My grandmother, Carolyn Agnes (James) Richers, passed away on October 10, 2020, peacefully with family by her side, at the age of 76. She was born in Gueydan, Louisiana to Anna Mae and William C. James on July 14, 1944.
Photo (L to R): Grandma Carolyn, Baby Dakota, Great Grandma James, my mother, Debbie (December 1992)
She grew up in Fort Madison, Iowa, where she worked as a waitress at Caesar’s Restaurant before becoming an LPN and working at local nursing facilities. She retired in 2002 after being diagnosed with throat cancer. She beat cancer later that year and dedicated the rest of her life to caring for and spending time with her children, grandchildren, and great grandchildren.
To be completely honest, I’ve been thinking about writing this blog post for over a month, but I’ve been actively avoiding it. But here we are. I miss my grandmother dearly, and I would like to share some of my favorite memories of her.
One of my earliest and fondest memories of Grandma Carolyn is when she waited tables at Caesar’s in Fort Madison, Iowa. She was a fantastic waitress; probably the best waitress I’ve ever had in my entire life. She was so social, and you could tell that she loved every minute of it. I remember that she used to have to move the butter packets at the tables we would sit at because my brother would reach out, grab one, open it, and just start eating it.
Growing up, my brother and I would frequently spend the night at my grandma’s house. My mom and/or dad would take my brother and me to McDonald’s to get chicken nuggets and fries before dropping us off. (He got sweet ‘n sour sauce, while I got BBQ.) I always looked forward to staying at her house because she would give me a large Alan Jackson t-shirt to wear and we’d run around her house listening to his music. It was always so much fun.
Another fond memory of my grandma is her puzzle books. In her free time, she loved doing word search puzzle books. For her birthday or Christmas, we would buy them by the box-load. She never left the house without one, and she always had one in her purse. She would let us work through them with her, and she would even give us one to work on during long car rides. It was always a lot of fun, and it helped build our vocabulary!
When I got a little older, my grandmother was diagnosed with throat cancer and had to retire from her job. From that moment, she spent the rest of her life caring for her family. She moved into a small little apartment on the other side of Fort Madison and met lots of new friends. It was as if we suddenly had more than just one grandparent when we would visit. In her little apartment at Hillview Village in Fort Madison, she would always make us frosted brownies. Some might say that it was just a box mix and tub of frosting, but it was made with love. That’s what made it special.
My grandmother really made an effort to be actively involved in our lives as we grew up. She was at every family gathering and school event. During my senior year of high school, I would meet her and Vivian, another friend and “grandmother” who lived out at the same complex as my grandmother, for lunch every Friday.
Photo (L to R): Grandma Carolyn, myself, and Vivian (May 2010)
We almost always either went to Pizza Hut (for the buffet) or Vel’s Amigos. It never got old. We would eat, chat, and laugh the entire time. I never wanted to go back to school, but I knew my grandmother wouldn’t let me stay any longer.
There was one time when I was in college that we had to take an emergency trip out to Las Vegas to visit my Uncle David who had fallen ill. During the long drive out there, my brother, Tanner, and sister, Skye, were endlessly fighting. My grandma didn’t hesitate to get out of her seat in the van and move herself to the back row and sit between the two of them. As if that wasn’t punishment enough, she proceeded to clean her trache. (Now, many of you will think this is absolutely disgusting, and you’re not wrong.) You know what, though, it worked. They quit fighting and this moment because a running joke/form of punishment within our family.
When my grandma moved to Kansas City with my mother in 2012, we began communicating via text message. This was great because, since she was no longer able to speak, she could communicate with those who weren’t around her. I’ll never forget the first time she texted me “LOL”. I had to learn that, for her, that meant “Lots of Love”. I always looked forward to her messages.
Throughout my childhood, Grandma Carolyn would always call me on my birthday and sing “Happy Birthday”. I don’t really remember when my grandmother became non-verbal, which means I don’t fully remember the sound of her voice. That doesn’t take away all of the fabulous memories we created over the years that she was non-verbal.
When I would see my grandma in person, she was always used her homemade sign language to tell me she loved me. First, she’d point to herself. Then, she’d hug herself. Lastly, she’d point to me. All the while, she would mouth the words “I love you!” so that you knew exactly what she was doing. It was precious and something I will always remember.
Instead, I want to write about the second-to-last time I saw her. On Friday, October 2, 2020, I made a last-minute, and random, decision to go down to Kansas City and visit my mother. My grandmother had been having some health issues, so she was in the hospital. The positive of this was that, in the hospital, I was allowed to visit her as long as I was wearing a mask. That’s the best decision I ever made. Imagine this: there she was sitting in her chair, taking a nap. I crept in and tickled her foot. She flung up smiling. She was just so surprised and happy to see me.
It was during this visit that I took this photo. This is the last good photo I have with her. You can’t see it, but I have a big smile under my mask that is just as big as hers. I got to visit her. Give her a hug. And tell her, in person, how much I loved her, missed her, and cared about it her.
For me, that’s a very positive note to end this post on. I have tons of memories of her, but these are a few of my favorites. I don’t want to write about her final days, because she was non-responsive.
A few days after she passed away, I learned that this was as “Live Photo” on my iPhone. When I press down, the photo turns into a short 3-second video. Although I can’t share it on here, I want to tell you. I caught the most beautiful 3 seconds ever.My grandma has a big smile, she laughs, and then she blows a big kiss to the camera.
That’s my grandma–witty, fun, and loving.
The title of this post comes from what my grandma used to write in the cards that she would give me for holidays and birthdays. I recently found an old card and had this phrase engraved on a bracelet to memorialize her.