Eileen Koenig passed away on October 8, 2012 at 9:05pm. She was my last living grandparent. She was my mom’s mom. After several minutes of holding each other and grieving, my mom and I began a search.
My mom remembered coming across a paper where my grandma scribbled a few notes about what she’d like her funeral to include. Along with this informal note was a collection of funeral service pamphlets. Was my grandma attending a funeral when she thought of what she wanted to happen during the grieving of her own concluded life?
The problem with this note is that it wasn’t safely stored in a file labeled “When My Mother Dies”. So, at 10 pm, instead of packing for a rapidly approaching departure to Chicago, my mom and I found ourselves searching through boxes of her mom’s old stuff. Actually, my mom was searching through boxes; I was searching through one box of photos, pretending that maybe the little note was going to pop up in there somewhere. It’s not that I don’t think funeral wishes are important; it’s just that these memories from the past needed me, and that piece of paper about the funeral wishes was acting all aloof and secretive anyway.
In my grandma’s photos was a face I never saw while watching her make a pumpkin pie or show my sister how to walk in a ladylike manner. These photos showed a time before her six daughters were born, when my grandmother felt young and free.
I pulled out a stage play script and oversized photographs of actors. My mom gasped. Her mother spoke of acting in a play, but had never shown anyone the photos.
Then I saw scenes with toddlers and babies, my mother and her sisters. On the back of each photo my grandma wrote the background story of the moment she had captured.
My grandma, Eileen Koenig, earned a university degree at a time when only 12% of women age 18-21 were enrolled in places of higher education. With her degree she went on to work a few jobs before and while raising six daughters. She also helped develop a tutoring program for foreign- and American-born adults and a social service program for senior citizens in her area. In addition my grandma served as chairman and trainer for a national literacy program. In this article a reporter form the Chicago Tribune tells about the South Area Literacy Council my grandma started.
The note about my grandma’s funeral wishes was never found, but my grandma is not in that note. She is in her incredible achievements. She is in her six daughters and their children. She is in each of my uncles, too. She’s in her sisters and their families. Eileen may have been on the quiet side these last few years, one nurse even referring to her demeanor as “stoic”, but maybe that’s because she’d already said all the important things. Maybe she’s a bit tired from all she has achieved. And by the looks of how big and wonderful our family is, that’s a whole lot of achievements. I trust we will celebrate her life in a grand and proud way this Saturday. I also know that her integrity and beauty is in us and ready to be passed on each and every day.