As the sun crawls from behind its rest on the other side of the mountains, she awakens. The hunched-over woman, with white hair and lines on her face, accepts the challenge of a new day. She stands and dresses. The pain from her arthritis may be excruciating, but she deals with it bravely. Hands with only a thin layer of skin to cover the veins and bones pick up the utensil, and begins to eat the food which she has prepared.
Simple things such as dialing someone on the telephone or lifting a book, pain her, but she keeps going. By the looks of struggle mixed with exhilaration on her face when she accomplishes something, such as picking up a loose piece of paper, one can see that her determination shines through. During her life she at times needed to be strong. Some examples of this are when she was a child. She constantly helped out her mother and go to school, just as her five other siblings. Then when she got married and have two children, she had to deal with her husband’s alcoholism. In addition to that, when my grandfather died, she had to leave her home of several years for an apartment. My grandmother had to give away many of her belongings and learn to live in a smaller environment. Her acceptance of this incident, among others, shows her strength.
Although my grandmother struggles and succeeds at being independent, she still relies upon my mother for moral support and someone to talk to. She is set in her ways and does not let anyone tell her what she will and will not do. Once she was considering moving into a retirement center, but to her this would mean losing all independence, a way of giving up. In her own mind, she would feel as an invalid. So instead of leaving her apartment, she stayed where she could do as she wished and support herself. She is capable of this, but we still keep an eye on her.
As do most people, my grandmother likes to be reminded that she is loved and not forgotten. Any reassurance of this fact is much appreciated and can easily brighten her day. She love to talk about the past (which she can remember now), and little things which fancied her during any particular day. But it’s more than just loving to talk — it is that someone is listening and cares about what she has to say. I recall a recent phone conversation I had with her. By her voice I could tell that she was glad to hear from me but overall she wasn’t happy. In this I mean that her pain and solitude were overwhelming at this time, but my call lightened her mood. At the end of the conversation, her voice was bubbly and she was all excited and quite gleeful, which made me feel good.
At times though she is not so much fun to talk to because of her old-fashioned ways and how hard and different it was for her to grow up. Because of my parents’ divorce, I have been expected to be around both of them. When my mother gets lonely for me, she calls up my grandmother to lecture me about not paying enough attention to my mom, and so on. Sometimes the message is worth hearing, but at other times I really don’t have the time. Since she was born in 1910, she has lived through both world wars, the Depression and many other hard times. This though cannot be compared to my present day situation and her advice to me. Just as my mother tries to compare her childhood to mine so does my grandmother, but it can’t be done because times have changed so much.
Even though I may receive a lecture once in a while because of our differences, I admire her strength and I’m glad she is around and hopefully will be for a lot longer.
This piece was written by me about my grandmother, Elsie Carlson Laaback, in my junior year of high school (1988-1989). It was submitted to the North Everett Lions receiving a $1000 scholarship which I utilized at Washington State University in the fall of 1990.
Elsie died on August 4, 1990 after falling and breaking her hip, which resulted in her spending four months in a nursing home. The week she died, my mother Ellen was staying with a family friend, Inger Odegaard, in Richmond, B.C. On Wednesday of that week, I went to the New Life Church near where my grandmother was living and felt / received a message that I should go see my grandma. I went and said hello. On Saturday of that week, I went to Canada to pick up my mom. Inger had knit an Afghan for my grandma and we brought that to her. I remember it being a very warm day, 80-something. She had a washcloth on her forehead to cool her. I remember wanting to make sure that she heard me say “I love you” as I walked out the door. She died of cardiac arrest about an hour after our departure. It would seem that she wanted to let go, but until she could see both of the women she loved so much, she couldn’t. So on that Saturday, after both of us had been there, she said goodbye.
I still miss her, but am thankful for the understanding and insights I had about her as a teenager, and with more information that I’ve learned over the years, I’m even more glad that I did honor her in the writing of this piece.
– Kari Quaas