Friday, August 26, 2016


Valentines Day 2015. 
 Today my beloved Grandma slipped away from us. It is bitter sweet because she was so miserable without her true love. Knowing they are reunited takes some of the sting but I will miss her terribly. She stopped being able to understand me on the telephone so I have not been able to talk to her as much recently but I was able to spend some hours with her yesterday and talk to her and hold her hand. She has been a powerful part of my life and I will count myself blessed to have known and loved her and have her as my grandmother.

When I think about Grandma, I will always think about the ways her hands felt.  They were soft with little calluses at the tips. She would grab your hand and pat it and squeeze it tight. Always. The last night that I got to hold her hand she still had an iron grip. She pulled me in tight. It made me smile when she started getting manicured nails at the age of 89 because they obviously made her uncomfortable because she said she couldn't work hard enough with those nails on.  Grandma deserved to have pretty nails.  She deserved to rest a bit but resting is not what Grandma did best. She hated being taken care of because it meant that she wasn't the one doing the care-taking.
February 2008
Grandma worked hard all her life.  She didn't know how to sit still.  She didn't know how to stop moving, supervising or how to stop serving.  I don't think she hated anything more than she hated her age forcing her to slow down. When I visited her at the assisted living she wanted to "take me a on a tour" even though I had been there multiple times. She made the rounds of the hallways saying hello to everyone, seeing how they were feeling and introducing me to everyone. She told me quite seriously that she was feeling so much better that she wasn't quite sure what her role was anymore at the assisted living. She thought they might consider putting her on the staff because she could definitely help some of these people. She needed a mission, a directive. She liked to be in charge.

Grandma was a problem solver and she loved fiercely.  Grandma was a collector and rescuer of people.  It didn't matter if she knew you for five minutes or a lifetime. She loved you and she wanted to solve your problems. If you weren't eating right, living right, or anything in your life was out of alignment she desperately wanted to take on your problem and fix it for you. She had her family and then she also had the vast group of people who became family because she loved them, served them and took them right into her home and heart. She changed people's lives.

It didn't matter how she was feeling, she wanted to sit at your bedside and have a minute by minute accounting of your bodily functions and food intake and then she would rearrange your kitchen. She would have given the shirt off her back if you asked her to. It didn't matter if you were her worst enemy or her best friend and you called to say you needed help. She would have dropped everything and come running. She was as genuine as it comes and she was a double edged sword. She never said anything behind your back, she told you to your face.  I think Grandma's love language was problem solving. There was no issue too small or any hurt that she didn't want to bandage, mend and encourage you to "buck up" and get on with things. She grew up on a farm during the depression and World War II and she wanted to straighten every bent nail, rescue every last crumb and fix every last hole. Nothing was beyond hope.

Grandma could materialize a full meal out of the ether.  It didn't matter if you showed up unannounced, she had a full dinner with four side dishes ready to be pulled together, a mysterious watermelon would appear from nowhere just for this occasion AND the meal would be nutritious according to Grandma's dietician standards. I REALLY wish that I had inherited this magic skill but it remains elusive to me. Breakfast at Grandma's house always had to have orange juice and milk lined up together next to a plate with something from every food group, a poached egg, crispy toast cut on the diagonal and two kinds of jelly. Many of my favorite memories are of she and I sitting in the two barstools in her kitchen while she chatted with me attempted to cajole me into trying new food and I ate bits of the four course breakfast she had prepared. Grandma was always exasperated with my picky eating habits and yet she never stopped making me a massive breakfast. She would sit with me for as long as it took and she would share stories about her life. Often these stories revolved around her diethetic internship in Boston (a highlight of her life) and the many horrors that could possibly befall me if I didn't learn to eat right. I have several favorites that I could probably recite word for word.
Dancing December 2010
Grandma knew how to make things happen.  From the time she was young, she was going places and changing the world one corner at a time. She worked hard to help support her family from a young age. She would deliver milk with her brothers early in the morning. She was a car hop at the Bluebird Café in Logan. She took jobs in Chicago, Los Angeles and Boston during college and she really inspired me to try internships in different cities when I was in college. She worked both full time and part time as a dietician at many hospitals. She loved her work and enjoyed helping her patients.
Working in LDS Hospital- second from the left
Her work did not stop when she was at home. She was constantly in the middle of community and church activities. She was a planner. She loved events. From the gold and green balls and mutual improvement association events to the years and years of young women girls camp that she planned. She was always involved in some sort of group or plan to do something big. I can't count the number of family activities and dinners she planned and executed. My brothers laugh at me because I always want to set the table complete with place cards for big dinners. It is from years of Grandma having me make place cards for Thanksgiving and prepping a little presentation to go with dinner. I can't set the table for dinner without thinking about Grandma. She always wanted "a little skit or something" but she never quite got the family of thespians that she wanted. She is definitely going to be disappointed that nobody will be doing a little skit of her life during her funeral.
Wearing Grandma's wedding dress at her 50th wedding anniversary July, 2001
There was always a random relative that she wanted you to meet or visit. She was a maven, a connector of people. I'm pretty sure that her address book was the original social network. Every vacation, road trip or work trip that I have been on she has encouraged me to look someone up, surely they would have a free room for me! Apologies to any of my extended family. I am not nearly as friendly and good at looking up distant relatives as my grandma was.

Playing dressup with Grandma's old glasses accessories
Grandma would take me and my brothers ice skating. She could ice skate backwards and hold onto our hands. She would let me play in all of her clothes and jewelry for hours. My girls have spent hours rifling through her things and trying them on. She was a wonderful seamstress and an avid quilter. My home is filled with quilts she made for me over the years I was growing up. One Christmas she made every grandchild a quillow. (Their own personal size quilt that folded up into a pillow.) It was one of my favorite Christmas gifts. I helped Grandma tie many quilts for new babies, weddings and gifts. She even helped me finish and tie the quilt I took to college. She was horrified by the way I had cut 10-12 squares at once so that none of them were actually square and she said I sewed like a drunken sailor. It's true. I never developed her patience to do it right.  My bed is covered with the quilt that she made for Scott and I when we got married. Well after she stopped quilting by herself Grandma was in a weekly quilting group in Bountiful. I find it hard to fathom how many quilts Grandma must have contributed to the world.

She loved being a great grandmother and my kids have been so blessed to know her and be loved by her. These last few years of taking my kids to spend time with her in St. George have been very special for all of us. I was constantly finding her cuddled up with them reading or teaching them a game. She was always taking us on a walk to the park or planning a picnic at the splash pad, suggesting outings for us and keeping us moving. She would tell my kids to let me sleep in the morning and then purposely wake them up so that she could be with them and she let them get in bed with her and Bockum at night to watch tv and snuggle. I think it is a rare opportunity for kids to develop a relationship with their great grandparents and not only have my kids known Grandma, they love her deeply and know how much she loved them and knew them to the core. Seeing my kids with her has brought back a lot of special memories of my own childhood with grandma.
December 1981
Grandma would let me sleepover when I was little. She kept a special pink silk pillowcase just for me. We would go over to her Dad's (my great grandfather's) house and she would hustle around his house taking care of things while I ate graham crackers and talked to Grandpa Bergesen. Many of my first memories are of Grandma helping her Dad. She would help run Christmas parties at his house and help in his garden and make sure his house was clean and that he was well looked after. Grandma told me that from the time she was young she was always her Dad's helper.
Grandma with her Dad- Great Grandpa B at college graduation
Grandma and I would play board games together and always played a few rounds of this crazy "Straw that broke the camel's back game.) When I took bubble baths at her house and all of the bubbles had died away she would add hot water and use an egg beater to whip the bubbles back up. She would take me to the Daughter's of the Utah Pioneers Museum where she volunteered as a docent and let me see all of the things tucked away in the basement. Grandma taught me to love my ancestors. She has done thousands of hours of genealogy work.

Grandma was very proud of her pioneer heritage. I'm pretty sure that there wasn't a person who ever spoke to Grandma without getting a lesson on Charles C. Rich. She would sit at the big table she used as a genealogy desk and pour through black and white photos with me and tell me stories while I colored with her highlighters as messed with her office supplies and typewriter. Grandma was a great storyteller. She wrote dozens of histories of her family members and ancestors. She was a good writer. It is a deep regret of mine that I could not manage to help her get her own life history self published before her death. I have it. I will finish it. I promise Grandma. I've got it recorded, I've got the pictures with all of her notes. I swear I will do it. She definitely would have typed it up herself except her computer wasn't cooperating.
Serving a mission in Nauvoo, Illinois a highlight of Grandma's life
Grandma was always trying to learn how to use her computer well. She mostly wanted to use it to keep in contact with her vast network of relatives and friends and to do genealogy work. One of my favorite conversations with Grandma was when she called to tell me that she desperately needed help because she was "trapped in the damn google" and she could not GET OUT.

Grandma and I spent years re-decorating a dollhouse that belonged to my aunts. We went to stores getting carpet and wallpaper samples for each room, made tiny furniture and sewed curtains. She never balked at my big ideas or said we couldn't try something.  She was never irritated when my ideas would spiral into side projects like new heart shaped pillows for my own bed. When we were done decorating, she would let me climb the tree in the backyard and would be bring me snacks and lunch to eat while up in the branches. She loved Halloween costumes (as do I) and I wore many of the costumes she had made for her kids and for herself. I spent hours digging through the costumes and decorations in her crawl space.

Grandma was a wicked leg wrestler and threw me, my brothers and cousins like rag dolls when we wrestled her as teenagers at a family overnight trip. We had been scared to wrestle her because we were quite sure we were going to break her hip. Never underestimate her strength.

Grandma's love for her husband was the mainstay of her love for her family. Nearly 65 years of marriage did not dim the light of that love. She was constantly trying to do something to take care of Bockum. A few years ago when Bockum (my pet name for my grandpa) was in the hospital, Grandma told me she could be without him because they could not walk without each other anymore. They didn't use canes so they leaned on each other.  They had become so inseparable that they could no longer even walk without each other.

A few years ago I had a hysterectomy and then wrote some of my feelings about the process on my blog. She called me after reading my post and we had a long talk. She told me that she didn't even realize she had been carrying around the pain of her own fertility struggles for 50 years and that she had just had a good cry for herself and for me.  It was a problem she couldn't fix for me but I don't know if she ever knew how healing it was to connect to her that way. It was a pain she had never been allowed to talk about freely and didn't even know that she felt. She understood both my pain at the struggle and the intense joy and fulfillment I had gotten from my children and family. She had felt them both for herself and then again for me.

Second only to her love of family and the gospel was Grandma's love of country. Grandma was deeply patriotic and a well educated student of history. She was always halfway through some thick tome about either American history or the gospel. She had a real sense of civic pride and followed politics closely. She always volunteered in her local voting precinct and she loved to vote.

Grandma was a bit of an infofile and watched the news and read the newspaper religiously. Grandma always had an envelope full of articles that she had cut out for different people to read. She tracked the weather more closely than most meteorologists. She was always interested in science and the way the world worked. She would always attend grandparents day with me and my brothers all the way through highschool and she made sure that she got to go to chemistry or physics class with us so that she could pepper the teachers with questions. She was a lifelong student and always wanted to know more. I'm certain that there is an interview process happening right now on the other side of the veil and I think that Grandma is asking most of the questions. She is probably supervising a few things that need to be straightened out. I have no doubt that she went right to work. Sergeant Grandma will never be totally at rest.

June, 2016
To Grandma from the song that she always sang to me.- "Just one more thing I say unto you- you dream of me and I'll dream of you."


Sandra Olcott said...

I love you! What a beautiful tribute you are are to your lovely grandmother. You listened and learned well.

Randy Thornton said...

Kerstin, I thought my tears were done for the day until I read this. What a beautiful tribute to Mom (your Grandma!)

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