My sweet grandmother RoRo passed away on November 16. She experienced a slow and difficult decline over the last several months (or years, depending on how you look at it). I am relieved that she will no longer be confused, lonely, and uncomfortable, which she sometimes felt even amid her loving family and dedicated caregivers, as she always was. She died three hours shy of the third anniversary of her sister Nellie’s death. (This doesn’t mean anything; it’s just notable. RoRo and her sister lived together for the last 35 years of their lives, as well as during childhood.) This photo is from 2006. I think this is the best picture I ever took of her; this is how I will enjoy remembering her. Still robust, still active and walking, still full of jokes and mischief.
My grandma was a wonderful grandma. She was doting, kind, forgiving, and generous to a fault. When I was young, I quickly realized that she would give me almost anything I pointed at. When I matured, I realized that was no way for me to behave. I now feel that she should have said no to me and many others way more often than she did. RoRo loved giving gifts. I am so grateful for all the advantages she gave me, for her love and her faith in me. I think she often didn’t understand my choices, but she always loved me.
RoRo spoiled me. I’d be lying if I didn’t say that. I was her only granddaughter for almost 20 years, until my cousin Amy was born. RoRo wanted to dress me in pink, in lace, in elegant and preppy clothes. She took me shopping often when I was a kid and teen. She came to my high school plays. She bought me jewels, and a brand-new red Honda CRX when I graduated high school. She didn’t want me to go away to college; why go so far when there are colleges here in Sacramento?!? She didn’t really want me to be independent, self-directed, far away. But if I insisted upon going, well, she wanted me to have a good, reliable car to drive home as often as possible. While I was away, she gave me her credit card—in case I needed or wanted anything. She wrote me letters in beautiful spidery handwriting; they almost always included a check.
When I got married, RoRo came shopping for my wedding dress with me. She ended up buying my wedding gown for me, with veil, shoes, train, undergarments, etc. When I had my first baby she bought my baby’s crib, and so much more. When Ian and I bought our home, and I finally had some land for gardening, and I gained another thing in common with my grandmother. We used to talk about gardening and flowers. We use to go to the local nurseries together, to admire and to buy flowers for our yards. I don’t know how else to say it: RoRo showed her great love by giving gifts. Always. Until the end.
That is part of our story, however shallow it may seem. Eventually, I grew up enough to stop asking for gifts. Eventually, I learned that all I really needed was to spend time with her. It confused her when I didn’t want anything. I suppose I grew up; she maybe never understood that. Then, eventually, I grew up a little more; I realized she needed to give gifts.
I think she didn’t understand my parenting at times. She didn’t understand how I could let Lucas be in charge of his own hair. I think she maybe didn’t get Waldorf, or my no media rule, or my no-soda/little-sugar rules. She felt that children should be indulged, that life should be sweet. She loved my children deeply, and I tried to keep her up to date with their growth and shenanigans. She wanted cuddles, even when they didn’t want to cuddle her.
I will miss her very much now that RoRo is gone. But the truth is, I have been missing her for these last several years, while she became more confused and less like herself. She sometimes didn’t know who I was. She would have nightmares about being in charge of my children—they often were lost in the snow in her nightmares, and they needed rescuing. (I try not to worry about what kind of mom she thought I was, leaving my babies alone in the snow. Dreams are weird and I can’t think about that.)
This week has been tough. I thought I was prepared for her death, ready for it, resigned, mature, realistic—after all, she was 94. But it turns out I was not as prepared as I thought. It has hit me harder than I expected. I’ve been easily distracted and mopey. I have a difficult time concentrating right now.
At home, we have had a lot of good conversations as a family this week since her passing. My husband and sons have been very supportive, comforting me in many ways with my favorite foods, a marathon of “Avatar the Last Air Bender” shows, early-to-bed evenings, and, frankly, too much wine.
Asher is pragmatic about the whole thing.
“Are you still sad about grandma RoRo dying?” he asked me.
“Well, it’s a good thing that her spirit is now free of the terrible sickness. I mean, now she can go into the world and see all the things we cannot see. … Like the insides of volcanoes.”
He is very wise for his 6 years.
Rose Anne Merkel
Anne Merkel, “RoRo” to family and friends, died Saturday after an extended illness. Anne was born to Otto and Josephine Mueller in 1919. She grew up in Sacramento with her three sisters, and graduated from San Juan High School. She was married to Gus Merkel until he passed away in 1962; they had two sons, William (Bill) and Michael (Mike).
With her sister, Nell Mueller, Anne owned the Hobby House (later the Graphic Hobby House) at the corner of Fulton and Marconi from 1957 until her retirement. Anne and Nell lived together for 35 years.
The most important things in Anne’s life were family and gardening, and shopping for both. She loved family gatherings, especially Thanksgiving and Christmas. She enjoyed giving gifts to her extended family, which included Bill’s wife Sydney, Mike’s wife Julie, four grandchildren (Sara, Jonathan, Kevin, and Amy) and two great grandchildren (Lucas and Asher) as well as nieces and nephews. Anne could guess anyone’s size and was seldom wrong. Being surrounded by friends, new and old, gave her great joy. Her home was a warm and welcoming place—the more, the merrier. Easter was a wonderful occasion to celebrate in her garden, where friends and family would hunt for eggs and baskets. Flowers, especially roses, were her favorites, and until recent years she was an avid gardener. She passed her love of showy flowers to her son and granddaughter.
Anne was clever and admired for her crafting, which she did for numerous charities. Anne was a member of the ARC Patrons’ Club. She and her “Diamond Ladies” made many craft items that were sold on campus and supported scholarships. Anne also made elaborate Halloween costumes that were worn by many children over many years. Anne doted on children and babies.
Well known as an elegant and gracious host and a generous person, Anne will be deeply missed by all who knew her. She is predeceased by her mother and father, husband, and sisters Dorothy, Mary, and Nell. The family would like to thank her caregivers for their efforts in making Anne’s final days more pleasant.
Yesterday was RoRo’s funeral service. Due to longstanding, bitter battles within my extended family, I was terribly anxious in the days leading up to it, and it was a long, stressful, sad day. Ian was a rock for me and I’m so grateful to him. Somehow it was very important for my children to look nice. RoRo was always elegant, always fastidious. Usually, our casual dress or scruffy hair was a disappointment to her. Normally I wouldn’t care about that stuff, especially with regard to my children’s clothes, but yesterday we dressed up. My boys wore ties, slacks, and dress shoes: a small gift to RoRo.
Dad and Uncle Mike bought so many beautiful flowers for her service. My emotions are raw and I don’t know how to say how much I loved her, except with these: Roses for my grandmother.
Farewell, RoRo. I will always love you.