The Bravest Woman I Knew

I’d like to tell you about an amazing person I know whose hand  I was fortunate enough to hold her as she took her final breaths on this Earth. My grandma Julie, also known as babcia. I had 34 years with her and although I wish I could’ve had so many more, I know that I am lucky that she lived to be 96 years old.

 

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{Last picture I had with her  April 2014}

She had a hard life, but she never gave up. Even in her final hours, she pushed on. Not quite ready to give up.

She was born in the states but spent around half of her years in Poland, and therefore had to live though the horrors of WWII. Although she would tear up and not want to talk about how difficult her life was during that time, I was able to learn a few things from family. She had 2 children at the time and her husband was called to war, which became the start of her being a single parent. The threat of the Nazis coming to take her belongings and food were a constant worry.  She would bury food so that the Nazi’s wouldn’t take it away and she would then be able to feed her 2 children. I don’t know how she survived. I can’t begin to imagine how difficult it would be to be afraid for your life and the lives of your children every moment of your day for months.

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Her husband did not come home from war and she feared he had died.  After a while, she became pregnant with my dad. He told me a little about how hard life was in Poland even after the war, especially for a single mother with 3 kids now. He mentioned how my uncles and grandma would have to walk miles in deep snow to work or get food. There was no such thing as wasting anything because you were lucky if you even had enough to settle your growling stomach. Life was beyond hard. But she never complained.

At some point in time, she changed her last name. She told me that she just picked a name out of a phone book. Of all the choices in a phone book, babcia picks out Kwiatkowski. Why pick an easy name when you can have a 3 syllable name? She laughed when she told us this story. In my mind, I could see and hear her belly laugh. I miss her so much.

She came back to the US with my dad (literally on a boat!) and she had a couple of different jobs before she retired. I can’t imagine how hard it must’ve been to come to a new country in your 50’s and learn a new way of life. But she persevered. She found her way around and made a living for herself.

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{Babcia with my dad and my mom}

She was the epitome of a grandma. My sisters and I were the youngest grandchildren, making her almost 60 when my older sister was born, and she ended up speeding a lot of time with us. Time that will be engrained in my memory forever. Memories that have helped make me who I am. She spent little money on us, but she gave us so much more.

She would watch us frequently as my dad worked in the day and my mom would work the evening shift, which would leave an hour or 2 without any parent if my grandma didn’t come over. She would stop whatever she was doing and come at a moments notice. I remember us calling her in the middle of a bad rainstorm because we were scared. She hopped on the city bus and walked the additional 2-3 blocks from the bus stop to our house in the pouring rain so that we weren’t scared.

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{me and babcia}

We slept at her apartment numerous times and took walk around her neighborhood. She took us to the movie theater to see Arachnophobia and laughed during the entire thing. I’m pretty sure we got a few stares wondering why babcia was bringing 3 children to see this horror movie. But we wanted to see it and she would do anything for us. She would make up bedtime stories and re-tell classics in Polish in the most animated voice. She made a great big bad wolf voice;)

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{Babcia being silly on skis}

Babcia always put others first. Even when she had close to nothing, she felt that she could help because she still had more than they did. She would give the clothes off her back if she could. Numerous times she donated money to various organizations that would send her stuff in the mail. She would easily cry because those people or animals
suffered.

When you walk into her home, she’d have a table set with food and you would have to eat. When she first met Dave, she forced him to eat. When he said he was full, she brought the plate up to his hands then said, “You touch, you eat”, in her broken English and laughed. She made great food. Her pierogi are like no one else’s.

She never sat around and did nothing. Early to bed, early to rise. Maybe that was her secret. She would cook, bake, or clean. There was always something to do; someone to care for.The older she got, the more she needed to take breaks and rest. But she’d say that she’ll finish it slowly. She’d get it done.

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{Me and babcia holding my nieces, Ariana and Ava}

She lived alone until a year ago when her dementia made it too dangerous to leave her alone. It was heartbreaking. But we all knew it was necessary. Thankfully, my aunt and uncle were able to take her in, so that she was surrounded by family instead of strangers. It became hard for them, especially in her final weeks, but I know babcia appreciated it, as we all did.

She’s tried to prepare us for her death for many years. Twenty years ago she was writing down which grandchild would take which item of hers when she died. As long as I can remember she’s said “I’ll see you tomorrow, if I live that long”. Death was imminent and she was thankful for each day she had. Grateful that she’s lived for so many years; regardless of how hard her life was. For years now, I’d cry after a phone call or visit, wondering if it would be the last one.

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{I was so grateful that babcia made it to me wedding}

But it was Saturday morning at 2:30am that I held her hand, kissed her forehead as I whispered “koham cie”, and watched her take her last breath. I always felt that it was a privilege to be there for someone’s passing. Especially because the majority of the time, I am a complete stranger. I still felt privileged to be with babcia, more so because I feel like I felt when her spirit/soul left body. It’s almost as if she was getting pulled away. But, she was willing. As I mentioned before, she was ready for years now. I know she held me and was there for me within a few days of my birth, and I am honored to have been there for her.

She was a wonderful woman who I will never forget.

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