As the days pass since we received the dreaded call, this gets worse. I can’t believe this is real. We made plans; you never break plans. You wouldn’t have left Grandpa behind. 

“Hello Sarah Lou!”, I can hear the joy in your voice. I’ve picked up my phone so many times to call, but I don’t want this to be real and I have no idea what to say to Grandpa. I cannot think that, so instead I’m going to tell you everything I hope you knew and honor you, as you so greatly deserve.

You were born in an era of women being voiceless and choice-less. From a teen you decided that you weren’t going to let a man decide your future. You set the stage for all of us as a brave and independent women when you left home (against your dad’s support and without a penny) to move to Minneapolis and then Fergus Falls to become a teacher.

As a teacher you began your journey as the “mom to all.” Your brilliant and creative mind shaped the minds of so many, and you provided them with a safe place away from home: making lunches for the less fortunate; art projects for every occasion; lending a listening ear for those who needed it; breaking up fights; and defending targets from those “darn bullies.” You loved being a teacher. It was core to who you are. And today, so many years later, your students are sharing their love for you as their favorite teacher. Your impact stands the test of time — pretty amazing.

Watching Grandpa’s icy blue eyes light up as he tells the story of how you met. “I had to see who was on the other side of that wine jug” is one of my most cherished memories. Your love for one another is the truest example of “through sickness and in health.” Life brought many ups and downs, but you two defied the odds with the greatest love story. Married 60+ years, always teasing one another and grabbing for Grandpa’s hand will forever be ingrained in my head. Your advice to me on my wedding day will always stick with me, “Don’t sweat the small stuff. Love and forgive, over and over.” 

Taking a loan from a family friend to start your mink farm after hearing “no” or “you’re crazy” from so many others is an ode to your strong-willed spirit. You lived on a prayer and hope until you found your footing, and that’s what makes your story so incredible. You two, together built a successful mink farm and although you worked seven days and nights a week for thirty years, your commitment, drive and hard work paid off for the later part of your life. No one handed you anything. You built it all together.

Your love of your daughters, siblings, and friends is immeasurable. As I sit here, I can hear you answering your phone with your voice filled with joy and laughing or crying with whoever called. You were so many people’s first call to share their news. It was so special to see you as a sister and aunt; you held the family together. In October you sat laughing and shaking your head as Grandpa told us about Mar and Jod’s motorbike swap, and endless teenage escapades. Oh, how you adored your girls!

I already miss your stories — you always had a story. Some of my favorites were you and Grandpa talking about how you travelled the world. How you, Phyllis and Jim got so sunburnt you couldn’t move. How you almost got robbed in Brazil; taking your girls to Hawaii; Africa to visit Aug and Betty; Christmas in New York; Austria and the glass bottom boat; the great barrier reef in Australia. You had saved $50,000 to travel and see the whole world. How cool were you?!

There is not a life milestone that you weren’t part of. Since day one, being a grandma was your joy and light. There is no grandma like you. End of story. From surprising us after school, to visions with Grandpa, to having a sheep for Easter, to “Let’s Pretend,” to Mount Rushmore, endless treats in your purse, always a comb and lipstick in your car, homemade icecream, Christmas gift hunts, endless crafts, skinny dipping at Taylor’s dock, Itasca state park, Turkey Days, caramel rolls, dying Chris’s hair with sun-in — plus his lovely school pics — turtle races, fishing for sunnies, paddle boating, your eye for décor and design, making bubbles, sleepovers in the white house, green toes for Easter, church while drawing funny pictures on donation cards, M&M’s as medicine, your craft and painting room, your rib sauce, logging camp restaurant, hoof prints from the reindeer on your roof, Grandpa building you whatever you dreamed up, the chick car, meeting in Fargo in university to shop, beanie babies, Dairy Queen runs, monkey bread, the mini bike, your turkey dinners, plowing the pond at Christmas for a fire, four wheeler trails, deer hunting, craft shows, your ever on point fashion sense, playing games after supper, waffles with whip cream and strawberries… I could go on and on.

The effort, creativity, time, love and joy you brought us all is unmatched. You created our greatest memories. You truly were “everyone’s grandma,” blood or not. You held space for so many in your heart.

You never forgot a birthday or missed a chance to celebrate a holiday or special occasion. You were the first to show up when others were in pain. You helped the less fortunate without anyone knowing or expecting anything in return. You touched everyone you met. You had an ability to make everyone feel seen, heard and special. How will anything make sense without you? 

To say you changed lives in an understatement. You showed up and you were “that person” when people needed you — regardless of your own battles. Lord knows the pain you suffered and how you carried it with such grace, rarely complaining or telling anyone. I’m not sure of anyone more determined to get out of a rehab than you. You are a warrior, always getting up no matter how many times life knocked you down. That strength, generosity and bravery can only come from someone who has known the darkest of times. Your heart is pure gold.

You were so much more than my grandma. You were my soul sister, my safe place, my cheerleader, and my favorite hug. No one told you, you couldn’t do something. You did life your way, without apology and with an appreciation for every single day.

Thank you for teaching us that all people matter, to always be kind, to have a positive attitude, to LIVE life to the fullest, to see beauty in everything and to be BRAVE. Thank you for your unconditional love, countless laughs and for showing up over and over because your love is endless.

I really don’t know what life looks like without you. BUT, 2020 put the entire world to test and really it was just showing us what you live by daily, “When you appreciate what you have, you have all you need.”

Life has been put on pause for us to remember what truly matters. You didn’t need that reminder. You were the person who saw the same sunset every day and always thought it was a miracle.

Heaven needed the boldest and brightest angel in 2020. As heartbroken as I am, I know you’re smiling down with no pain (for the first time in ever) with Scotty, Gladys, and Darlene. You are surrounded by countless others that have been waiting for you to arrive to tell your stories, drink Mogen David wine, and swing from the rafters as Charley Pride sings your favorite songs.

Your loss is immeasurable, but so is the love left behind. I can’t say goodbye, so instead — until we meet again. I promise to carry your legacy and shine your light for everyone who needs it.

My heart is so full of you I can hardly call it my own. I will miss you forever and love you for always. 

xo Sarah