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My (Feminist) Grandmother

Possible TW: Suicide

I got a call from my mom as I was getting the kids ready for bed. My grandmother killed herself yesterday. It's been her plan for a long time, but it's still a blow. I kind of just want to talk about what I know of her story, I wish I knew more. This might end up a little disjointed.

She was a cheerleader in high school. I'm not sure if my grandfather was her high school sweetheart, but she married him in her early 20s, they had four kids by the time she was about 30. My grandfather was a minor politician, and a philanderer. My mom has twin half-sisters from an affair he had. Being a 50s housewife, my grandmother was dependent on him anyway. When her kids were school age, she started taking college classes. I'm not sure at what point she left him, but she did, and went on to get a bachelors, masters, and her PhD.


Somewhere in there, pre-Roe, she had an abortion. I don't know any specifics, but I wish I had gotten her to write or record her story in her own words. My aunt (her daughter) had one in the 80s, I had one in 2000. I had it in my head to get our stories together in writing and see how things were different in the times and places we had them.

She always stressed getting an education, not having kids early, being able to know how to support ourselves. I think she may have taken one or two of my cousins that lived close to her to Planned Parenthood.

My grandmother mostly had her shit together. Manners were important, she was the perfect hostess every time and as often as she could. After she gained her independence, she was super savvy with her money and made sure she would never have to rely on anyone again. She pushed her kids to go to college, and I remember getting a gift certificate to my local university's bookstore for graduation. Somehow her sons ended up kind of doofuses, but her daughters have her independence and smarts without the bitterness. Her influence was the foundation for their (the daughters') more activist feminism in the 70s and 80s, and because of that, mine as well. In addition to her smarts, she had her physical health in a greater capacity than many people her age. She was playing tennis into her late 60s, going dancing into her 70s, and was still getting around, although quite a bit slower, in her mid 80s. After she left my grandfather, she had a long term relationship with another man, they were together most of the time I was growing up. After they split, she still dated, and she dated guys like the pianist at the club she went to, men closer to her age who probably couldn't keep up with her.

She hated getting older and how her body didn't keep up with her anymore. She was very vocal about never wanting to be stuck in a bed, or a hospital, or a nursing home. A few years ago, she bought an apartment in a retirement community. It had an assisted living home in the community, but I think we all knew she would never go to that. She had discussed suicide and assisted suicide with her daughters, but they said they didn't think they could do it, and she said to just leave some pills by her bed.


I don't know for sure, but pills and booze seem like her style. She had become an alcoholic in the past 10 years or so. Sometimes it could be annoying, but everyone just let her be, at that point she could do whatever she wanted. (She didn't drive or otherwise behave dangerously.)

I don't know if you've got an image in your mind, but one of the best parts is how she presented herself. She was fairly petite, maybe 5'3" or so and slim, but not skinny. She tanned. For most of my childhood, she had primary red acrylic nails, not too long, and nicely almond shaped. She also often wore red lipstick and would use her lipstick as blush as well, so the colors didn't clash. If she was going anywhere other than to run errands, she would wear a neatly styled auburn wig. She had a few, good quality, very well maintained. She would wear a matching track suit, or some colorful capris, embellished shirts, animal prints, costume jewelry, but not too gaudy, and some of that costume jewelry wasn't actually costume. And metallic or bejeweled flats or sandals, because heels are bad for your feet.


The last thing I'm thinking about is her opinions. Gaining her independence made her opinions incredibly important to her. It's a running joke with my mom, my aunt, and myself.

"Which do you like? Blue, or green?"

"Well, I kind of prefer the green..."

"Oh, you don't want that!"

So one of us will pretty much always say "Oh, you don't want that!" if the other has any sort of different preference. (Oof, it would be something little like this that starts to chip away at the initial shock.)


Okay, if you made it this far, thanks for letting me get that out.

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