There’s Nothing Stronger Than A Woman / Colleen Breen

Home made fried chicken, chili, mash potatoes, meatloaf, beef roast, sugared yams, these are just some of many of my grandma Grace’s recipes. No person or restaurant has even come close to the taste.

As kids we would go over once a week, and got treated to the best meal you could ever have. You could taste the time, love, and patience that went into the food. Not surprising, because that’s who she was.

You could describe her as quiet, but that wasn’t true. She just listened more, and hung on to every word, even if it was just me asking her which fart sound was her favorite. She made you feel like you were important in that time.

I was young and took her for granted. Like most grandchildren that didn’t have the maturity to see a family member’s love and support, I regret never appreciating her as much as she deserved. I took for granted that she spent a whole day to cook us our weekly meal on Sundays. I took for granted that she came to every and any game I was in. She was always in the front row of every graduation. 

Grandma Grace gave her life to her husband, Grandpa Jean. I only remember him with his Parkinson's Disease. My mom says I knew him when he was healthy, but I guess I was too young to remember. He’s also an amazing person, but this is about the women in my family.

She waited on him 24/7 and did every thing for him when he got worse. I took this for granted as well. So let’s just express what that entails. It means she took him to the bathroom all day long, even in the middle of the night. It means she dressed him every morning. It means she helped brush his teeth every day. It means she bathed him every day. It means she would lotion his body to help with his dried skin from sitting in the sun every day. He loved to sun bath. It means she walked him into each room he wanted to go into. It means she wiped his drool when he lost muscle control in his face. It means she opened every gift he received on birthdays and Christmas. It means she put her ear up to his mouth when he could barely speak anymore. It means even if we couldn’t make out the words, she always could.

She did all this while she paid the bills, bought supplies and groceries, and attend every Sunday church service. She never complained once. She handled it all with love and patience.

She never changed, even when she got diagnosed with breast cancer. Or when she had two strokes. Or when the cancer came back only to be in her brain. Or even when she was in hospice care. Or even when we all knew it was time.

Last week I made her recipe for beef stew, and remembered that you can only regret so much. I will be lucky if I can be just a little of who she was.

My other grandma, Leona, was brilliant and stubborn as all hell.

Her work ethic came before everything, besides her family. That’s probably why she was the only one in her family not to move out of California, which led to her capture and incarnation in an interment camp in Wyoming.

I could talk of those camps and the stories she told, but she never dwelled on it… so nor will I.

She was always above it all. Not surprisingly, she got herself out with the brilliance of her family. 

Her dad and sister convinced the government she had a job, which wasn’t true. Barely anyone was hiring anyone who was Japanese. If you had an official letter from an employer they would release you; it barely worked for anyone, but it did for her.

She never felt sorry for herself, it was just another event to survive, to get through. She got a job, after being turned down multiple times regardless of her skills.

It was not easy being Japanese then, so you could assume it was hard making friends. So Grandma Leona bought a Harley Davidson and joined a local biker gang; they didn’t care about race, only if you wanted to ride or not. She just solved another problem.

She used to tell me, “I never got angry or sad, there’s no time for that when you have a goal.”

She started from scratch and became a successful business woman. She didn’t cook, but she bought and sold stocks and property with the best of them. She did this up till the day she died at the age of 103. Her body was stubborn too.

She sailed across the Pacific with her second husband on their sail boat. She survived the first abusive one, and made sure my dad had the best childhood. God, she loved my dad. I think he was her only kryptonite. She sent all her grandchildren through college. She supported my parents when their business was in trouble.

She didn’t cook… but you felt loved. She wasn’t as patient as Grandma Grace, but when I did make her laugh, I felt like a god. I will be lucky if I can be just a little of who she was.

She achieved every goal she set for herself, and every time it was no surprise to her. Why wouldn’t hard work pay off? I could write a book of her experiences… but I think you get the gist.

My mom, Sharon, cared for both these women in their last years.

For over 20 years my mom ran a business, while caring for her step mom and mom.

Let’s just express what that really is. My mom would take them to all their medical appointments. She did all the shopping for them. She drove and flew them all over the nation to visit family members. She bathed and helped dress them. She took Grandma Grace to buy wigs for when she lost her hair. She helped her pick out her favorites as she cried for her old hair and her old health.

She stayed steady when Grandma Leona would get angry for forgetting something. She helped take them to the bathroom every day. She helped them get dressed every day. She help them into and out of cars, rooms, and hospitals. She fed them their meals.

She’d call me and express the weight of it. No one should have to care for two other people full time while dealing with a business and the ups and downs of a husband and their children. But just like my grandmas, she did it every day no matter what. 
No person wants to be unable to take care of one’s self.

My grandma’s were very lucky for the care of my mom. Because of that, they developed a great friendship. They had each other. They had a bond that only they understood. Two strong woman holding on to their own unique identities, while being dependent on another person. It wasn’t always easy, but my mom was always patient and did every act with love, and never complained in front of them.
My mother is the strongest person I know. All the little details we take for granted is what makes a hero.

She started her own school, when she thought the public system was crap. She entertained every sport and hobby we wanted to do. She dealt with all of us growing up. With time, patience, and love she took all of it. She went to every game and graduation. When I told her I wanted to leave my pre-med degree to do comedy, she merely said, “Will this make you happy?” The discussion was over after that. I will be lucky if I can be just a little of who she is.
Myself, I don’t think of myself strong. However, sometimes I’ll cook for someone. Sometimes I’ll just be there to listen. Sometimes I’ll set outrageous goals, and sometimes achieve them. Sometimes I’ll ignore the anger and selflessness in others, and maintain patience and understanding. And sometimes, I won’t. What I do know is that I’ll wake up tomorrow and try again to solve today’s puzzle. All the little details is what makes a hero.