I found out a few days ago that my grandmother, Winifred (Duchess or Dutch) Akuna passed away. I have spent the last two days marshalling my thoughts and emotions because I want to post a send-off for her- she would have liked that. Please forgive me if I still seem a bit scattered…. it’s hard to put such a big personality into words.
Growing up in a Catholic orphanage with her brothers and sisters, she was Winifred. I imagine this is where she learned her love of routine and order. When she and my grandfather started dating he realized she didn’t care for the name the orphanage had given her and gave her the moniker Duchess- his duchess. Together they raised six children and were part of the lives of a host of grandchildren and great-grandchildren.
Growing up, I loved my grandmother…. but I could never gage how she felt about me. I was too young to see the signs. She didn’t vocalize her love and pride a lot. What she did was cook. Ox-tail stew, juk, little red barbeque ribs…. the O’hana would converge on her home once a month for games and food. My aunts and uncles would be bent over this overly complex board game and us kids would watch movies- musicals, old movies with Audrey Hepburn or Winnie the Pooh. Grandma loved Winnie the Pooh, and passed that love on to each of us- I own the DVD collection and would still watch it with grandma. The house was always spotless, and she was always in the kitchen. We would sit at the table and talk to her while she worked. Those meals were works of art- fragrant, delicious love. That’s how she expressed her care- by watching over us, feeding us, making space for us. As a kid, though, I never understood why she wasn’t playing too.
About six years ago, Grandma and Grandpa had to come live with my family for health reasons. Grandpa was sick and Grandma had dementia. After Grandpa passed Grandma stayed in town with either my parents or my uncle until a few months ago when she went to live with my aunt in Texas. I hate to say it…. but she was more relaxed, like the dementia freed her. She was able to sit and be part of the fun, to joke and laugh and enjoy little things. It used to be that she swore she couldn’t stand animals, but later she would be laughing and playing with all the family dogs. Sharing snack with P-chan my mother’s pug, praising my sister’s dogs ( a puggle and what she calls a snicker-doodle) and laughing at my cousin’s beautiful great pyrenes. She’d wear crazy hats, charm my father into taking her to the Butterfly house, and go nuts over jewelry. We had a dollar jewelry store here and her eyes would go wide when we told her to get whatever she wanted. She allowed herself to go for pedicures with the girls, go dancing with my aunt just because she loved to watch. Honestly, the memories of when my grandmother was happiest were all from this timeline.
I will always be grateful for the time I got to spend with her- that I got to see her happy and free. She didn’t suffer, which she would have hated, and had my aunts and uncle by her side, which she would have loved. I am glad…. I am so glad it happened this way. But part of me will always miss my Duchess.