My Grandma Peny lived a full 88 years. On September 5th, we received a call that she had suffered a massive stroke and that there was very little chance of recovery since her brain was continuing to bleed. She didn’t want to be hooked up to any tubes or machines, so the hospital staff did a wonderful job of keeping her comfortable until she passed away in her sleep early in the morning on September 10th.
The day after we heard of her stroke, the kids and I boarded an Amtrak train and headed to Kansas. Our train ride lasted approximately 17 hours. We arrived in Lawrence, Kansas early on September 7th. After settling in at my relatives’ house, we headed to the hospital to see Grandma. Before we walked into her room, I was a little worried since I didn’t know what to expect when I saw her. We walked into the room and she immediately started waving her right hand for us to come nearer to her. She was so happy to see us! She was still the same Grandma as ever, except she couldn’t talk and no longer had use of her left side. She greeted me with a sweet pinch on my cheek and pulled me closer for a kiss. She greeted the kids with the same, except for Kai… she also had to get in some pinches on his cute chubby thighs. The kids got to sing to her, and she saw how Kai would dance whenever we would sing the song she taught them. She even would try to smile and talk a little that day. We spent 3 days going back and forth from my Uncle and Aunt’s house to the hospital to be with Grandma Peny. During those days, more relatives made their way to town to say their goodbyes and tell her how much we all loved her. As each day passed, we could see her getting more and more distant as the bleeding in her brain progressed. By Sunday, she was no longer waking up… just resting peacefully. During all those days, her hospital room was constantly filled with family. All of us in there laughing and crying, talking, and reminiscing. The sounds of her great grand kids laughing, playing and sometimes crying. It was like our last family reunion, but in Grandma’s hospital room. I guess in a way it was our last family reunion with her here.
The hospital staff was wonderful. They made sure that we had everything we needed. They kept us fed, kept us informed, and kept us comfortable. There were A LOT of us there, so it was no easy task. They commented on how it was so nice to see so much family there for Grandma in her last days. It really was a blessing to get to say goodbye and tell her how much we loved her, and how thankful we were to her for everything that she had done for us. So many times, we miss out on that kind of “closure” when our dear ones pass away.
For her memorial service, Grandma wanted us to celebrate her life. While there were still some tears, there was also some laughter, poetry readings, and some singing. Grandma had written a poem that told of everything that she wanted at her funeral and burial. That was Grandma… always in a poetic mood. She wanted “How Great Thou Art” to be sung at the closing of the memorial service. That was her favorite hymn. She even wrote down the particular verses that she wanted us to sing. She wanted 6 doves to be released at her burial. After calling around to some local pet stores, my Aunt found out that 6 doves were not that easy to come by. Something funny happened when she called one of the stores. She told the person at one pet shop that she needed the doves for a funeral. They said that if she wanted that many, she should have called the week before. In the nicest way possible, my Aunt told them that she didn’t know that her Mom was going to die, otherwise she would have called earlier. I know that is something that Grandma Peny would have gotten a kick out of. :) So since we had no real doves, my cousin Joyce made origami doves. The doves were attached to some green balloons (another request of Grandma’s was that everyone release a green balloon at her burial) and released into the sky that way. She wanted 6 doves, one for each of her kids. After the doves flew away, the rest of us released green balloons into the sky. The great grand kids put red roses on her casket, and some of us also put origami tulips on top as well. Grandma was always making origami bouquets or cranes for people. After the funeral, we all headed back to my Aunts house for a fish boil. That was another one of Grandma’s favorites… fish. If you ever spoke to her about eating fish, I’m sure she was happy to offer up the fact that the fish eyes were her favorite part, and that she saved them for her “dessert”. She loved fish heads.
My Grandma really lived an incredible life. She was a teacher in the Philippines, until she retired. After that, she moved to the USA and taught in Wisconsin until she retired again. How many people do you know who have retired twice? She also LOVED to travel. She traveled all 50 states in the US before she began traveling abroad. In her international travels, she managed to visit every continent except Antarctica.
My mom and I had the pleasure of traveling with her to New Zealand and Australia in 1999. She had originally invited just my mom, but the 2 of them let me tag along as well. Actually, I told my mom that she couldn’t go unless I could go too. It was always my dream to go to Australia. I got to live my dream and share it with my mom and Grandma. I’m very thankful that we got to share that trip together. We were known among our tour group as “The 3 G’s”… The 3 generations.
My Grandma was also a poet and author. She wrote her memoirs, and wrote books filled with her poetry and compiled quotations from various sources.. She wrote a poem for each of her grandchildren. She even wrote a poem about my cat, Callie. The 2 of them were buddies. They shared a love of fish, and Callie loved it whenever grandma would come visit us.
I didn’t get to grow up living close to my Grandma. She lived in Wisconsin while I lived in Virginia and New Mexico while growing up. I didn’t really know her well when I was younger since we didn’t get to visit very often. But I knew she loved me. I don’t remember any birthdays passing without receiving a card from her. She would always enclose a check for the amount of your age. I loved that. As an adult, I got to know her better. She spent a few winters with us in New Mexico to escape the cold winters in Wisconsin. She said she was like a bird that would migrate south for the winter.
She started my LOVE of Scrabble. I learned so many new scrabble words from her. My favorite is “JO”… it means “sweetheart”. She had a great vocabulary due to the fact that she was ALWAYS doing crossword puzzles. When she would visit us, she would sit in the recliner and do her puzzles. Anytime that she got up, she would stash her pen in the crossword book, and then put the book between the recliner cushion and the armrest. I used to get annoyed at that because the pen would poke out and make pen marks on the furniture. Thinking about that makes me laugh now. I think I will start stashing crossword books and pens in between the furniture cushion.
Every morning, she would greet us with, “Good morning pretty rosebud! I pray you tell me true… to be as sweet as a red rose, what must a body do?” And we would have to reply, “grow and grow and grow!”.
New Mexico has great skies for most of the year. Whenever it was a cloudless day and we would go outside, Grandma would dramatically sweep her hand through the air to draw attention to the sky, and proclaim, “Not a cloud in the sky!”. Even if she did it everyday of her visit, she would do it. Nathan and I still say that to each other.
I think about my Grandma everyday. I miss her so much. Things happen in my life and I still think, “I should write Grandma to tell her about that… she’d like that story.” She loved her family to no end. She was generous with all she had, and to all around her. She was brave to come to a new country alone to try to establish a life so that she could bring her kids here so that they would have a better life. She taught us the importance of getting an education, and always said that it was something that no one could take away from you. Even after retiring, she was always learning something new. Tai Chi, Yoga, Singing lessons… you name it. She enjoyed life and loved to try new things.
She and I took singing lessons together back in 2003. I have a fear of singing in public, so the recital that we performed in together was pretty much the end of my singing career. We sang, “Goodnight, My Someone” as a duet at the recital. I still sing that song to my kids at bedtime.
My Grandma Peny was really, really cool. I may not have always known it, but I’m glad I figured it out eventually. There’s so much more I could say about her… the stories about her hiding in the Philippine jungle from the Japanese during the war… yeah, she did that, and so much more. I’m so glad she was such an avid writer because I get to read her memoirs and poems and rediscover what an incredible woman she was. She recorded our family’s history, and how our family came to be in the United States. If she wasn’t so brave, she would have never come to the US. Then my mom wouldn’t have come later and she and my dad may not have ever met, and I wouldn’t be here now… So thanks, Grandma! :)