. Often milk fresh from a cow with delicious creme on top. She taught me to play rummy and dominoes. Grandma had a collection of Dick and Jane books that I memorized and then convinced her I could read well before I really could. She probably saw through me though because grandma was nobody's fool.  

I loved playing the organ with grandma. The organ keys were numbered and she always had the same music books out and ready for grandkids to play. Of course at Sunday dinner usually, the adults were wishing that the music books were lost so as not to hear the loud playing of small children. But, grandma, she loved music. She sang in the church choir until she could no longer do it. Anyone who attended St Mary's of Hannah mass knew my grandma's voice; it was very high pitch and not overly pleasing (sorry grandma) but she didn't mind. She just loved to sing.

But she loved to talk more. Man, could she talk. Her house was always a revolving door. After my grandpa died (20 yrs ago) my uncles took over the family farm. Her kids, their spouses, her grandkids all came and went throughout the day as most lived within a few miles of the farm. My grandma would start chatting about local news, gossip at the church, or in later years some wacky idea that her poor brain got stuck on. You would visit grandma, she would start talking, and just never ever stopped. She was a gifted gabber! We began saying good-bye then walking to the "mudroom", grandma followed and kept talking, walked to the front hallway, still talking, "bye grandma I really have to go", followed you out the door still talking. Luckily, the next family member would be stopping by within the hour and she would have the chance to repeat the process with them.

Grandma served as her grandchildren's protector. When the four of us oldest cousins were little, several of the youngest of my dad's siblings were teenagers. And two of them loved to tease us and let's face it, take things too far.  Grandma would come running and put those teenage boys in their place.

But the real one grandma had to save us from was Willy, the mean billy goat that lived on the farm. We would run for our lives from the car to the house with that goat chasing us. Sometimes the goat would follow us into the house and grandma would come running with the broom," you leave those kids alone Willy!" Things were matter of fact at Grandma's house. A goat in the house? Simply get it out and carry on with getting the ham on the table. Carry on.

That being said, Grandma wasn't very affectionate. She wasn't a warm, hugging grandma that smelled of cookies. She was a family and church-centered woman. She demonstrated the value of hard work and tenacity to her large family. She had a dry, understated sense of humor that could knock you off your feet with its unexpectedness.

Grandma loved talking about her family, their accomplishments and their struggles. Her wish was to remain at home in her farmhouse until her passing. This has required family members to make sacrifices and have endless amounts of patience as the dementia advanced.  I am so overwhelmed with gratitude to my family members who were able to make that dream realized. Grandma, we will miss you...non-stop chatter, high pitch singing, beet-stained teeth, one of a kind, YOU.


  • Lisa,
    Reading what you wrote,
    You had me laughing the part about Willy chasing you kids, and had me tiring up! Thinking of all the awsome days, years I spent at aunt Ceil"s farm. She was the best!
    Thank you for this letter you wrote about your grandma.
    You did so well portraying everything! Will reading it In my mind I was reliving the times at the dinner table on Sundays.
    Thank you so much! I am
    So thankful for those times I had growing up and staying at the family farm..

    Cousin Jim

    Jim Nickels
  • This is so awesome. What a nice job you did on portraying her. I don’t think anyone else could have done so well. You always were the writer in our family. We love you and miss you.

    Debbie Pahl
  • Lisa-loved reading this and so appreciative all of the family’s efforts for Mom to die at her beloved farm house home. Love. Aunt Cindy

    Cindy Stowe

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