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 in 1944 with only one possession – her daughter (my mother) who was still in her womb. Her husband was killed. Family members were slaughtered. Her only sibling was a physics professor. He was taken away to a concentration camp. She literally fled for her life with one goal – to keep herself and her daughter alive.

After giving birth to my mother she lived outdoors for many months hiding in old farmhouses or wherever she could find refuge. (As a mother I can’t wrap my brain around caring for a newborn under these circumstances.)

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, cleaned, and warmed from body heat under clothes during those months in 1945. Unimaginable. Sympathizers would throw bread or bits of food. To safe haven. Wandering with a small group that included her sister-in-law. She was continuously shot at…still have a wool blanket with bullet holes.

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, eventually getting permission to immigrate to the United States in 1957.

Despite my grandmother seeing the dark side of humanity she was a beautiful example of kindness, courage, generosity, determination, and love. I don’t know if I’ll ever be able to fully articulate my love and admiration for her.

Grandmother 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, unostentatious, practical and frugal.

Grandma held a deep love and respect for America and our military.  Hearing the national anthem could move her to tears.

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.

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

To strangers my Grandma could be perceived as  aloof and austure.  She was incredibly warm and demonstrative with close friends and family – yet reserved and formal with strangers and acquaintances. Culturally Latvians are private, self controlled and do not flaunt their possessions.  When I was a child Grandma and I had cultural clashes which were simultaneously annoying and hilarious.

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 life 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.  Remember family is everything.  Be brave. Be strong. Work hard. Work harder. 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