Dear Friends,

Today I take a step away from my usual blog topics to share with you that my beloved 92 year old maternal grandmother passed away this week. She was an integral part of my life. We were incredibly close and I’m reeling from the loss.

My grandmother was quit simply the most  extraordinary woman I have ever known. She fled her native country of Latvia during WWII with her daughter (my mother) still in her womb. Her husband was killed. Family members were slaughtered. Her sibling, a young physics professor, was taken away to a concentration camp.

No safe haven. No place to go. Nothing in front of her but her next step she walked with a small group that included her sister-in-law. Sympathizers would throw bread or bits of food. The traveled mostly at night, jumping on and off trains when they could but never knowing when it would be sprayed with bullets. After giving birth to my mother she lived outdoors for many months hiding in old farmhouses or wherever she could find refuge. As a newborn my mother suffered from dysentery, most likely from being a nomad in the first moths of her life, lack of basic hygiene and inadequate nutrition from her mother’s breasts. Diapers were made from torn clothes. Changed, emptied and warmed from body heat under clothes.

After the War, concentration camps were converted to Displaced Person Camps to house refugees. My grandmother raised my mother in a Displaced Person Camp in Germany.  The DP’s  were overpopulated and provided the barest of necessities. They shared a room with another family with a hanging sheet separating their space.  There was  a Summer program where families in Europe agreed to host DP kids for the Summer and my Mom spent several summers with the same family in Switzerland. In 1957 they were granted permission to immigrate to the United States.

Despite my grandmother seeing the dark side of humanity she was a beautiful example of kindness, courage, generosity,  determination, and love.  I loved her deeply.  I admired her deeply.    She was a small petite woman – but mighty. She was gentle and spoke softly, just above a whisper. She was a true lady. She had exquisite taste and was a gracious host. Her table settings were breathtaking.  She loved cooking, baking and tending to her substantial  flower, vegetable and fruit gardens. Her needle work was flawless. She dressed impeccably which reflected her meticulous and exact nature. She was humble and unostentatious.

Grandma held a deep love and respect for America and our military.  Hearing the national anthem could move her to tears,  yet her sensibility remained very European, as did my mothers.  As I child I felt like I grew up with one foot in America and the other foot in Europe and I loved it. It taught me to see the world through a rich multinational and multicultural  lense.

Grandma was fluent in 4 languages, including English, yet she spoke Latvian to me and I responded in English. It was our special thing.

Having family members who learned English as a second language taught me that spoken words can be fallible but a persons actions are not.  One may be fluent in a 2nd language but that language has not been truly mastered until the nuances and subtext of that language are understood.  I can remember coaching my mother and grandmother, “you should consider saying it ‘this way’ instead of  ’that way’”so as not to unintentionally offend  or confuse.  To this day when I speak with someone I listen for understanding and assume the best until proven otherwise.

To strangers my Grandma could be perceived as aloof and austure. When it came to family and friends she was incredibly warm and demonstrative. It was like she saved the very best of herself for those she loved.

Grandma was consistently and reliably involved in the lives of her grandchildren. When I walked into the room her eyes lit up. She was always available and present when I needed her – physically and emotionally. She believed in me before I believed in myself.  I knew I was deeply loved.

When I was dating my husband we visited my grandmother often. While the visits were intended for them to get to know each other better, I also sought her approval. I valued her opinion. She adored my husband and they became very close friends. She adored her great grand children and I will never forget her reaction to seeing each of my daughters for the very first time after they were born.

I hope my daughters never forget the matriarch who came before them. I hope her life inspires them, as it did me, to make a meaningful difference in the lives of others. To champion social justice – no matter how controversial or complex. To take a stand, even when everyone around you is sitting down.  To be a compassionate presence…Be brave. Be strong. Work hard. Give it your all. Dig deep.

End of life is hard to grasp.

There are moments I I feel like I can catch my breath. But one thing for sure is that I know I’ll get through it. My Grandmother taught me through example how to survive life’s hardest storms. Just one of her many legacies.

Oh how she will be missed.

With Incredible Love,

Ingrid Kellaghan