Personal,  Why I Believe

A Tenacious Woman: In Memory of my Grandma

There are no words. Grief and loss this deep are new for me. I’ve heard that pain is the price that must be paid for loving someone, so it seems I’ve got to figure out how to get through this because it won’t be the last time. My grandmother passed away, and with all my heart I don’t want it to be true. Mentally I knew this day would come; her health was declining and she had been readying for years giving away all her possessions. We just celebrated her 91st birthday last week. It felt like she might outlive us all if we could keep her going through sheer willpower. Emotionally I’m not prepared at all for a world without her. How do we who are left behind move forward?

“God shall wipe away all tears from [your] eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain: for the former things are passed away”

Revelation 21:4

We’re all still trying to process it. Outside right now there is upheaval with thunder and lightning storms, flash floods, and rain taking over. Internally, I am awash with overflowing grief and strong waves of sorrow. I’ll be randomly putting away shoes or washing my hair when it hits, an intense feeling of emptiness and missing her. I listened to voice messages she left me years ago just to feel like she wasn’t really gone. Then comes the wall of guilt that crashes down. Why didn’t I see her more? Why did I think I had more time? Was she at peace? Was she alone? I should have been there to hold her hand … Left alone with my thoughts I’d drive myself insane. Jer has been my comfort and strength through a lot of these new feelings—many of which he had when his own father died. Jer told me that we all think about things we could have done differently… but it’s over now, and beating ourselves up about it will not change it.

My beliefs about life going on after death and the meaning of our mortal experience remain—the struggle is just more effort to feel near to her, like she’s gone on a long vacation where I can’t call her anymore. How can she be here this morning, and now just… gone? She meant so much more to me than all the things she did or the roles she had. She was such a big part of my childhood, and I followed her in temperament and values. I didn’t mind that others often called me stubborn or hard-headed because that’s also what they called her. I rather found her to be tenacious, always holding firm with a powerful force. She worked hard in school and loved to learn. I guess she had to, as that was her means of survival and a ticket out of poverty. Even after she graduated at the top of her class from nursing school in the Philippines, I believe she had to do it all over again when she came to New York because they didn’t recognize her foreign education. She lived through all the wars of the past century, inventions, and changes. World War I, the Japanese invasion of the Philippines, and World War II especially shaped her.

Grandma was fiercely independent and in charge of most everything she was involved with, so sometimes it was hard to get along. She did her best to raise a family on her own in a difficult part of LA. She worked as a nurse, and although compassionate, she was a tough lady and didn’t take crap from anyone.

She loved one man all her life, and lived more years widowed than married to him. Stories about her and grandpa intensely interested me; it was a topic I asked her about often. One of the things Grandpa found ultra attractive about her when they first met? Her ankles! Hahaha, I loved that! It’s so surprising and eccentric! I wanted to know what enduring love was, why loneliness didn’t bother her, how she coped with the positive and negative feelings of surviving without him… I remember Grandma telling me she wasn’t alone, that she had conversations with him, she felt his presence which gave her strength, and he looked just as she remembered him. She had so much faith and always credited God for her blessings even in trials. I never met my grandfather, who died before I was born, but I knew his photos very well because he looked a lot like my father. My favorite picture of my grandparents isn’t the blown up portrait that’s typically selected in remembrance of them. It’s a series of black and white photo booth shots from the 1950’s that I found buried in an old album, taken on what I assume is a date night. They were doing something I had done with my own husband, in a real and timeless way, and I instantly connected with the small but honest reveal of their personalities in those photos.

I think of and miss her every day. Every time I comfort myself with words from Psalms that she had us memorize when I was 5. Every time I brush my daughter’s long hair, and she asks me to tell her about my grandma, whose hair was so long it dragged on the floor in the 70’s. Every time I put on my special necklace made from a ring she left me with our birthstone. Every time I honor her wishes when I skip eating pork because she made me promise. When I get excited about August, and the birthday that we’ve shared every year of my life. It always felt so special to be born on my grandmother’s birthday, and I was keenly aware of how alike we were even when I was young which is why I wondered if my destiny was to live a similar story.

Remembering this remarkable woman is helping me to cope with her loss. I’m trying to honor her memory by just living my best life in things she taught me.

Memories of my Grandma

Grandma gave me the gift of reading when she taught me at age 4. My first book was a children's book about a little field mouse. Reading has been one of my most enjoyable passions I've used my entire life, and I have her to thank. She was a disciplined teacher and from that very young age she drove all the "quit" out of me I guess, haha! She encouraged me to develop my gifts and talents, and showed me there was no substitute for practice—in math, or in life.
Grandma had an extensive collection of classic movies on VHS, a big comfortable bed, and a large entertainment system that was a perfect movie theater for young kids. She'd invite us to her room for a movie, and there our love grew for MGM films with Grandma. We'd watch her black and white versions of Shirley Temple dancing; Fred Astaire and Gene Kelly movies; Singing in the Rain; The Mark of Zorro from the 1940s starring Tyrone Power; 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea; Swiss Family Robinson; Lassie movies, and so much more! My favorite was the 1930s musical version of The Three Musketeers. When I grew up, I bought it on DVD! 
Grandma had a keen memory and exercised it regularly with mathematics and intentional practice. All math was done in her head, without a calculator, and it was accurate! She often recited entire verses and poems. She did not keep an address or phone book for the longest time because she knew everyone's number and address by heart. She remembered full names, birth dates, anniversaries, death dates, and locations for generations of family members. Her mind was a beautiful and invaluable resource for researching our ancestry and performing temple work. 
Frozen grapes is how Grandma encouraged us to finish all of our dinner. We were not allowed to leave the table until our plates were empty, and I was often the last one left because I was picky and slow compared to my siblings. She stayed with me until my last bite, and made it bearable with a sweet frozen grape in between my forced gulps.
When we were babies, Grandma used to rock us and sing this lullaby that had only a few notes over and over again. She'd pat our backs or stroke our hair as she sang it, and the repetitiveness was soothing haha. Even when I was old enough to take care of my youngest siblings, that lullaby was a sure winner with crying babies. I never asked her if it had a name or words... Now I just call it her lullaby. When I became a mother, I sang her lullaby to my own children. 
Grandma enjoyed sharing her love of Filipino food by cooking for others. Neighbors and friends all got to partake! She made all the traditional favorites including adobo, lumpia, and dishes filled with vegetables. My favorite was her casava cake, which was saved for very special occasions. 
At Mt Sinai Hospital, she cared for some of the biggest and wonderful stars of the time as a nurse. They wrote her autographed notes of appreciation. She saved them from the likes of Elizabeth Taylor, and told me that Elizabeth's eyes really were an astonishing shade of "violet". They were just like normal people, Grandma said, subject to the frailties of mortality, and she treated every one of her patients with the same level of respect and vigilance.
Grandma being a nurse and helping to raise us was great if we ever had physical ailments with her medical skills. I found it hilarious that she had her share of superstitions. When I was 4 and she was teaching me to write, my natural inclination was to write with my left hand. Being left-handed was a curse, she said, and you don't live as long... so I had to learn to write ambidextrously. 
Part of the fun was her Filipino folk stories, like one about a witch who comes and takes (or maybe eats?) children at night. They were all kind of... chilling? Haha. We all flipped the light switches and scrammed every time we had to go to the bathroom in the middle of the night after hearing that one.
Grandma was a bit of a collector. She loved porcelain dolls and took pride in their craftsmanship, outfits, and the fact that their hairdos were made with real hair. One of these dolls was named after her daughter, who passed away as a young woman. Grandma acquired jewelry with large gems, and wore them at every opportunity. We took glamour shots of her in the backyard, she wore them to church on occasion, or I saw her wear them on her travels in photographs. Grandma also had a penchant for shoes! Lots and lots of shoes! 
She took pride in caring for the people and also the things around her, including her home and vehicle. It was rare and special for us to ride in Grandma's car, which she kept in immaculate condition. We were very careful not to touch anything and make sure that our shoes were clean. 
Grandma shared her love of music with us. Playing on her piano and singing her favorite songs was one of her joys. She played complicated classical pieces by heart, always wanting to keep her memory and dexterity sharp.
This one is kind of silly, but Grandma was always doing things to be healthy and strong. One time she told my siblings and I about how good drinking your pee is for your body. Her sense of humor was a little offbeat, so I wasn't sure if she was joking with us! Surely even if she believed it, she wasn't practicing it... but to this day I have no idea if she was serious.
I was the first kid in my family to get engaged, so I think it caused a stir. My Grandma called me up, and tried to convince me not to get married to Jeremy. Not having my family's support saddened me, but things changed over time. With Grandma, after I got married she accepted us. I think she liked Jeremy more than she liked me sometimes! She was always welcoming and supportive of us, and that meant so much to me.

“We can not forget them; we do not cease to love them. … They have advanced; we are advancing; we are growing as they have grown.”

President Joseph F. Smith

I love you forever, Grandma. See you on the other side.



  • Wilee Delarosa

    She’s the oldest living member of the family I ever knew. Thank you for sharing your memories. I wish I had more photos is hopefully dad can share them. My relationship with grandma has always been about being a good provider and becoming a dentist. She was always so proud of my teeth for some odd reason, I think she just wanted me to take better care of them. This is a big loss for our family, I hope we can come together and talk about the good memories.

  • Addy

    I was just browsing your blog and then stumbled upon Gramma’s post. No wonder I had a strange inkling to watch Shirley Temple movies. I feel like she’s finally fulfilled being with grandpa, and that they’re watching over us and cheering us on. Thank you for the memories of her life. I remember she used to give me multiplication worksheets, and would play polka music on the piano for us little ones to dance to. I remember her little Apartment with plastic over the table and ants in the cherry ice cream. I remember her treadmill. and of course, remember her final days when she just wanted Ube cake. I miss her so much.

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