Marzie Valentine Henning

She has been living on a quarter of a lung for as long as I’ve been out of the US, thanks to childhood pneumonia and the tobacco industry’s’ touting of cigarettes as healthy for you back in the 1930s and 40s.

Breathing had become so very painful for her, sucking down liquid oxygen from giant bottles which limited her mobility. They took her to the hospital on Monday morning because of another attack of the pneumonia which just would not stop hunting her. She had no cancer or anything, She told grandpa she’d see him when he got back from breakfast. But she didn’t wake up and she didn’t recover.

I don’t think I’ve let it sink in yet. I’ve never feared death, it is a part of the life cycle. She fought so hard and so long, I was surprised to find my emotion when I got the email from my mom was relief and not sadness.

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I worry more for my grandfather, the man who loves her so much and who has been so strong by her side… now finds himself relieved, but he’s lost the best woman in the world. His sweetheart is gone. They were always so in love, always holding hands and twinkling eyes at each other.

She was always so special to me. I had to answer a survey a couple of years ago about who was my hero. Other people picked famous people, but I picked my Grandma. She lived through so much. The 1920 and 30s were a period of exciting social changes and profound cultural conflicts. Her parents suffered in the Great Depression and times were hard for her and her sisters.

Her first husband, my mom’s dad, went off to the war as a Marine in the South Pacific. The man who came back was changed, the trauma of war turned him into an abusive alcoholic. Fearing for her safety and her two children’s, she divorced him at a time when divorce was frowned upon and domestic violence was considered a private matter. She remarried, to my wonderful grandfather, a Harley riding, ever suave sailor by the name of Fritz Henning.

She was always so funny, she could always make people laugh and was always the star of charity shows she helped organise. She knew all the slang words and I can hear her in my head right now saying “Holy Cow!” in a Jerry Lewis accent. She’d always talk back to the TV and the soaps or the politicians.

I’d love spending time at her house. All the holidays were there; Christmas, Easter, Thanksgiving, she’d always whip up a great spread. She knew I loved her yams with mini-marshmallows, so she’d always let me get the first scoop. There were always cookies in her jar, and she always had food treats – licorice and pop and fruit punch and grilled cheese. She’d always try to be fashionable too. She knew the latest cool things and I remember she always wore the greatest glasses.

All the grandkids would get gifts that suited them best. Even when older, she’d still always remember my birthday and make sure I got a card and a little something. After all, I was her number one grandkid!

I’d like to think of Grandma in some special part of heaven. She’s out by some pond fishing for bluegills without a care in the world, a reservoir of strength and love. It’s summer and the sun is shining. Maybe there’s even her little dachshund Trixie hanging out with her. That would be nice.