In October, we celebrated the life of the matriarch of my father’s family. She passed away just about two weeks shy of what would have been her 94th birthday. For most of my life, she seemed invincible.

Gwin emily
Former Editor / Progressive Dairy

She was raised on a dairy farm, married my dairy farmer grandfather and then farmed with him for 61 years. In her last couple of years, she required skilled nursing care, but she spent the bulk of her life – up until 91 – on the farm.

At her funeral, my dad told a story about how Grandma wrestled a calf bare-handed. She would have been in her late 60s at the time. There was a group of calves by Grandma and Pap’s house that kept getting out – and trampling her prized garden. My dad and Pap got all but one of the escapees back into the barn. The brave calf took off through the hay field. Grandma chased it down, dove onto its head and held it down until Dad caught up to them both with a halter. Grandma had a nasty bruise the next day, the story goes, but the calf never got out again.

Grandma showed her love for others through her talents of baking, sewing and gardening. In the Christmas of 1997, she presented each of her 10 grandchildren with a made-from-scratch quilt. The process of making 10 quilts to gift all at once took her years of preparation. On Christmas, each quilt was assigned a number, and each grandchild drew a number from a hat to ensure there would be no squabbling over who received which quilt.

The night she passed away, I dug through my box of childhood mementos. I pulled out a class assignment from 1999, where I interviewed her. One of the questions I asked was, “Did you have any dreams when you were a teen?” She had responded, “I kept dreaming my brother – he was missing in action – would come back.” That was the first time I remember hearing about her brother, David, who was a B-17 pilot with the U.S. Army Air Forces during World War II. His plane was shot down in 1944. Grandma was 16 when the family was notified about his death. We learned more details about David in 2018 when a Belgian man who had been taking care of his grave was finally able to connect with a member of Grandma’s family. A local newspaper interviewed Grandma’s nephew about how the connection was made and provided a timeline of David’s life and service.


Since that article was published, I’ve often thought about how a loss like that would have had a profound effect on Grandma. Back then, there likely wouldn’t have been grief counselors or coping advice, and certainly no such resources in a rural area. Her family, like so many others who lost loved ones in that time period, would have kept on living, buried their own feelings of grief and not talked about it so as not to bring pain to others.

My most recent memory with her is asking her about raising a family. “What was your favorite stage of motherhood?” I asked her, hoping for a nugget of wisdom to carry with me through these sleep-deprived years of diaper changes and toddler tantrums. “I couldn’t begin to tell you,” she said. “I just got up every day, and I did it.” Oddly enough, that has been helpful advice for me. I use it as a mantra during a string of fussy nights or back-to-back-to-back doctors’ appointments. “Get up. Get it done.”

For most of my life, I felt Grandma and I probably didn’t have a whole lot in common. But I firmly believe motherhood has made me a different person. It’s not something I chose to do. My children’s needs required me to become stronger and more self-assured. And I’d like to believe that because of it, I’ve become just a little more like her.

The preacher at her funeral shared a quote that was something along the lines of, “If you want to keep her memory alive, become the things you most admired about her.”

Above all else, I pray I can have Grandma’s steadfast faith in our Heavenly Father, even when this earthly life throws us some pretty harrowing curve balls.