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Remembering Grandma

November 16, 2014

Yesterday, November 15th, marked the 20th anniversary of the death of my grandma, Frances (nee Brady) Novick.



The day came and passed without much attention.  But I remembered and observed it.  I went to morning mass and thought of and prayed for her there.  My mom was there too.

But this morning I had more thoughts about her, so felt moved to tell more of her story and my relationship with her.

My grandmother had seven children.  My dad was the middle child.

My grandmother lived with us for many of her later years as I was growing up.  But though I did, I did not know her very well.  She was a private person and didn’t talk about herself or her life much.

What I do know is very sad, so I don’t think of her too often.  Though I find myself sleeping in the same room and space she slept in, in the back bedroom of my parent’s house, where sometimes memories of her haunt my thoughts as if she still haunted the room I sleep in.

I don’t know, but imagine her life was pretty normal up until the day my grandfather died.  They had seven children and my grandfather, a good man and hardworking businessman by many accounts I’ve heard, died in a tragic diving incident.  My father was about 8 years old at the time.


Frances with husband, Lester and one of their children



As I understand the story of the death, my dad’s family would spend summers up at Long Lake in northern Illinois. On the date of his death, the family was enjoying a typical summer day in the water on the lake.  According to memories of my dad’s account, he was taunting my grandfather about getting off the dock and getting into the water where the kids were playing.  My grandfather went in head first into the shallow waters, breaking his neck upon hitting the bottom, then floating there for a period of time while some thought he may have been playing around, only to have the realization of the trauma sink in slowly like the dark waters of the lake.  My dad’s aunt Lorraine, my grandmother’s sister-in-law, made the discovery of the injury and drowning and pulled my grandfather’s lifeless body from the water while other’s looked on nearby in disbelief of the tragic loss of the day.

In the days, months and years ahead, my grandmother still had to raise seven children … and do so with a broken heart.  The older boys had to become men quickly to help earn money for the family.  My grandmother still had young children to raise.  I imagine life was hard.

By the time I knew her when I was a young child, she was a bit of a closed off shell of a person.  She had beautiful blue eyes, and a beautiful smile, when she occasionally displayed it.  But most days she sat in her easy chair watching TV and smoking her cigarettes.  Even on Christmas Eve, when the entire family was here at the house, she would separate from the crowd and go to her room early, and close the door for the night.

I remember on more than a few occasions growing up, my grandmother crying or calling out for relief of suffering in the night.  It was a sad and heartbreaking sound to hear when the cries rang out.

On one occasion in later years, I remember her crying and asking God to take her life from her as she didn’t want to live any more.

I share these sparse memories of my grandmother mostly to share what I learned from her by witnessing her life.

My other grandmother, my mom’s mom, Gladys, was a stark contrast to my grandmother Novick.  She lived so fully with joy, charisma and love that I’ve already written about her in The Family Treasure and In Loving Memory of Gladys.  So I have always found it sad to think about the contrast of my grandma Novick’s life.

But as I mentioned, I still learned things from my grandma that influence who I am and the choices I make.

I can only imagine the trauma of what she must have experienced when my grandfather died….how that loss must have changed her.

But I do know the trauma of a spousal loss, since my divorce, and how devastating and depressing the loss can be.

But I learned from my grandmother, that the only thing you control about the loss, is how you respond to it…what you do after it. I could close off to the goodness and joy of life and become a shell of my former self, pining away the days in sorrow.  I know what that feels like, and fight it every day.  And, that is not acceptable to me.  I don’t want my kids to see me the way I saw my grandmother live her life and final days out…with a broken heart…longing for an end to the pain and suffering of life.

I choose to live a full life…to live with joy…to love fully, richly, and deeply….to have my children see resilience in adversity and deep love poured out of my life and on them like my grandma, Gladys, did.  That is how they will best learn to live good and happy lives themselves in whatever challenges life throws their way.

My grandma Novick was a loving and kind grandmother too.  She just showed it differently.  She probably did the best she could with what love she still had left in her broken heart.

She did pray, so I sensed her faith was a rock she stood on, even in her suffering. I learned that too.

And as one of her final acts of love for me, she did attend my wedding in 1994, in April of the year that she later passed away.


Me and Grandma flashing her beautiful smile at my wedding, 4/9/94



My dad was there when my grandfather died, many years before.  He cared for my grandmother, giving her a room and a home in his own house as she aged.  He then later was the one who found her dead in her easy chair in front of her TV in the senior living apartment she lived in her final days.  I imagine that was a hard trauma for my dad to experience the loss of his parents in such ways as he did, and he shared the stories with me before he died.  And, I think he too learned the lesson from my grandmother that I did, and chose to still go on and live a rich life of love and joy afterward for many years to come.

Rest in peace, Grandma.   I love you.  I know your life was hard, sad and lonely.  I’m sorry.  And I’m sorry I didn’t know how to be there for you better in your sadness and get to know you better when I had the chance.  Thank you for coming to my wedding – it was a sign of your love for me.   I’m determined to get out of your room some day, and live a full life of love and joy.  I owe it to those who love me, to my children, to my grandchildren (if I should have any), and to God.  If you have any influence up in heaven, please pull some strings up there and help to get me what I need to do that…because I also owe it to myself.





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