So here it is. My unfortunate task right now is to attempt to make sense of the tragedy of life. If you have been routed to this page by Facebook then you know why you are here, if however, you found this page via another means I give you fair warning that it is going to be insanely personal and I promise you that tears are going to be falling on my keys the entire time I type.
This is my attempt to rationalize the loss of one of the strongest and most beautiful women I have ever had the pleasure of having in my life. There are only two (2) ways that I know to do this:
1. Take solace in family
2. Write through your feelings
I have done number one and will continue to do so for awhile yet. Now it is time for me to utilize my own personal brand of therapy.
How insanely lucky I was to keep you until I was on the verge of 30. Not many people in the world are blessed with a matriarch of such strength and charisma and even fewer are blessed to keep them for so long.
The painful truth is that I lost my Grammy this week. While many feel her absence, even from far distances, this specific feeling is shared by six of us. This is a hurt that we knew was coming eventually and one that we have dreaded ever since any of us understood what it meant to live and what it meant to die.
Each of you will have your memories and each of you had your own special bond with this woman but I need to share ours because it was something that defined Dorothy Balog Hansen for exactly 31 years. She was mom long before this and she was Dort and Dottie for even longer but Grammy is the only woman I know.
Ironically there is one word that you cannot use to describe my Grammy: disabled. A disability is something that hinders a person and I do not believe that my Grammy was hindered by anything on this planet. She was fiercely proud and found countless ways to conquer the obstacles that polio had thrown across her path in life. We all should learn a lesson of strength from her.
Let me take you through what that strong woman meant to my brothers, cousins and myself.
I obviously do not remember the details of the arrangement but I have it on good authority that when my brothers, cousins, and I were young my aunt, uncle and parents would just drop us off at Grammy and Papa’s to go do whatever it is that parents go do when they have a babysitter for the night. One time they even stole Grammy and Papa’s hotel room for the night after a long day at Disneyland and left their litters with the grandparents. (I am telling you Mom, Dad, Aunt Jamie and Uncle John; she would tell me about it literally till the last month of her life) They would drop us off and we would be abandoned at Grammy and Papa’s and, oh, how we all loved it!! There was no place like Grammy and Papa’s in our youth. It was a land of forts, scary backyard wilderness, gold fish, pools, race cars, popcorn, chicken and squeeze-it juices. And spaghetti! Grammy’s spaghetti!! We could swim all day, stay up all night, watch TV and run all sorts of amok! She would cut our hair and take care of our every need and want. What glorious kingdom Grammy and Papa made for us. We spent magical Christmases under their tree and many an Easter Sunday hunting for eggs. (On the subject of Easter Eggs, you can ask my cousin Jonathan how the dye tastes. I do not think he will recommend it and I assume he got a good slap from Grammy for drinking it).
I will forever remember Grammy’s kitchen, baking cinnamon apples for us. I will forever remember long nights piled into Grammy’s bed watching movies; each of us getting our own personal bowl of Papa’s Popin’ Popcorn. And I will forever remember a constant stream of pride, support and love from Grammy to us all.
As we grew and Grammy and Papa moved houses and our kingdom changed shape but never did it waver in its magic. The love remained and the fun never slowed for a second. We got older and realized how lucky we were and how amazing Grammy was. We realized what this woman overcame her whole life. The shear power of her. As we grew, the story of this woman started to take shape. We realized she wasn’t just our Grammy, there was this whole person that was so incredible, so full of life and passion, and so giving of herself to the community. She told us stories of her past: growing up in Michigan in a time and place so incredibly different from our own childhood. She told us of Polio and how it affected herself and children across the country. She told us incredible stories of her time in the hospital and for the lives of us we couldn’t comprehend what kind of struggle that was. She told us of moving to Santa Monica. She told us the story of her friends running her crutches up the flagpole of Santa Monica High School and then carrying her around to her classes for the rest of the day. What a fun young woman I imagine her to be. It is no wonder my Papa fell head over heals for her. She would tell us of him knocking on her Sorority door and the spark that lasted for over 60 beautiful, bickering years. She told us of her own children (our parents and Funk and Laurie) and how she raised them to be good people; how she raised them to be strong and independent. And how she whipped their butts when they were kids to make sure they grew to be good respectable people, while in the same breath telling how she instigating their wild sides by doing things like getting all of them fake IDs. She told us of her years at Tustin Unified School District and how she affected countless students. She told us of her time at Hillview High School and how she took no nonsense from so many difficult youths. She constantly reminded us of how lucky we have it by sharing (whether or not she was supposed to) stories of children she knew from her volunteer work at the child abuse center in Orange, CA.
From the earliest of memories at birthday parties and holidays we knew our Grammy was incredible. But as we grew older and this more complete picture began to take shape we started to understand how incredible this woman actually was. And holy shit, we seriously couldn’t believe that she was ours!! (Sorry mom for the language but let’s be honest, Grammy didn’t give a fuck)
Through high school and into our 20s (and 30s for Andrew) we received showers of love. She never missed a home made birthday card or a graduation. We received phone calls and messages. We were literally always welcome and we could go to her with literally any problem. We grew busier and busier but her steadfast support never wavered for even a second. We got together for every holiday, we took pictures at all of them. (and we gave Grammy all sorts of heck for taking those pictures at every holiday and she took it all like a champ).
In my college years I was fortunate enough to live and work close enough to Grammy to visit her frequently and always!!! I know that both my brother Stephen and my cousin Jonathan enjoyed this beautiful gift as well. In our starving college years she fed us constantly with all sorts of fun and exciting dishes. There was famous spaghetti, bacon, chicken pow pow, pizzas, homemade burritos, and a whole lot more. She was always ready with hot red pepper, a glass of flavored water and a sympathetic ear to the woes of our simple little lives. She wanted every detail and she wanted to remind us constantly that we were all meant for such greatness!!
Once Grammy and I were cleaning out a closet and we found a box of pictures. Then we were cleaning out another closet and found another box of pictures. And then we turned the whole house upside down and found boxes upon boxes, containing hundreds, if not thousands of pictures from all of our years. There sepia images from the 40s of Grammy walking around, bold as brass with her little blonde curls commanding the world. There were pictures of her family, her sister and brother and parents. We found pictures of Papas youth. We found the young years of my father and aunt and uncle. And we found a treasure trove of images from my childhood with all my cousins. We found birthday parties and holidays! All of those times over the years when she had us line-up to take a photo…we found those too! She had it all. This started a little project for us. Once a week I would come over and we would sit down and shift through all of those pictures. She would tell me stories about every single person in them. And I regret so much not recording those days. I am sorry to all who would have benefited from the gift of her steal trap mind. But those are some of the greatest days of my entire life! We poured over pictures for months! We sorted them and labelled some. And it was more fun than I could possibly imagine. I promise that once I get my hands on those boxes of pictures I will flood the internet with this great gift.
These visits became a ritual for her and I. A ritual that I cherished and will cherish for the rest of my life. Once a week at the minimum I would go over to Grammy and Papa’s for a chat and a visit and some lunch or dinner. In the early years of these visits we would relax and talk about all sorts of things. Our pasts and futures and she would ask about my dreams and goals and she would get furiously pissed when I started slacking away from them. For nearly a decade I had my weekly Grammy visit. No matter how busy I got nothing got in the way of that. We missed very few of them.
For the last few months my life has been busy. Between job and girlfriend and social life it became hard to make that visit every week. But we did. My boss even knew that I couldn’t stay late on Wednesdays because that was my Grammy night. Our family knew that Grammy was off limits on Wednesday because she was mine. I am so insanely grateful for that. I am so lucky. I know that now more than I ever did a month ago and I knew it then too. Even when life got busy, and sometimes it was difficult to make our Wednesday happen, I knew what a special gift this was to me. That is not to say that I didn’t bitch and gripe sometimes about how bone-tired I was to a woman who had no use of her legs for almost 70 years but right now all I can think about is how badly I wish I could have one more Wednesday with with her. I want to walk in their back door to a dog barking, Papa watching a game and Grammy cooking her buns off in the kitchen. I want so badly to see her face light up when I walk through that door. I want chicken pow pow and I want to kick her ass in Jeopardy! I want her to tell me how stupid I am for not being a teacher and I want her to tell me how fat I have gotten while she proceeds to serve me another helping of everything. I want her phone call on Tuesday asking if I am coming over. And I want my birthday song next year. I am so sorry Andrew and Stephen that you did not get your this year!!
To the end Grammy was in every piece of our lives. If you look on this very blog there are comments from her. Andrew, Jonathan, Stephen, Julia, Greg and I know that she is fiercely proud of everything that we have ever done in our lives. We know that, no matter how small of an achievement, Grammy has our backs and hopes for us to succeed.
She would send happy birthday notes to our friends and significant others. She would sign to all of them ‘Hugs G!’ They were each adopted by her as her own and I know that they share in our loss as so many do.
This time is hard for us all, as anyone who has experienced loss knows. It is the way of life to be followed by death and it is the burden of the young to say goodbye to the old. Right now my family takes comfort in each other and our significant others. To each of you who were adopted by Grammy and share in our loss; take comfort in the loved ones you have. The period of mourning is inescapable and we all feel it hard right now. To everyone sending prayers and well-wishes, thank you. We will get through this and thrive as Grammy would want. For now I want each to share in a lesson. This woman brought people together. For every holiday, she had her family. She would drive anywhere and do anything for so many of us. Don’t let the connections die with her. Take her spirit and, whether you are family or not, make sure all of these family bonds only grow stronger!
I miss my Grammy a whole heck of a lot right now. I am so happy that her passing was relatively quick and painless. I take comfort in the fact that she is at peace. I know that her biggest fear was becoming a burden to her loved ones and, even though she never was and we would all do anything for her, I know she is happy to have left before it became so. She affected so many people and we are all so lucky for it. As my dad said: I am going to go cry some more now. I love you all and I love Grammy!!