Just after breakfast my mom called to tell me that my grandmother had died last night. She would have been 101 in a couple of weeks, and it was just a matter of old age. She lived in her own home right up to the end.
Rationally I know that it was her time and that she was ready, but I am still taking it pretty hard. I had been hoping to go out to visit her in early spring but my surgery and the lockdowns put the kibosh on that idea. Thankfully we all had a chance to see her last year to celebrate her 100th birthday.
My grandmother lived in Idaho for my whole life, and she didn't come to visit us very much, so we didn't see her often. (Air travel was very expensive when I was a kid, and her husband hated to travel.) I don't think I really got to know her well until I was an adult. Around 12 or 13 years ago I started actively trying to visit her every year. I'm glad I was able to do that, I have a lot of really nice memories of her from those visits, and I recorded some video of her stories which I'll be able to show the kids when they are older.
She was the kind of person who could see the good in everyone. I think she knew almost everyone in her town (Pocatello, Idaho) and she did her best to take care of the people around her who needed help. One of her friends called her group of friends her 'collectibles' - she accumulated friends the way the rest of us accumulate our collections of objects. She treasured every one of them. As she grew older there was an army of friends taking care of her, there was a steady stream of visitors and well-wishers.
On one of my first visits to her as an adult, I took her on a drive out to see Craters of the Moon national monument, which is a couple of hours drive away. When we got there, the ranger asked if there was a senior citizen in the car because then admission to the park would be free. I said yes, and she waved to him; at this point he peered into the car, there was a glimmer of recognition and he called her by name. They had known each other many years before! Anywhere we went it would seem like she either met an old friend or would make a new one.
She was one of the only Jewish people in her area of Idaho, and a lifelong advocate for liberal causes and social justice - none of which is an easy thing in a super-conservative area. She was never afraid to speak her mind or to stand up for what's right. Nevertheless she was beloved by her commuity, even by those who didn't agree with her.
My whole life she had been a little bit deaf and relied on hearing aids. Then, when she was in her late eighties she became mostly blind. Many people would have just given up at that point, but she decided she needed to learn Braille, and she started getting books on tape from the library and having volunteers come to read to her. She never gave up.