Paying Tribute: Elsie Charlotte Hayes Died 20 Years Ago Today

My grandmother Elsie Charlotte Hayes (1926 – 1992)

Twenty years ago today, I lost the second most important woman in my life…my wonderful quirky funny grandmother, Elsie Charlotte Hayes. And I still miss her every single day. Even as I write this brief story about my grandma, my eyes are tearing up.

Grandma was like a second mother to me. I was fortunate to spend all but a few years of my life living within an hour’s drive of my grandparents’ home. Grandma and Grandpa came to all of our birthday parties, all of my school musicals and concerts, all of our graduations, my prom sendoffs, etc. I spent many weekends staying over at Grandma’s house, even into my early 20s.

Grandma as a teen, with her best friend.

But, Grandma died way too young — one month shy of turning 66. She led a rough life and was always very poor of health. Grandma and Grandpa were both way too old before their time. Grandma battled severe asthma and allergies most of her life (made worse by a lifetime of smoking), and developed emphysema, spending her last years attached to a portable respirator. Grandma spent way too much time in hospitals and ambulances. I was there at her home for the final ambulance ride that took her to the hospital where she slipped into a coma, and died a week or so later (I can’t remember exactly how many days or weeks) surrounded by her children.

At Grandma’s funeral, the pastor (who never knew my grandmother) stated, “I understand that Elsie liked to read.” And all of Elsie’s children, children-in-law, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren, as well as her husband, started laughing amidst our tears. Because this was the biggest understatement in the world. Elsie did not like to read — Elsie LIVED to read. My grandma was never without a book in her hand or purse, loved trashy romance novels, and read close to a book per day. She loved her family without a doubt, but I think we all deep down wonder if she didn’t love her books more.

Elsie Flanagan
Grandma with cigarette in hand, at a family Christmas during my childhood.

My parents taught me to read, and to love reading. But Grandma taught me to become an obsessive reader at a young age, to devour a good book or good series in no time flat.

So, a couple of nights ago, I decided to pay tribute to my grandma by committing to a standing monthly donation — in my grandmother’s name — to the Foster Care to Success Book Club, which provides textbook funding to needy college-bound foster youth. Grandma married an orphan who spent his juvenile life in foster care, and had two adopted granddaughters (me and my sister) who also spent time in foster care. And Grandma inspired me to read. This financial gesture just seems the right way to honor my grandmother in some small way.

In what ways to you pay tribute to your ancestors?

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