time to reflect

A few weeks ago my dad had to make the difficult decision to put my grandmother in a nursing home. She just couldn't stay in her big house without my grandfather and round the clock care is prohibitively expensive. So, this past weekend I went home to help clean out their house, which was a pretty intense experience, lots of ups and downs. I've never had to clean someone else's home and, although I know it has to be done, it was still hard to sort through things and make judgments on what is important. All of it was important to my grandmother. Everything has a memory. I know that my habit of collecting (sometimes hoarding) must have been influenced by my grandma. She has newspaper clippings of engagements and scholarships, thousands of photos of family and friends, suitcases full of blank greeting cards that she would send out to every one of her children and grandchildren for each holiday. And out of everything we went through, a very short list sticks with me.

*The wedding bands of her parents, my great grandparents, tucked inside an envelope for safe keeping in her jewelry box, labeled mama's rings in her distinct handwriting.
*Her wedding dress from her first marriage. This is my dad's dad who died before I could ever meet him. She showed me the dress just before I was married. It's still wrapped in tissue paper. I'm going to tuck it under my bed.
*A stack of love letters that her first husband wrote to her while they were courting. They're wrapped in a pink and white striped ribbon and tucked into her cedar chest next to my dad's highschoool report card.
*A ceramic bear cookie jar that sat on her counter and was filled with cookies. Grandpa had a sweet tooth.
*Dozen's of patterned sheets and aprons. She and my grandfather owned a cottage and I envision these sheets on those beds, with the windows open so the fresh lake air could come in. They're in my washer now, getting ready to be used again.

I think the transition has been hard on her. Her body aches and she was admitted to a hospital a few days ago. When I visited her she was doing better than the previous days, but she was still more frail than I had last seen her. Her Alzheimer's is getting worse and I didn't know if she would remember me. She did, though. We talked about canning jams, she told me she was going to a wedding, she asked to call my grandfather as we got ready to leave. I'm so glad I had the chance to visit and now I have some idea of what my dad has been dealing with. I couldn't have gotten through it without the support of a dear friend, who drove me home, sorted through boxes, and helped me talk to my grandmother. We drove home into a bright pink sunset that lasted almost an hour, my grandmother's favorite color.

I really debated about posting something so personal here and I know that it's subject matter that most bloggers don't put out there for everyone to read. But, I don't keep a journal of any other sort and there are memories here that I want to hold on to. Thank you for bearing with me.


Maggie said...

These are beautiful memories. I have similar ones of helping to clean out my grandparents' house several years ago, and I remember very clearly how hard it was to just dismiss box after box of things that obviously had so much meaning to a woman who meant so much to us, but was no longer with us. We did keep those things that are so personal - the photos, a few clothes, my great grandmother's wedding band, etc. The transitions at the end of life can't help but make me think that we all just turn back in to babies in need of care, only with decades of memories and relationships and love to show for all those years. Thanks for sharing something so personal - no hesitation necessary.

satsumalynn said...


I know just what you mean about posting such personal things on your {work} blog – and how hard it is to decide whether or not to do it. I think, though, that it just adds to the true picture of who you are and what you do – so thank you for this post.

Thinking of you,


[.L.] said...

Oh sweetie, know that my thoughts are with you. It such a hard thing to go through, seeing loved ones grow older and become unable to care for themselves... its just heartbreaking.

I know what you mean about writing a personal post, but I agree with the above. All these things go into your work, your process..

I was in NYC last week and heard many panel discussions. At one of them this woman was talking about being asked how long it took to make something and all she could think to say was "my whole life."

She said everything that she had thought, gone through, done- all of it came into her work in some way or another, directly or indirectly.

I think blogs are a place for the artist to speak, personal or not.

Thank you for sharing.

Much love.

Whitney J. Marsden said...

Rachael, despite the fact that we've never met, I just wanted to write and say, thank you. Your post brought back many fond memories of my late grandmother, who I now remember through her belongings and the lessons she unknowingly taught me. China and books decorate my home. My favorite apple-shaped cookie jar is kept in the same location in my grandmother's home where my aunt still lives, and still gives me that giddy child-like feeling when I see it. Gardens, bird songs, and a love of soft vintage linens are institutions in my memory of father’s mother and have helped form who I am today. We’re lucky enough to have her short stories as a legacy to pass on through future generations; tales of small animals learning life’s lessons and other sweet stories. Your post brought a smile to my lips and a sting to my eye in happy remembrance. Thank you for putting your experience out there into blog-land. Best wishes to you and your family during this time of transition. (...and so nice to *virtually* meet you) -Whitney

Rachael, Pistachio Press said...

Thank you all so much for being so supportive. Although some of us have never met, it's heartening to know that we have had such similar experiences. Next time I won't be so timid about sharing.

joAnn said...

There have been a few occasions recently that have brought my grandmother to mind. All have brought tears to my eyes. I helped (though only peripherally) to clean out my grandparents house after she died. We sold a lot of it and that was strange to see other people pick up something she cherished and then put it back down again, uninterested. I took a few silly things home with me (as I'm sure a lot of my cousins did) and I think that's about the best you can do. I wish I had something as amazing as flowered sheets and here wedding dress, but a few pieces of costume jewelry and a figurine will do.

I have always thought your blog is the perfect blend of professional and personal. We all know you put a lot of passion in your work and your "professional self" wouldn't be what it is without the personal one!

Thanks for sharing your memories.

Brinn Goddard said...

I'm sorry to hear about your grandmother....but I can't begin to tell you how happy I am for you that you came upon those dear memories. Isn't it funny that as we grow older the things we find that mean the most to us? Thank you for sharing!

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