Surviving By

When I was a kid, and the paper arrived on Sundays, I’d read it. Not just the comics, like most kids. I read the news stories, the business section, and if I was really bored, the lifestyle pages. Before I set it aside, there was one other page I would read every week: the obituary page.

I try not to think it was morbid. It was more of a curiosity. Who were these people? How did they die? Were they young? Did they have families? What were their lives like before they earned three square inches of space in a weekly publication?

Often, the listings were simple: So-and-so passed away peacefully on this date. He’s survived by his wife and their two daughters.

Have you ever thought about that phrase, “survived by”? It implies that the person – the one who undoubtedly died – survived.

Of course, it doesn’t literally mean that. It means that through loved ones, a person lives on. Even if it was only within a family, that person made a lasting impact.

I’m writing this a few hours after learning my grandma is losing her battle with cancer. It has been a valiant fight spanning several years. They tried every surgery, chemotherapy combination, and even experimental remedies. But here we are, five years later, and she’s dying.

I’ve never known life without her in it. She was 42 when I was born – young to be a grandma. I’ll be that age in 7 years. My earliest memory included her. It was a birthday party – my sister’s second, I believe. My sis wore a sky blue dress, and her hair was so blonde it almost glowed.

We often went to Grandma’s house. She’d get after Pappap when he got ornery, shaking her first at him and scrunching her face accordingly, asking him if he wanted a knuckle sandwich. In the car, while waiting at a red light, she’d say a little rhyme to make the light turn green. It worked. I’m not kidding.

She was always a bird lover, favoring cardinals, hummingbirds, and owls. I’m sure my love for owls came from her. She had pet birds for many years – parakeets and cockatiels. She named many of them Chipper. We named ours Flip, and I think it was her idea. Flip the bird. And she had no idea.

Neither did I, until I was 20 or so.

She trained her birds to leave the cage and not freak out. They sat on her shoulder while she did whatever she needed to do. It wasn’t always a great idea, though. One time her bird went swimming in my cousin’s tomato soup.

Are these the kinds of memories that will make her “survive”?

I don’t know how she managed it, but her hair never turned gray. And she didn’t dye it. The only time I saw her with gray hair was the Christmas she was in the middle of chemo and she opted for a gray wig. When her hair grew back, it was light brown.

She had this container of body powder that smelled really good, and when we spent the night, after our baths, my sister and I got to use it. Very Grandma’s House, that smell. Then we’d climb into the twin beds covered with thin brown blankets and go to sleep, hoping morning would come soon. Mornings at Grandma’s were the best. We got up early because her house was bright. Really bright. I could never quite figure out how. I mean, our house had windows too, but it was never so bright and cheery in the morning. The brightness seemed to come from within.

We’d eat her sweet cereal that mom would never let us have at home and breathe in the smell of brewed coffee, also unique to her house, since our parents didn’t drink coffee. We’d feed peanuts to her neighborhood squirrels and maybe chase the dog around in her huge yard.

Are these the kinds of memories they meant?

It seems strange to imagine her not being around anymore. She has always just “been”, at least in my limited reality. Her house has always been. Her boson heads on the wall have always been. Her suit of armor on the landing has always been.

Yes, she really has a suit of armor. She named it Christopher Knight.

She told us not to kick our heels on the wall when we sat on the landing next to Christopher.

She showed us how to put the scissors back into the drawer just right.

She reused creamer bottles forever by refilling them from a bigger jug. The flavors never matched the labels.

She kept felt or bubble wrap between her pans to keep them from getting scratched.

She had a glass cutting board on the counter at all times, so it was always there when you needed it.

She made gallons of gravy on Thanksgiving.

She brushed the tangles out of my waist-length hair.

She sprayed us with Skin So Soft to keep the mosquitoes from biting.

She called Shredded Wheat “lumps”.

She lovingly accepted each of the dozens of pot holders I made for her.

I could go on for several more pages, and these are just my memories. She has a husband, siblings, three kids, nine grandkids, going on ten great-grandkids, and countless extended family members and family friends.

I’d say the chances of her surviving by us are pretty good.


I wrote this on April 16th. Grandma passed away on Tuesday, just two days ago. I debated if I should share this, and in the end I decided I wanted others to see her beautiful spirit.  

14 thoughts on “Surviving By

  1. I love this. It’s simplicity and its not-sadness… more respect, and fondness I’d say. Unbelievably powerful. I’m sorry to hear about your grandma. Your post is amazing, I feel as though I knew her and she sounds like a wonderful person and an especially wonderful grandma.


  2. Pingback: May 29 #LinkYourLife Roundup | The Honeyed Quill

  3. Oh, Allison! Not only did you describe her so beautifully, your words also revealed the depth of relationship you had with her. You KNEW each other. You shared your lives and your hearts with each other. My earliest memory of her was in my Grandmother’s hallway. The family had just arrived from Florida for a visit with Aunt Mabel (my grandma’s sister and your great grandma). Your dad was just was just a little older than me, and I think we were probably in elementary school. Your grandmom had her long hair then, and legs that were also soooo long! I was fascinated that a mother would have long hair like that! Lol!! So much has happened since then and so many years have flown by. She was always so kind and welcoming. Pat will be sorely missed, but she left a legacy of love and grace. We are praying for the whole family.


  4. I am a friend of the Morton’s. Although I only saw your G-Ma less than a dozen times, I have known her about 20 years.
    She was a gentle, caring, sensitive, generous, and loving woman. She loved her whole family- but the grandkids— always held a place in her heart- that was unsurpassed.
    Very well written and articulated. Even if a person had it met her, you can’t help but feel you knew her.


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