Rest in Peace, Maude Edna Morcomb Olson.
Early this morning, my beautiful Grandma Maude passed away at the age of 102. Her great oxen of a heart — which, until last night, simply did not know how to stop working — finally laid itself down to rest.
One hundred and two years…it staggers the imagination.
Hers was not always an easy life. Those of you who have read COMMITTED know the story of my grandmother’s hardships — her childhood surgeries, her shyness, the deprivations of her Depression-era marriage, the years of struggle to keep the farm, the losses, the endless cycle of self-sacrifice and labor.
You've also heard me say this before: that the women I most admire in this world for their strength and dignity did not get that way because stuff worked out; they got that way because stuff went wrong, and they dealt with it.
It is my grandmother that I always think of when I say that line. She dealt with EVERYTHING — more difficulty than I can ever imagine — with a bottomless reservoir of determination. She's the exemplar for me of a woman who took her struggle, and turned it — alchemy-like — into strength, wisdom, and grace.
And she raised her children to be strong, too. The strength that runs through my powerful mother was taught to her directly by Grandma Maude, and whatever strength I possess was ultimately fed from that some source, as well.
As recently as a week ago, my grandmother was still insisting on getting up every morning and getting herself dressed for breakfast. (As pained as her body had become, she still refused to let anyone help her to get dressed, saying to my mother, "I want to keep my independence!") It was important to Maude to stand up on her own two feet and rise to meet the day — every day.
She knew this fact to be true: It is your job every single morning of life to get up, to get dressed, and to face the world as it is (not the world as you wish it were) — no matter is happening. No matter what difficulties are placed before you. Get up. Get dressed. Face it down. You can do this. You can survive this. You can rise above this. You can learn from this.
In my life, Maude was the original embodiment of the word: ONWARD.
One little story: I was out in Minnesota several years ago at a family gathering, and someone in the room was complaining about a teenager in the family who had been behaving badly. This teenager was rude, this teenager was ungrateful, this teenager was a pain in the neck. And everyone in the room was nodding and tsk-tsking, like: "Kids these days...what are ya gonna do?"
My grandmother — listening to this — finally had enough. She had been quiet all night (the sweet and harmless little 99 year old in the corner) but suddenly she came into her full power again. Her eyes became the eyes of a bird-of-prey — fierce and piercing. She set down her glass of brandy, and slowly pointed, one by one, to everyone in the room (four generations of her descendants), and said, "I knew ALL OF YOU when you were teenagers. I knew each and every one of you. And none of you were easy. ALL of you had your problems. But look at you all now. You all turned out pretty good. So give the kid a break."
And with that, she shut down the self-righteousness gossip of twenty adults, ranging in age from 24 to 76.
What she didn't mention — but it was understood — was that the reason we all turned out "pretty good" is because Maude saw to it that we all turned out pretty good. Because she had a hand in raising every single one of us. Because she had demanded that we rise to the best possible versions of ourselves. Because she had set the standard for goodness and dignity.
Because that's what a matriarch does.
God bless you, Grandma.
Your ten decades of hard work have finally come to an end. You did a really good job. I love you.
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