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On Life, Death, and the Meaning of Family
by Thomas Schueneman

August 2001


Late last Sunday evening; I got a call informing me that my grandmother – my father’s mother and my last surviving grandparent – had died at 5:30 that morning.

Grandma had just turned ninety-three years old a couple of weeks ago. She had lived a long life. She was born into a world completely foreign to the one in which she died. Children today read and study of the great events of the twentieth century – the great World Wars, the depression, prohibition, the rising dominance of the car, media, and mass communications; air transportation, space exploration, social upheaval. The list goes on and on. What is now history in books, her generation had to navigate as they lived day by day.

Grandma raised two children and was married to the same man for more than sixty-five years. She survived bouts with cancer, depression, and a myriad of other ailments. She survived all this with a strength and fortitude that carried her through until the end.

An avid antique collector, she had in her possession more thimbles and little silver spoons than I’ve ever seen in one place.(for that matter, than I’ve ever seen anywhere!)There were all the odd knickknacks. Like the scale model (and rather large) covered wagon that lit up and was somehow earmarked for me… “This is for you Tom, wouldn’t you like to have it?” I never had the heart to tell her that it was one of the more goofy things she displayed and that I couldn’t possibly have it on display in my home!(Luckily, a cousin back east took a fancy to it, and I relinquished my claim...)

Grandma painted and was masterful with fabric. She made dresses, afghans, and quilts. Every morning when it is chilly and gray in San Francisco (about every day during the summer), I do my early morning reading in my easy chair, bundled in an afghan Grandma made when I moved to The City. And maybe this is the point of my writing today… The death of a loved one is always a sad affair. It is a loss that cannot be replaced and reminds us that time is fleet, and that as we take our final breath, life must indeed seem short. But it is also bittersweet. It reminds us of what truly binds us together… As I prepare to travel to Denver and be with my mom and dad and sister, I am reminded of what it means to be a family. We claim our heredity through flesh and blood. It ties us together, initially, in the world. But time binds together all. Flesh and blood yields to time and we are connected to the infinite… The memories and little bits of our soul forever changed by the presence throughout our lives of those that love us and that we love; this is our family. In the end it is this to which we belong. Grandma is gone from this Earth. But every chilly, foggy San Francisco morning that I bundle myself in the afghan she made with expert hands and a loving heart, I know she is still with me. Farewell Grandma…

You surely now know what heaven is like.

Tom lives in San Francisco and works as a sound engineer, freelance writer, and entrepreneur. He enjoys traveling, nature, reading, photography, and music.


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