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February 27, 2006

Remembering Grandma Shirley

This past Thursday, my grandmother, my mother's mother, Shirley Mae Bordson, died. She was 79 years old, and would turn 80 in just over a month. I went home Thursday night so that I could be at her Visitation and Funeral. I don't want people to think this is a sad death, because it isn't. My grandma's soul had been trapped in her body for the past few years as she suffered through Alzheimer's. The grandma I will remember is not the person stuck in Viewcrest for the past few years, but the witty, fiesty little ol' lady that I played cards with every Sunday. I'll remember the Shirley that always had a pitcher of lemonade ready for me when I came in from mowing her lawn. I'll remember her as the woman who hosted nearly 30 relatives every Sunday for as long as anyone can remember. She always had her cookie jar full. She was always up for a game. She was always there for a hug. I'll remember her as the person who raised six children, one niece, and eighteen grandchildren to magnificent values.

Many people view me as either very loosely religious, not belonging to a religion, or even atheist. They don't know I was raised on the religion of family. We live and die for our family, and we have a wondeful time doing it. A weekly tradition on the Bordson side of my family was to all get together at my grandparents' house on W. 13th St. in Duluth. The sense of Eden hit you as soon as you entered the door and smelt what grandma had cooking for dinner that night. All it took was one breath and it was...(sniff)..Hot Dish, or (sniff)..Roast, or (sniff)..(enter any delicious dish here). You would enter to see granda Ray either already sitting at the card table with a deck ready or lounging in his chair with one leg up by the arm rest with the opposite arm hanging over the edge, and grandma would be sitting on her couch either playing video poker/slots, watching the vikings, or knitting. Before you know it, the house would be full, as would the card/marble tables. Grandma was lively at the card table. She was always quick with a comment or a hand-gesture when needed. Our family had a wonderful time their every week taking part in, what came to be considered by me, our religion. Oddly enough, we just happened to meet on Sundays.

She obviously raised her children well. I can say I respect every one of my aunts and uncles on this side of my family. Even my aunt Patty, who seems a little goofy and/or awkward at times, has a great sense of responsibility and compassion. The majority of west Duluth knows the Bordson's. Even the pastor at the funeral had heard stories about the neighborhood on W. 13th. She brought up a well-respected family, not just within the blood, but across the city. One of the more touching stories of the funeral was about my uncle, Rex. He had shown up very early in the morning to deliver food to the basement of the church for after the funeral. The pastor said he had heard some noises outside. He opened the door to find my uncle Rex shoveling the large sidewalk of the church. He had went in the church, found a shovel, and started shoveling. When the pastor opened the door and looked at him cofused, all Rex said to him was, "One last time for mom." That's respect.

I am unfortunate to not have known my grandma much more than described above. I wasn't old enough to really know my older relatives for who they were before she started her mental slip. At her funeral, my cousin Brooke and I gave a remembrance speech on behalf of all of the cousins that would attend those Sunday gatherings. When coming up with the speech, I realized I didn't really understand who grandma was very well. I was depressed by this, but now I realize that all I have to do to find out who my grandma was is to look at all of my aunts, uncles, cousins, and even me. She imparted a great deal of influence unto everyone. Knowing who they are and who I am, I gather a greater understanding of her and in turn a greater sense of both love and respect for who Grandma Shirley was.

The past few years, my grandma lived in a hell on earth. She was trapped here in a body and mind that could no longer function. She had developed a tick in her right eye that prevented it from opening all the way. She could not remember anyone most of the time. I am sad to say only visited her a few times over the few years she was there because I did not want to remember her as what she had become. Apparently, at the scene of her death, she had been breathing very heavily and rapidly. The people present knew she would die and wanted her to move on to escape this torment. Finally, she stopped panting. Her eyes, both of them, opened up wide and clear. She looked toward the ceiling, raised her hand, and cracked a smile. At this moment, she died.

I didn't think I would cry about this death. I had been expecting it for years now. When my dad told me, I hugged him because he was crying, not because I needed consolence. All I asked was how it finally happened. When I showed up at the mortuary on Friday for the visitation, I entered a room to see all my relatives, half of whom were crying. I didn't understand. We were finally led up to the room where her body was. At the first sight of her, I burst into tears. She looked so peaceful. She seemed to have a partial smile on her face. I walked to my mother. Gaver her a big hug. And into her I whispered into her ear, "She's free."