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  • Writer's picturePaula Braun

Happy Death Day Grandma

Eighteen years ago my maternal grandmother died of a heart attack. I’m reminded of her death at this time every year, because she died on the day after my birthday. In our culture, birthdays are a cause for celebration, a reminder of endless potential. Death, however, is something many people ignore or try to avoid.

I’m fortunate to have a family members, friends, and even acquaintances who filled my Facebook wall yesterday, wishing me Happy Birthday and genuinely hoping that my day was filled with joy. The ironic thing about this is that I’m typically depressed on my birthday, and to be honest this year wasn’t much of an exception. A big part of that depression has to do with missing my grandmother.

When I was a little girl, I loved going to her house, helping her make kolachkes and pierogi, watching I Love Lucy, Wheel of Fortune, and Jeopardy, and playing pinochle. I wanted to be just like her when I grew up, and in many ways I have. I didn’t know her as a wife (my grandfather died before I was born) or a mother (my mom and her living siblings had moved out long before I was born). I knew my grandmother as a single woman, who was fiercely independent and who was revered for her intelligence and resilience.

I started this blog to celebrate works of art and acts of courage, and so on the 18th anniversary of my grandmother’s death, I’d like to celebrate the little girl who had to drop out of elementary school so she could help on the farm and raise her younger siblings, the teenager who left Czechoslovakia for the United States by herself without knowing if she’d ever see her parents again, the young mother who lost a son when he was a toddler and fell out of a second-story window, the wife who buried her husband, and the grandmother who outlived a beloved grandson.

I woke up this morning missing my grandma, but I know that she wouldn’t want me to get stuck in rut. She taught me how to make the best of things, no matter how uncertain the outcome. And while yesterday was my birthday, today is her death day and is worth of celebration. Mark Twain said it best,

"I think we never become really and genuinely our entire and honest selves until we are dead--and not then until we have been dead years and years. People ought to start dead, and they would be honest so much earlier."

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