May 31, 2017

In Memoriam

Posted in Faith, Just Life at 10:02 pm by catsinboxes

My grandmother, Jan Toole, died at 3:15 am this morning.  She was 81 years old.

Grandmother was a wonderful woman.  From some of her features to her sense of humor, I am her granddaughter.

My earliest memories are of energetic grandparents.  Grandmother —letting me balance on her shoes & walking me along the grocery store aisle.  Grandmother, her yellow lab in tow, surprising us with a visit.

These and other glimpses and impressions all include the memory of fun.  Grandmother was a grandmother who played.  She understood and loved children and that colors my earliest memories.

Grandmother was a teacher.  Raised ahead of her times by a father who encouraged his daughters in their pursuits, Grandmother was fiercely independent.  She was an elementary school teacher in Europe for the Department of Defense. During school vacations, Grandmother and her friends would take her car and travel across Europe.  While teaching in Europe, she met my grandfather, an Army Officer.

Grandmother was a storyteller.  But whereas Granddaddy could spin a fictional yarn, Grandmother’s stories always stuck to fact.  Camp adventures from growing up —swimming in a lake with cottonmouths.  Travel adventures —visiting towns in Europe where Americans had never visited.  Teaching adventures —helping difficult pupils understand math and teaching migrant workers at the racetrack. And last but not at all least, animal adventures —often featuring dogs she had known and loved.

When Grandmother told a story her eyes would light up.  She’d fix you with bright, brown eyes which would glint with humor even as her face quirked into a half-smile at some memory.

Over the years though, the light in her eyes began to fade.  Parkinson’s began to replace brightness with bewilderment.  Humor remained for a while, but it was often superseded by petulance.

Grandmother was a proud woman.  It was hard for her to let go of things, even as my grandfather gently learned to cook and took over running the house.

Grandmother loved fiercely and kindly.  She loved the hurting —gently and tenderly.  She loved the weak and guarded them carefully.

She loved my grandfather, faithfully, and told him goodbye three years ago.  Despite Parkinson’s, she was present enough to tell him she loved him, and it was alright for him to leave.

The last time I saw Grandmother was the summer before that.  Granddaddy was in Normandy for D-Day’s anniversary —it would be his last visit.

Grandmother’s health was at the point she couldn’t live on her own.  So I stayed with her, cooking and helping around the house.

She was still herself part of the time.  Sometimes she was irascible and petulant, but still, overwhelmingly, Grandmother.

I think we both knew it was the last time.  The last time I’d get to see the Grandmother I knew . . . .

Everyday she’d give me long, long hugs.  As she hugged me in a strong bearhug, she’d whisper, “I love you.”

I’d hug her back, trying not to cry, and whisper, “I love you, too.”

Grandmother left a legacy of love to her children, grandchildren, and to the countless others whose lives she touched.

As I look to her life and death, I’m haunted by the words of Job.

The Lord gives and the Lord takes away.  Blessed be the name of the Lord.  




  1. Dave said,

    An absolutely remarkable woman. As a young boy growing up she never gave up on me and helped me with reading activities. I will always remember her fondly and cherish the life lessons.

  2. Margaret Hurley said,

    Jan was a great lady and good friend. I have many happy memories of her.

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