Farewell, Grandma


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.











After the Rain

Birthday/May Day Roses

Farewell, RoRo. I will always love you.


Morning Light at Grandma's House

I spent some time caring for my grandmother today. It’s a long story, but her usual caregivers were temporarily unavailable and my dad asked me to step in and help. At first I was annoyed. I’m very busy with work right now and I’m facing multiple deadlines. I agreed to do it because—obviously—it is the right thing to do; nevertheless I was feeling put out. Even though I am never asked to do this.

Now I am so glad I did.

Beloved Grandma

This is my beautiful grandmother. She is 93 years old. I love her very much.

It is hard to see people you love changing as they age, changing noticeably each time you see them. I don’t like it. I am inexperienced when it comes to being around and caring for elderly people. I was scared to be in charge of her well-being.

It was fine. It was easy, thanks to my dad and others who have this territory all mapped out already. I just had to follow some simple instructions and all the difficult stuff was done when I arrived. I am grateful that grandma took her medications so easily at my request—that was part of what I was worried about.

I wandered a little while I was there, trying hard to notice things about her—about her home, about her likes and loves, her collections, her style.


There are careful touches in every nook, beloved items placed with intention.

Colorful Glass

The marks of her hand and her sister’s hand, Nana, with whom my grandmother lived for most of her life, are everywhere.

Just So

Photographs of family members cover walls, bookshelves, and tabletops. Paintings and prints, delicate wallpaper, rich drapes decorate the space. Beautiful light is everywhere. Everything is just so.

But that’s not all I noticed, while I was there. It’s not only my grandmother’s careful hand I see. I see my father’s, my uncle’s, and my aunt’s—they are part of her world every day, ensuring that she is OK, makes it to doctor appointments, and has company. They stay with her when her caregivers are away, do the shopping, and much more.

I see it in a hundred gifts given with love over the years.

Carnations at Grandma's House

The evidence of caring is all around, especially in the fact that my grandmother is still living in her home, despite her age and infirmities. It’s in the American flag that’s hanging on the house, just as it has done every July of my grandmother’s life. Someone put it there for her. It’s in the tiny china dish, fashioned in the shape of a teapot and painted with flowers, that holds her daily medications for after breakfast. It’s in the coffee, water, and orange juice that are served to her in the morning, and in the fact that they let her put syrup on her frosted danish. It’s in the special, mechanical chair that she sits in to watch her game shows. It’s in the living orchids and other houseplants that someone carefully waters. Fresh carnations sit in a vase on the dining table. Her pale yellow socks matched her pale yellow outfit, even though she cannot dress herself. I see it in her hairdo, which is set faithfully every week, and in her manicured nails.

None of this is easy, this maintenance that is done to keep her well and comfortable. I am full of wonder and gratitude, and not a little sadness.

Life is full of mighty lessons these days. I am trying hard to learn them.

Sweater for Harry Potter

My son wants to be Harry Potter for Halloween. He’s been adamant about it for several months, and frankly, Harry’s cool, so we’re down with this idea. In early October, much to our surprise, Lucas approached his grandmother and asked, “Grandma, will you please knit me a gray sweater for my Harry Potter costume?”

Grandma's Sweater for Lucas as Harry Potter

Nine days and three yarn shops later (looking for the right gray yarn), Grandma Sydney showed up with this gem. How’s that for grandmotherly love and kickass knitting skillz? If only Harry himself were so lucky as to have such a grandma.

Grandma's Sweater for Lucas as Harry Potter

Ian found this super Gryffindor House tie at a thrift shop and it goes perfectly. We still have more work to do on this costume, but this is a magnificent start!

Flower Prints for Mother’s Day

I’d been saving up this hammered botanicals project ever since I saw it on a blog I read, called Dim Sum, Bagels, and Crawfish, last March. (How could I not read it, with a marvelous name like that?) Oh, here it is! I was afraid I might not be able to find it. (The Internet is AWESOME!) Anyway, the Dim Sum author, Lucia, found it in a terrific book called Nature’s Art Box, which is on my wish list.

Anyway, I thought that these smashed flower prints would be a perfect project for my boisterous, bashing boys. I learned a lot during this project, not the lease of which was it’s best to follow directions. Alas, I’m the dive-in-and-figure-it-out sort of person.

We used:

  • white cotton fabric
  • scissors
  • pinking shears
  • hammer
  • scotch tape
  • flower cuttings from our garden
  • phone book
  • watercolor paper
  • watercolor paints and paintbrush
  • dollar store certificate frames, 8.5 x 11 size

Flower Prints Art Project

Lucas enthusiastically helped with the hammering, but I couldn’t get Asher to join in. When dealing with a 3-year-old, timing is everything! And the time I had set aside to do this project was All Wrong. Asher wouldn’t even come outside to see what we were up to.

We found that the roses and pansies gave brilliant colors. The mallow flowers and Spanish lavender were subtler. Creating the watercolored mats fell to me. (Are they really mats if the fabric print goes on top of them?) I didn’t want to try to cut the mats precisely; laying the fabric on top of the watercolor paper seemed just fine.

Flower Prints Art Project

Originally we made six of these. Then I read online that a mixture of alum and water would help keep the colors fresh. Fortunately, our friends had some alum that we could borrow. Unfortunately, three unexpected results happened when I lightly sprayed the fabric prints with the solution.

  1. The color from the smashed roses bled like crazy, running down the hanging fabric (which you can see in the photo below in the center)
  2. The color from the dark purple pansies bled outward (I learned not to spray as much solution, and still the capillary action of the water caused the dye to spread)
  3. Unbeknownst to me, the fabric on two of the prints had actually taken up a tiny amount of newsprint from the phone book pages when we were hammering the cuttings. It was invisible before I sprayed the prints. Afterward, ack! Some of the newsprint words appeared in our lovely botanical prints. (You can see a big black W and other type on the right-hand print in the photo above)

Flower Prints Art Project

None of those three surprises made me happy. And if I were to do this project again, I’m not sure if I’ll bother with spraying them with alum. Perhaps the colors from the flowers and stems will oxidize or fade over time. I don’t know. Also, I’ll make sure to put white paper between my fabric and anything with newsprint on it.

When all was said (cussed) and done, and after two pieces of glass from our frames were broken (more cussing after the children were asleep), we ended up with three pretty prints, ready to give out to grandmothers on Mother’s Day.

Flower Prints Art Project

The grandmothers seemed pleased. 😉

  • About Sara

    Thanks for visiting! I’m Sara, editor and writer, wife to Ian, and mother of two precious boys. I am living each day to the fullest and with as much grace, creativity, and patience as I can muster. This is where I write about living, loving, and engaging fully in family life and the world around me. I let my hair down here. I learn new skills here. I strive to be a better human being here. And I tell the truth.

    Our children attend Waldorf school and we are enriching our home and family life with plenty of Waldorf-inspired festivals, crafts, and stories.

    © 2003–2018 Please do not use my photographs or text without my permission.

    “Love doesn’t just sit there like a stone; it has to be made, like bread, remade all the time, made new.” —Ursula K. LeGuinn

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