A farewell to my grandma

Grandma Hemken with my niece Kate – Christmas Eve 2013
Grandma Hemken with my niece Kate (Christmas Eve 2013)

Venda Hemken died tonight. She was 87 and she was my grandma.

This closes the chapter on grandparents for me. My dad’s mom died while he was in college, but both of my grandpas lived into their late 80’s. I can now say that I miss all of them.

It also marks the first time I was directly told of a death by text message. That may sound crass at first glance, but it was punctuated correctly and appropriately somber. More about this later.

My brother Nick being lifted high in the air by our grandma – one of my first photographs taken with a 110 camera (1991)
My brother Nick being lifted high in the air by our grandma – one of my first photographs taken with a 110 camera (1991)

My grandma had propensity to document all aspects of life. Her knowledge of our family’s genealogy was unsurpassed – thick binders distributed to all family members before each family reunion, most of the information within gathered before the Internet was of much assistance. I took up some interest as a preteen, trying to computerize the tree in crude databases, but quickly grew overwhelmed at the massive amount of data she had painstakingly typed.

I don’t mean to gloss over the fact that she was a mother to six children. That’s mind boggling to me (how does one cook?) but it really made my childhood a lot more fun. Aunts and uncles are those that let you do what your parents forbid.

I’ve written about end-of-life care in regards to my grandpa, Raymond Hemken. Caring for an elderly parent wears and tears and eventually becomes the most selfless act in the world. He died in 2011 at age 87 and I remember picking up on a similar feeling of relief from the family. This time was no different, although the end was simultaneously slower and quicker. From afar, the months of being in and out of the hospital had settled into months and months of relative calm. Even happiness and acceptance of being in an assisted living environment, especially from my grandma.

I was fortunate to see her over the holidays in Wichita. She was in good spirits and health, spending time holding her new great-grandchildren (one of them my niece) and she came over for our traditional Christmas festivities. A cadre of relatives played paparazzi, especially when babies were held.

Reading that older post about my grandpa’s death, I realized that my grieving process this time around is remarkably similar. I dutifully grabbed several shoeboxes of prints, found files from my first digital camera and spent some quiet time sorting through the mess. This set off a chain reaction of memories – and not just related to her. That’s probably one of the better things that death brings us.

I’m still uncomfortable with the idea of accepting death not as some sort of enemy. That’s my struggle and perhaps it will improve as I get older. Seeing the words “grandma just died” flash on my phone’s screen was powerful. I knew she’d been in the hospital very recently, the last trip happening just the night before she passed, but it never seemed like it was nearing an end. And here we are.

I need to call my mom in the morning. Dying makes us immediately busy with the checklist that must take place when someone leaves us and I didn’t want to bother her in those hours. I do know that I’ll attempt to correct a mistake I made with my grandpa’s death. I’ll be trying my damnedest to attend her funeral back in Kansas.

My high school graduation – May 22, 2001
My high school graduation (May 22, 2001)

One thought on “A farewell to my grandma

  1. She will be missed greatly. She always sent the birthday cards to everyone to help make it a special day to them. It sucks getting older and seeing all the genuine good people leaving us.

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