May 26, 2015

Saying Goodbye to My Grandma

{ Caroline Kathryn Schwarz September 1, 1923 - May 21, 2015 }

Thursday afternoon, at 12:31pm, my mom called to tell me that my grandma had passed away. I had been half-expecting the news for a long time but it still took my breath away. She had a long life (almost 92 years) and maintained excellent health, and full independence, until dementia began to set-in following a stroke just five years ago. I was living in Colorado at the time of her stroke but I received regular updates from my mom and was able to speak to my grandma often. When it became obvious that she could no longer live on her own, my grandma moved to Arkansas to live with my aunt until she recovered enough to transfer to an assisted living community. Due to several factors and complications, her move to assisted living never happened and she ended up staying with my aunt until going into a nursing home with 24/7 care last year. 

Dementia slowly took away the woman that my grandma had always been and turned her more and more into the little girl that she once was. It is a weird and wild disease, as fascinating as it is frustrating. Thankfully my grandma always maintained her sense of humor, which made us all feel more comfortable giggling at times, even if to keep from breaking down. Dementia is the ultimate dichotomy- seemingly as fast-moving as it is excruciatingly slow. With every conversation and every visit, I knew that I was losing more of the connection with her that I always had. I fought the process and questioned her treatment and care, but ultimately my grandma was going away, physically and mentally, and there wasn't anything I could do to bring her back. 

The last five years of my grandma's life were by far the hardest for my family, but it was really the first 87 that really mattered the most to her.


Born in Bloomington, Illinois in 1923, my grandma met and married my Grandpa while she was in high school (he was a few years older). He served in World War II and after his service ended, they moved to California. My grandma raised three daughters, mostly as a single mother, while working full-time. She held a 34-year career with Rockwell Corporation where she built circuit boards and worked on the first Space Shuttle orbiter. She used to climb into the nose of the B-1 Bomber to work on the circuits because she "was small enough" and her fingers were so delicate. She was an active member of her church community for decades and traveled the world beginning in her sixties. 

In 1983, at 60 years old, she earned her high school diploma, followed by her Bachelor of Science degree from Cal State Dominguez Hills. She served as President of the Redondo Beach Senior Center and received the Volunteer of the Year award in 2006, at a banquet in Beverly Hills, as well as an award from the Mayor for her service. She was unapologetically patriotic and proud of the servicemen and women who served our country. She would spend summer evenings dancing on the Redondo Beach pier with her friends, I would go down often in high school to watch her. She later came to watch Dan and I take ballroom dance lessons at the Elks Lodge, before we were even officially dating. She knew he was the one before I did and I let her have all the credit. 

Growing up, my grandma lived just 1.3 miles from my house and she helped raise me in every significant way. She never missed a birthday party, school performance, soccer/hockey game, or holiday dinner. She witnessed every backyard Easter egg-hunt and chaotic Christmas morning while my brother and I ran and squealed around her with delight. We could hear her brown diesel Mercedes Benz coming down the block, and the sound of her voice calling to us as she opened the back gate. She stayed with me when my parents weren't home and watched our pets when we were out of town. We would swim in the pool at "her" building (she owned her unit for 35 years, it may as well have been), eat her candy, and curl up on her green leather couch to watch TV. She hung our art projects in her house and wore a broach enclosing pictures of my brother and I as babies on her pastel sweaters. She would pick us up from school and stop to drop off our friends on the way home, often slowing down at the end of our block so I could stand up on the back seat and stick my head through the sun roof the rest of the way. 

My grandma comforted and cared for us during my mom's battle with breast cancer and let me test out my learner's permit in her car. She danced to any song that was playing, including at my wedding. Her laugh was infectious, her smile lit up any room. Her snow-white hair was impossible to miss in a crowd. She was the most incredible, attentive, and generous grandma I could have dreamed of, despite her busy schedule of volunteering with the city and her church, managing her investment properties, and traveling the world. For a woman who never seemed to slow down, she always made time for her family and her faith. Everywhere we went, people knew, and loved my grandma, and I loved that.


The day that my grandma passed away was peaceful. I had been able to speak to her the day before, and through streams of tears I had tried to hold back, I was able to thank her for everything that she had been for me, to tell her that I loved her more than anything, to give her the freedom to let go and be free, and to sing a few of her favorite songs (that also happen to be some of mine). As I whispered into the phone, "Grandma, I hope you can hear me because I want to tell you a secret",  my mom, who was sitting by her bed holding the phone, gasped, "Hailey, she opened her eyes, she opened her eyes!" for what would be the last time. 

The next morning I woke up with Blackbird, by the Beatles, stuck in my head. 
"Blackbird singing in the dead of night..."

I don't remember hearing it playing, but I know all of the words by heart.
"take these broken wings and learn to fly..."

 In part because it's the only song Dan can play on the guitar, but mostly because it's such a simple melody. 
"all your life..."

I sang it in the car and around the house. 
"you were only waiting for this moment to arrive..."

And at 11:35pm (1:35pm in Arkansas), in the middle of my restorative yoga class that I had dedicated to her, Blackbird played and my grandma, 1600 miles away, took her last breaths on this earth.
"Blackbird, fly. Blackbird fly...

She was finally free from her broken and tired body. Her mind was again whole, her soul already on its way to meet her Savior. 
"into the light of the dark black night."

She had held on longer than any of us truly thought she would, but there's something to be said about my grandma: she was stubborn as heck, she loved the spotlight, and there was no way she was going to miss out on a single second of this life until she was absolutely sure she was ready to go. Words cannot describe the ache we will always feel in our hearts and the deep longing we will always have for her, but she will be with us no matter where we go and what we do, telling us to keep going and to enjoy every second on this earth. Which is why I should go now. Grandma would never approve of this much time spent behind a computer screen when there's a whole big world out there to fall in love with. 

Love you forever, Grandma



  1. This is so heartbreaking and beautiful at the same time. I am so sorry that she is no longer in your life, but so happy that you have so many wonderful memories from moments with her. <3

  2. Thank you Emily~ she was one heck of a woman and will be missed by many. I'm just grateful for the many years I had her in my life <3

  3. Oh, Hailey, I wish I'd been able to get to know your incredible grandmother. Thank you for sharing some of her stories and your experiences. Your tribute took my breath away. Much love to you, little sis. <3 <3 <3


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