This post is about an amazing woman named Irene. But first, a little family history of mine:
I think that I consider family bonds a little differently than a lot of people, because my family is so...well, jumbled? It's wonderful, and I'm so happy that I've had many people in my life who've loved me. But, it can get a little confusing! Just like many people, I have a Mom and a Dad. They divorced when I was a baby, and my Mom remarried. I have an awesome Step-dad. In fact, Jake reminds me a lot of my Step-dad! My Mom had two more daughters, giving me two fantastic half-sisters (who are totally my whole sisters). My Dad also remarried, giving me a Step-mom and two step-brothers. Then, they divorced, and I lost contact with my step-mom (whose name is also Robin) up until a few years ago (thank you, Facebook!). After that, my Dad was with a wonderful woman for about 10 years. She also has 3 kids, who are also cool. My Step-dad has a cool brother and Mom, giving me another Uncle and Grandma. My Granddad was married to Irene (they married a few years before I was born) and she was totally my Grandmother, even though we weren't related by blood. See what I mean? It's a little hard to keep track of...Jake can't even keep up if I don't explain it sometimes!
Of all of my grandparents (1 grandfather, 3 grandmothers) I really connected with Irene the most. She had this amazing talent where she could make anyone feel like they were the most special person in the room. Looking back, I think part of why she had so much energy was because she was only in her fifties when my cousins (3: 1 slightly older, 2 slightly younger) and I were young. Lots of silly songs and games, and just creativity happened around her. It didn't matter that she wasn't biologically related to me. She was AWESOME. My cousin gave her a nickname: Irene the Dream Hakeem Olijawan (shortened to Irene the Dream). She liked it when I called her Granny. I liked that too. My Grandparents lived in the coolest house, filled with artifacts from all of their travels, with a pool, and fun gardens to explore, and lots of artwork all over the place - Irene always loved art. Then, for her birthday present, she went to what she described as "art boot-camp." She loved it! She started doing stone carving, and let me tell you, she made some seriously incredible stuff.
Then, when I was around 14 or 15, they divorced. It was really hard on my cousins and me, because Irene was the best part of the Grandparent unit. It was a disappointment to all of us. After their divorce, I went and stayed with Irene for a week, and it was such an amazing trip! But as the years passed, we slowly grew out of touch. I started calling her again about 3 years ago, but I didn't want to interrupt her life. Looking back, I feel so silly thinking that! But, I still called her about the important events in my life. When I wanted to take a break from school and marry Jake, I called her for her opinion. She told me to absolutely do it. She said: go for it! Being a wife and a mother is amazing! I took comfort in having her support my decision. Then, when I drove across the country, I took a pit stop in her city. I was able to visit her for a few wonderful hours. It was like nothing had ever changed! I am so happy that I chose to go a couple hours out of the way that day, because it was the last time I ever saw her. Unfortunately, I hadn't reached out to her this past year. I wasn't aware that she was sick with Pancreatic Cancer. I feel guilty for not reaching out to her for such a long period of time...but we're moving back to the East Coast soon and I thought that it would be the perfect time to reconnect then! Too little, too late.
Irene died on February 6th. Luckily for me, my Mother made it possible for me to go to her memorial. It was beautiful. Her house was packed with people who loved her, we threw Daffodils in the pool with a wish, her niece sung 'Cabaret', both of her children spoke, and then we all sang 'Irene, Goodnight'. Despite the conduct of my Grandfather during their divorce, Irene's family welcomed us with open arms. Her daughter saw me, called my nickname (Pookie) and grabbed me into a big hug. When one of Irene's grandsons asked his Mother who we (my 2 cousins and myself) were, she replied that we were Irene's 'first grandkids'. I cried and cried and cried. I still cry, thinking about her.
When someone you really love dies, it's hard not to be recognized as being related to them. In her death announcement, it mentions her 5 biological grandchildren, but there's nothing about her 4 'first grandkids'...but in the end, it's not about us at all. It's about her. I think it causes a little pang of hurt for us first grandkids to not necessarily be recognized as Irene Ritter's grandchildren by the rest of the world, but in the end, we're the lucky ones. We have 20 years of memories with a fantastic woman. Her eldest biological grandchild is 11. It makes my heart hurt so badly to think that they won't get to know her as they continue to grow. Seventy is such a young age to go. The world truly lost someone unique.
This description of her fits her to a T:
Irene's death announcement
Take a look at her artwork! Make sure you read the names...those are the best part!
At the memorial, it was mentioned that Irene wanted all of her pieces to stay in the family for her Grandchildren, as she couldn't bear to think of them going anywhere else. Each stone carving was like a little piece of her soul, and she was very attached to all of them...rightfully so! Still, as a child I had always dreamed of having a piece of hers in my own house one day. It was sad to think that might never happen. So, I decided to ask. I asked that if there was anything they could ever potentially part with, to please let me know, as it would mean the world to me. Today, I talked to Irene's daughter, and my wish is coming true. I am going to have one of Irene's unfinished pieces (even leading up to the end of her life, Irene had creativity flowing out of her) and I am so grateful! Irene's daughter said that it's a bird, which I think is very fitting. She also said that Irene loved me...which I knew already, but it was still nice to hear.
Sorry that this post is a little long...but it's what's in my heart.