Saturday, June 10, 2006

A Life Well Lived

She grew up singing and joking in a closeknit family of 7 siblings, among them some of the naturally funniest people I've ever known. She was pretty and smart, with piercing brown eyes and a ready smile. Her first husband, who must have been a fine person for her to have chosen him, was killed in France in WWII, leaving her a widow before she was thirty. After the war ended she met Larry Grant, who had spent the war years as a prisoner of war in Japan. In each other they found their second chances. They married and raised three boys.

When I married her son Ray, she welcomed me as the daughter she'd never had.

Larry died suddenly and for the second time she found herself a widow at a relatively young age. It was a terrible blow, but even in her grief she found grit and determination, and she emerged as an independent woman, learning to drive for the first time, taking college classes, volunteering and traveling the world. She doted on her grandchildren and she loved us all without condition and without judgement.

Last week the staff at the facility where she lived said she seemed more quiet and withdrawn than usual, even a little angry at times. Her Alzheimers sometimes triggered frustration and uncharacteristic anger. But on Tuesday morning she had a good breakfast and went for her weekly appointment with the hairdresser, a ritual in which she took great pleasure. As her hair was being washed she gasped a couple times then went limp and, just that quickly, she was gone. If you believe in Karma, it was the swift, peaceful death she had earned with a good and happy life that overcame tragedy and loss. She would have been 93 next week.

As we cleared out her apartment this week I could almost hear her singing in her sweet, warbly old lady's voice. Her sons remember her singing along with the radio as she did housework and dishes. She sang silly songs for her grandchildren. Several months ago we were driving her to visit her sister and she was watching the crows fluttering along the roadside. Out of her foggy memory, a song emerged, in its entirety, and she sang out joyfully,

"Pack up all my cares and woe,
Here I go,
Singing low,
Bye, bye blackbird.
Where somebody waits for me,
Sugar's sweet
So is she,
Bye, bye blackbird
No one here can love or understand me
Oh what hard luck stories they all hand me
Make my bed and light the light
I'll arrive late tonight
Blackbird, bye bye"

I'll miss her. My one-of-a-kind mother-in-law, Bertha Grant.


  1. Anonymous5:51 PM

    I'll miss her too. Met her only once, but from your and Ray's stories felt like I knew her well. Hugs, and a few tears.

  2. Anonymous6:21 PM

    I can almost hear her singing "Bye, bye, blackbird." She leaves a wonderful legacy. Love to all of you. Please extend love to Roy and Ron and their families.


  3. Best wishes to you all. What a treasure. And how wonderful that you recognized her as such.There can be no better epitaph for any of us than "A Life Well Lived".

  4. Aw, Terry, it sounds like she had a good life and a peaceful death and I'm glad for her, but it's still hard on you who are left behind. I'm so sorry for your loss. She sounds like a great lady.

  5. Terry, I'm very sorry about the loss of your mother-in-law. You've written a lovely tribute to her.

  6. What a beautiful way to start a Sunday. Your heartfelt tribute to your mother-in-law brought a tear to my eye and a song to my heart. I often played "Bye bye blackbird" on the accordion while accompanying my dad on his banjo. It was a song that belonged to that generation of strong men and women who were fated to live through a Great Depression and WWII.

    Bertha left a rich legacy and she has now, indeed, "packed up all her cares and woes" and gone to a far better place where some very special people are waiting for her. They left the light on.

    My sincere sympathy to you and yours.

  7. Terry,

    What a lovely tribute to someone you so obviously loved very much.

    Thinking of you.


  8. Anonymous6:18 AM

    a lovely tribute to a fine woman who was, clearly, loved by many. I still miss my mother-in-law Dot every day, and as we now live in her house some 20 years later, the memories are never far away. What a blessing to know someone who inspires such warm thoughts. My thoughts are with you today.

  9. Anonymous7:07 AM

    So nice to hear from someone else who loves their mother-in-law.

    WHat a wonderful way to go....getting my hair shampooed (and scalp massaged) feels like heaven so why not make the trip complete!


  10. OK! You have me sitting here crying inmy coffee. What a lovely tribute. Thanks for sharing Betha.s life with us.

  11. Anonymous10:25 AM

    Tears and hugs, June

  12. How great to have had a mother-in-law you so loved and respected - and what a great tribute here. Our love and sympathy to you and Ray and all your family.

    Love, Dickie & Carl

  13. She sounds like a wonderful person. That's the way I want to go too - peaceful, easy and enjoying life to the end. Your tribute to her is lovely.

    My thoughts are with you and your family...

  14. When you wrote "She doted on her grandchildren and she loved us all without condition and without judgement." I thought there's a goal to aspire to in my life.

    With a great big lump in my throat, sending you all hugs, and glad her passing was swift and peaceful. Sarah