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Great-Grandma Laura

Image from a Day of the Dead offering, of a photo of an old woman, on a Mexican textile, with old children's moccasins and some rice and beans on a hand-painted china server.

I think so much about my grandmother, Laura, these days. Here’s my email eulogy, from this time of year some years ago, but after Kevin.

Laura Glueck Kashins Reiburn, 5/13/1903 – 1/13/2007

My elderly grandmother is gone. Irene and I were to travel there Saturday to see her; but she was gone suddenly early that morning. My mother and sister were present. It was complications as it always is; it was relatively peaceful and I suppose they will call it natural causes.

I was trying to imagine what life was like when she was born. Since I always listen to Child’s Christmas in Wales multiple times over the holidays (still the season — our tree is still up) I could only think of his words — “before the motor car, before the wheel, before the duchess-faced horse…”

I’d say something about that horse face except that we had identical profiles, you see, and cheekbones.

Grandma endured everything but had been truly unhappy for several years, since she had to have a live-in aide; she did not see it as keeping her from a nursing home; she saw it as keeping her from her life. As if age had nothing to do with it. She told me and Kevin once, describing how hard it was to convalesce after a broken hip at age 96: “Until now… I never thought of myself as “old.” I went around doing my everything without thinking about my age, just like I did when I was in my… seventies.” We of course could not laugh.

I did not think she would ever end. More than a rock, she was a boulder, and not one with a drop of water carving her away, either. Her force admitted no nature. Frail and hunched, but tall, with braces, a walker and the same shoes (“I have to buy them from this one catalog — you see I have a very narrow foot.” (It was EEEEE. Like someone running from a mouse.).) she pushed across the stained pea green rug with regard for nothing. She had been in the hospital for over a week for pneumonia — yes I’m aware it kills most seniors — but her lungs were improving steadily. So how could she die?

One day some years ago, but after Grandma was 100,  I was there when my mother was helping her pay bills. My mother saw the card for Grandma’s Newsweek subscription and said, “You checked off that you want to subscribe for TWO years.” Grandma said, “Yes, you save money that way.” My mother said, rolling her eyes only a little surreptitiously, “TWO YEARS?” “It’s cheaper.” “Are you sure you want TWO YEARS?” “What? I said it’s cheaper.” Grandma could not understand what the problem might be. I had been repeating this story carelessly this past year, and even this past week. I was not in a rush to get up to the city.

In 1999 she had some sort of brain aneurysm or whatever the opposite of that is. She suddenly lost the abiility to walk in the hall at her volunteer job at the Met and had to be taken to the E.R. They operated, there was little damage, and later she was given therapy for many months to learn how to walk again, etc. While she was in recovery at the rehab hospital they gave her all sorts of tests that were purely academic. They said they just didn’t get a subject that old very often and they were constantly amazed at her acuity — remember that they were also looking for brain damage. She was proud of the results and insisted that everyone there loved her.

At one point they had her see a psychiatrist. Later, my mother asked her how it went. We are sure she was unfamiliar with the mode we call “active listening” because she replied, “He was very nice. HE AGREED WITH EVERYTHING I SAID.”

So it seems impossible that it’s over. Who would expect a 103-(and a half)-year-old woman to be hospitalized from pneumonia and make a full recovery? Only everyone who knew her.

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