Column: Discovering my great-grandmother through a lifetime of pictures

When my great-grandmother passed away on Jan. 3 this year, my family asked me to make a slideshow from pictures of her and her family spanning the 95 years of her life. In doing this, I spent a lot of time with photos from of albums my grandparents that I had never seen before. I realized all the sacrifices my great-grandmother had made, how she had worked hard her entire life, and really what a wonderful woman she was.

My memories of her are from her 80s and early 90s. In the final years of her life, she had Alzheimer’s disease, which started to erase her personality. The person I knew my great-grandmother to be was very different from the woman my parents, aunts, uncles and grandparents knew.

I saw her in frustration and heartache because she knew her mind and body were giving up. When she was 89 years old she moved out of her home because she was no longer able to take care of herself. She came to live with my family so I got to see the frustration and dismay first-hand every day. She had always been free-spirited, but now, for the first time in her life, she was tied down. But I only ever saw her in this frustration and longing, which led me to think she was like this her whole life. I thought that she had always been an impatient person. It wasn’t until after she died that I learned how patient and caring she was in her younger years. It was incredible to think that I knew a different person than the generation before me. It also made me very sad because I felt as though I had missed a beautiful opportunity to know an amazing woman and her journey.

Going through the many photos of her as a little girl with short dark hair and uneven bangs, as a young woman with striking confidence, as a glowing new mother, as a business woman in front of the family deli, as a grandmother and then as a great-grandmother, I was able to meet and get to know her in a whole new way. My grandmother loved to travel and see the world. I saw pictures of her standing by a rail at Niagara Falls, hand-in-hand with her husband with the wind flowing through her jet-black hair. I also saw her playing frisbee in Hawaii in 1983. This picture really stood out because she was well into her sixties at the time and seemed to be so lively and sprightly as she walked barefoot on the grass. Another photo showed her walking through the streets of Sicily alongside her husband with such poise and an exceptional air of confidence around her. In all of her photos she looked very nice and always wore her earrings with the matching necklace.

My family is blessed that my great-grandmother told many stories and through those stories, she lives on. I had always heard ever since I was a young girl, the story of my great-grandmother’s journey across the river to get to school. This story became her trademark, and I always knew when I saw her that I would hear it again. Even in her youth she was brave and adventurous. I only regret now that I hadn’t seen those photos before. It is sad that sometimes we never truly take the time to discover someone until they are gone.

–Margaux Blain