Saturday, October 3, 2015


My grandpa passed from this life at the end of June, a little over 5 years after my grandma went before him.  This last month has been flooded with wonderful memories blanketed by a heavy measure of grief.

My grandparents had the coolest attic.  It is like Lucy's wardrobe in the Lion, Witch, and the Wardrobe.  My grandma would lead us past the coats, through the opening, and we would enter a grand new world.  I can vividly recall the sound of wire hangers covered with paper from a dry cleaner and the rush of warm air, thick with the smell of attic.  I love the dry scent of an attic.
Thankfully my cousin, Manda, took lots of pictures!  
She snapped this one before she led some of the great grandchildren though the empty attic.

There were some spectacular clothes in the attic.

I have a horse skull on my head.
Grandma had fantastically odd
Before the sun came up three weeks ago was the first time I've been in that attic without my grandma.  We joined my parents, brother and sister, aunts, nieces, nephews, and cousins to clean out lifetimes of treasures.  Box after dusty box I just wanted to shout "stop."  Maybe, if I closed my eyes tight enough, I could imagine her showing me the hundreds and hundreds of McDonalds toys she'd collected, or the bones she'd gathered from walks through the forest, or the letters my grandpa sent her while he was in the Navy.  But, we had a job to do before the heat made the attic unbearable, so we kept going.  The boxes and treasures from the attic filled the entire backyard, and then some.

We spent the day sorting through these attic treasures, collecting what we might like or what was meaningful to each of us.  Then at the end of the day we went through the house.  It's funny the things that stand out.  It wasn't until the following weekend I found what would be my prize.  

Passing through every room I grew in love for my grandparents.  My grandpa built most of the house himself, adding a basement, bedrooms, and an entire master level to their tiny house on Tennyson Street.  He loved my grandma, like in the movies loved her.  Her heart was sealed with his.  He doted on his wife, giving her the best of everything.  Doing everything he could to make her dreams come true.  The spectacular thing is that her dreams generally involved caring for others.

My grandma collected swans. When my grandpa began a frog collection,
she boxed most of them up leaving hilarious notes.
"This box contains swans.  Moved to make room for frogs.  Too Bad.  Oh Well"

"Swans moved to make room for frogs.  Sorry swans.
Too bad you have to have to stay in a box."

At the end of the day I found myself heavy with grief.  A good cry accompanied me on my drive back to Ft. Collins.  With every room, the reality that my grandparents are gone, and their home is no longer theirs was more than my heart could bear.  I wanted to collect everything, to take everything with me.  There I was, squishing my eyes tightly closed, hoping I could sear the memories onto my heart.

The following weekend there was a big garage sale.  I again left my house before the sun arose.  As I made my way down Mississippi, the familiar glee of the drive to my grandparent's house brought a smile to my face.  I giggled at the thought that there I was, a grown woman, bouncing in my car because I was almost to Grandma and Grandpa's house. you see the love they poured over us?!  At the end of the final day as we were bagging what was left to donate, I noticed a small, black travel alarm clock.  My heart thrilled because this is the clock that sat on the beside table in the guest room.

For several summers before I began working, I spent a week with my grandma.  It began when I was turning 13.  Grandma "needed help" getting ready for a new school year.   She was a media technician at Lincoln High School in Denver.  I helped her clean overhead and film projectors, sort films, set up VCRs, and get all of the classrooms ready for the modern day technology.  My grandpa, a general contractor, was out of town working on a job.  The people he was working for were letting him stay in his camper at their house.  I remember commenting how nice the people were who let Grandpa stay at their house.  At the end of the week when she drove me home, I arrived to find my grandpa's camper at my parents house and when I opened the front door, I was greeted by a new wall in our living room.  The wall provided me with my own room.  

For at least the next two years I spent this week with my grandma.  It was special to spend the week with her and my grandpa.  Their home was always welcoming and refreshing, full of unconditional love.  I had fun helping at her school and happily awoke with the beep of that little black travel alarm clock.  The last time that alarm clock woke me was in 2003, the morning of my cousin Angela's wedding.  It's batteries long spent, earlier this week I put fresh ones in the timepiece set the alarm.  It awoke my tears as I could smell the smells of my grandparent's house, imagine the comfortable bed with fresh sheets, and the anticipation of a day spent with my grandma.

Today I spent much of the day sorting out the things I brought from Grandpa and Grandma O'Neill's home. I was again feeling like I wished I had more.  Things were never all that important to them and will never replace the love they've given, but I am thankful to have some memories from their home.  I can look at these things, close my eyes, and remember.

I began the morning by installing a new flood light.  The sensor on ours was broken.  This came from Grandpa's garage along with a crate of tools Rourke has enjoyed having.  He and Grandma were always providing for others out of their pantry or garage.  They are examples of people who freely, happily gave their time, talents, and hearts to others.  They were thrilled to provide.  While the provision of needs was a joy to them, they were most satisfied when they nurtured.

They built a cabin the mountains for us all to enjoy and even share with our friends.  For their 50th wedding anniversary they rented the best rooms at the Hotel Colorado in Glenwood Springs and treated their children and grandchildren to a weekend getaway.  They brought us dinner on our birthdays, even when I was in college.

This is a picture of my old college bike with the squeaky brakes.  Not a fancy bike because my pelvis, broken in a car accident at 16, doesn't sit well on a bike.  It was just sufficient for getting to class.  I was pregnant with Rourke, so there was definitely no riding of this bike!  It was covered in bindweed.  My grandparents were avid bike riders, even biking across Ireland.  Grandma thought this was hilarious and sent the picture she took to her brother, Uncle Louie.  He drew this picture and mounted it to a tiny wood fence.

This painting of main street in Georgetown, also by my Great Uncle Louie, was above the couch in my grandparent's family room.  It looks like it's always been above our piano.

Metal plates from their living room.

I've always loved this big set of silverware.
Today was a mix of smiles and tears.  I think that's how grief goes.  I hope these things hanging in my home will prompt the same emotion in my children (and Lord willing, grandchildren), that their mom was a refreshing source of unconditional love.  Bill and Betty O'Neill are treasures.


  1. I'm praying for your family for the loss of your grandparents. Sounds like you have a lot of cool treasures to remember them. Praying that you see God with you with remembering the happy times and holding you when you miss them.

  2. Wonderful Sam, I truly felt that I was playing in the attic with Grandma again! All those memories will always be held close and we will always look at our special things from Grandma and Grandpa and smile!!

  3. Thank you for sharing your heart. Such a mixture of emotions for sure. What a blessing to have such wonderful grandparents.