Posted by: Tina M | 10 February , 2010

In Memory of Dolores J. Spencer

The other day, as I was choosing which accessories would be best to make my day a little more bearable and I landed on the Unicorn Necklace that I inherited from my Grandmother.

Laughing to myself, wearing this big unicorn pendant I sent a picture to my mom and aunts and realized what a timely choice this was as the anniversary of my Grandmother’s death is today.

For those of you who don’t know, my Grandmother played a very important role in my life. The short story is, my Grandmother got sick during the summer of 1996. It happened to be the same summer my parents divorced and put the house on the market. It worked out nicely that my Grandma needed someone to take care of her and my Mom and I needed somewhere to live.

The Long story . . . Well, it’s so long that I can’t remember much of my life before this summer, it’s even harder to remember my Grandmother before she changed and our relationship changed forever. She had been smoke forever- 40+ years and there was always a sort of sadness surrounding my Grandma when she lived alone. I could never understand how she did it, being so afraid of loneliness myself- but she has always been a strong woman, raising 4 kids alone after her husband died in 1969.

When she was hospitalized it was almost on a whim. I had feared her death for quite some time (as a kid I had no concept of lifespan), and my family was often talking about how they wished she’d get more exercise, eat better, stop smoking. . . One day, my aunt was visiting her and thought she looked a little blue. The took her to the hospital and once admitted, they drained a liter of liquid from her lungs.

They told us that if she hadn’t come in that night, she would’ve died.

The summer of ’96 was spent in the hospital waiting room. She got better and worse, and on my cousins birthday she died. Well, I guess it depends on your definition. Her heart stopped and she was resuscitated. Whether you believe in reincarnation or not, my Grandmother was reborn the day she was brought back. It was like she had been rebooted and it took a while for her to turn back on.

The saddest moment of my life (thus far thank God) was one day when I came to visit her voice sounded different, almost more innocent; she didn’t recognize us but looked into faces of strangers as she asked where her mother and father were. I watched her face crumble and tears pour from her when she found out they were dead.

By the end of the summer my Grandma had been moved to a nursing home, and given a tracheotomy (you know, the hole in your throat that people often have oxygen tubes running through). She had re-learned to walk and function. She was almost back to the way she was before but there’s no real way to recover from that experience. It wears on your heart and on your body.

While I lived with my Grandma she became more of an older sibling to me. It wasn’t the stereotypical Grandma baking cookies and pinching cheeks – it was squabbling about whose turn it was to do dishes, or whether I would go pick her up some food, or if she said something hurtful. . . and sometimes she was my close confidante sharing her life stories and helping me to write my own.

A poem I wrote in my College Poetry class does a good job of illustrating the contradictory feelings:

“Don’t Worry”

After you’ve taken your last breath,

finally loosened your bony grasp

on your final prized possession,

We will all know peace.

No more worries because

the worst will have happened.

The second corps removed

will be the empty shell of what

once was a Laz-E-Boy, worn thin

by urine and the weight of your rump.

Where you’ve rested (well, by rested I

mean lived) for the past 8 years.

8 years you have held on with the

selfishness of having two deaths

they resuscitated your body, but never

your spirit. After premature mourning.,

Does this mean that when you really

go we’ll expect you to wake up?

There will be no more tripping on

oxygen cord, snaking across the

house wrapping around our legs

and the furniture, tugging at your

large purple brown oyster ears

hinged too loosely already.

No more hacking coughs.

Dredging phlegm like a sunken ship

buried in the salty depths of the sea

rescued for it’s mystery, just for a look,

What do you do with it

once it reaches the surface?

No more sucking your teeth,

whining that there’s nothing to eat

no smelling like piss instead of

just changing your pad

no more frustrated tears

because of all that you really can’t remember

You will finally be free from aches

and pains and loneliness.

You’ll be perfect once again.

Isn’t it funny how those small annoyances

are the only things I can really hold tight to?

Yes, I think we’ll burn the Laz-E-Boy.

When I left for college, I was happy that I was relatively close by (a half hour drive).  I had internships and moved around but always tried to stay somewhat close, afraid that if I wandered too far there wouldn’t be anything to come back to. My adviser at school was encouraging me to participate in a study abroad program and I told her I couldn’t, my Grandma was getting old and I didn’t want to leave her.  She told me that I need to live my own life. . .

It was during one of my internships that my Grandma slipped and broke her neck. It was another one of those lucky accidents that seemed to work only for her. Apparently she had fallen but gotten up and gone about her business. After days of it being “sore” and the pain getting too intense, she finally admitted to wanting to see a Dr. When they brought her in, they said that she’d fractured a bone and if she’d twisted her head the wrong way she would’ve damaged her spinal chord. I drove home to visit her. Another one of those moments when I was so happy that she was ok, and yet I could sense that she was tired of fighting, of the pain, of being kept alive.

The night that she died I was at school and actually attending a meeting about BDSM. When I got to my room (where I’d left my cell phone to charge) there were multiple notes and messages- I needed to get to the hospital quick, it was time. I drove like hell and when I got there everyone else was already in the waiting room. She had stopped breathing earlier in the day and in order to do rescue breathing they had to remove the neck brace. She hadn’t regained consciousness.

I was invited in with my Mom, Aunts, and Uncles. I was honored to be considered one of her more immediate family members- as if they understood the complexity of our relationship and how close we’d actually become. We held her hand and said our last words when they unplugged the life support.

I spoke at her funeral. This is what I said:

“As you all know, my relationship with my Grandma was very unique. I’ve had a hard time over the years trying to undersand it and come to terms with the fact that it wasn’t going to be what I had always imagined a Grandma/Granddaughter relationship should be. It seems like the longer I lived with her the less like a Grandma she really seemd, and I felt cheated. I didn’t want another sibling who would fight with me over everything and I didn’t want another mom who would nag me and track my every move. I wanted a Grandma-, which I imagined as someone, removed from daily life and loved me for displaced bits of time, someone who loved with naivete. What I found though is that our relationship had so many advantages. While we bickered a lot, we would also unite to form a strong alliance and we bonded while she game me sound big-sisterly advice or just listened while I filled her in on another drama-filled tale of my teenage life. And while she nagged me and watched over me, she knew just when to give me a motherly hug and let me learn on my own. And of course, when the whole family got together we would take our rightful place as Grandma, and Granddaughter but not without an unspoken understanding that we were so much more than those labels.

I’m sorry that I had ever wished for something other than I had, because I had the opportunity to see Dolores Spencer through many different eyes. I was able to see her dirty sense of humor, her sarcasm, her vulnerability, and her overwhelming love for so many people.

I don’t think that ours is a story of taking someone for granted. I think it’s a story full of Joy, Love, and the occasional all out family feud, but we made it through because Grandma was there to hold us all together. She provided us with our collective history and common ground to keep us coming back. We know what a hellion we had and we know how lucky we were to have such a genuine woman as the matriarch of our family. In the end we saw how unjust it was that she was imprisoned by failing health and how cruel it was to take such a fiery spirit and inhibit it.

Grandma, we will never stop needing you in our lives, but now we’ll have to rely on each other to get the various pieces you’ve given to us over the years. You’ve rubbed off on us all, and now I’ve glad.

You will be with us always

and our love and prayers will be with you-” February 14, 2010

I still miss you grandma. I still wish I could tell you about everything that’s changed. That I’ve figured out so much of myself and I am surprised by a lot of it. It’s scary as time passes and the memories grow fainter and the heartache is barely there sometimes, because it feels disrespectful to you.  I think what’s happening is I’m seeing more of you every day as I look at the woman I’m growing up to be.

Love: Me


  1. I love you so much, TT. Big ups to your Gran; RIP Dolores. ❤

  2. I love you too Carolyn,
    I’m so thankful that you were always so supportive of me. You really helped me through some of the biggest transition in my life- ::hugs::

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