This week was one of the most difficult weeks that I’ve had to experience thus far. On October 1st, I flew home unexpectedly to spend time with my family as my Maw Maw’s battle with dementia was coming to a close. I knew that I needed to be home with her, and my Paw Paw. And I spent as much time as I could by their sides. I heard stories from her younger brother, my Uncle Al, some that I had never heard before. Uncle Al told us about how she advocated for him when he was younger, and she took him and all of his friends bowling and out to get pizza. And I found a box of notes that she wrote, including a letter that she started to write to all of us, but never finished.
My Maw Maw had the most impeccable memory. She remembered every detail about her grandchildren, from their birthdays to their best friends. Within the past 10 years, Maw Maw began to forget small details like our ages, but soon grew to forget our names and even her children. Watching her memory fade was difficult, but watching her personality fade was even harder.
On Friday, October 4th, my Maw Maw passed away. She passed peacefully in her home, surrounded by family, with her husband of more than 50 years by her side. She was 80 years old. Today was her funeral, and we celebrated her life as a family. Her children and grandchildren were all in attendance, standing by her husband of over 50 years. I stood by my Paw Paw as he finalized the details following her passing, and ensured that each grandchild had a place at her funeral Mass. Some said readings, some read petitions, and some brought gifts to the altar. Paw Paw asked me to sing ‘Hail Mary, Gentle Woman’ following Communion, and I was honored but it was also really hard to get through.
This afternoon, we celebrated Maw Maw’s life by gathering at a place we frequented as a family – The Hilton St. Louis Frontenac. See, my family doesn’t really cook. As a family, spent Thanksgiving, Mother’s Day, and Easter at the hotel for probably almost 20 years. When Maw Maw began to fade further, we went to a place that could accommodate her better, but we still never cooked at home. After all, Maw Maw always said, “Kitchens are for restaurants, not for houses.”
Maw Maw was so many things. She was fierce. She was gentle. She was loving. She was always an advocate for everyone around her. She never let the cousins fight, and never was shy about telling us when we were wrong. She taught us humility, and she taught us selflessness. She welcomed everyone with open arms. She loved Louis Vuitton, Notre Dame, Hilton Head Island, and her friends and family.
Some of my most fond memories of Maw Maw are from my childhood. I was her first granddaughter, and she was my Maw Maw for almost 27 years. I remember her teaching me proper hygiene (she always carried wet-ones), I remember her telling my cousin, Monika, to eat all of her food. I remember how much she loved chocolate but always got me my favorite kind of cheese danish for breakfast when I spent the night. I had my own stuffed animal named Pinky, toothbrush in a ziplock baggie with my name on it, and pajamas in a drawer. I remember fighting over a blanket that she made my cousin, Daniel, and being the lucky grandchild to have a sleepover in her and Paw Paw’s room when we went to Hilton Head (because my family had too many kids for a standard hotel room).
Among the notes that I found in that box, I found her list of prayers. She prayed for each of us by name, every single day. She prayed for people that she met in the elevator, people she saw from afar, neighbors down the street. And when she first became sick, she told us we were going to have to take over her prayers. So I made a copy of her prayers, and I will carry them with me every day.
On Sunday, September 22nd, I watched the Cardinals beat the Cubs with Maw Maw’s hand in mind. She and I shared a few chips and a Diet Coke. On Sunday, September 29th, I FaceTimed my mom who was with her, and Maw Maw told me that I was “so smiley”. I love that she said that, and she could recognize that I had a smile on my face. When I said I love you, she said it back. I am so grateful for those moments with her, and the 26 years of memories before that. And I’ll forever be holding her hand, looking to her for guidance.
I am so thankful that I had my Maw Maw. And I’ll carry her in my heart every day. Mother to 5, grandmother to 14. She was incredible. I love you so much, Maw Maw. And I know you’re never far away. ♥️
Rest In Peace, Maw Maw.
Mary Claire Antoinette Pike
November 3, 1938 – October 4, 2019
XO – MC