Wordless Wednesday: Died in an Orphanage

Obituary for Edna White
Edna White ~ Obituary

Remembering my great-aunt, Edna Avis White
BIRTH 18 JUN 1915 • Ludlow, Windsor, Vermont
DEATH 17 NOV 1924 • Burlington, Chittenden, Vermont

“Edna White,” Obituary, Rutland Daily Herald (Rutland, Vermont), p. 14, col. 5, online database, image 14, Vermont State Archives and Records Administration-ODP, (vsara.newspapers.com : accessed 18 March 2019).


Melancholy veins

Some think that the blood in our veins is blue—not true. You see what little oxygen that resides inside our tiny veins makes the blood a deep red; this is scientific. A hematologist I am not, but I believe my paternal grandmother had a disorder that caused blue blood cells to flow through the vessels of her body.

L-R: Lila (Johns) & Earl Sears. Jennie (Sears) Downey, possibly Jennie (Cutter) Johns and perhaps one of Jennie Downey’s brothers-in-law. Sears children: Frederick, Eleanor, and Phyllis. About 1926

The challenge was to discover if baby Phyllis inherited melancholy blood or was it a bloodborne oddity contracted while wandering through the blades of green grass as she picked dandelions to take to her mother’s grave because they weren’t in bloom when her mother died on April 4, 1927. The Vermont fields were busting with this bright yellow, feather-like flower. So she picked and picked until her little fingers couldn’t grasp another, each pluck hoping that when she delivered them to the gravesite somehow, papa and grandmother were wrong—her mother would be waiting for her with outstretched arms, ready to pull her in, simultaneously taking a deep sniff of her hair while kissing the top of her head.

Father earl sears with his three young children

Perhaps it was a slower process — tiny blue droplets seeping into her fine capillaries gaining momentum for the next tragedy. Exactly two months later on the 4th when her father died, 5½-year-old Phyllis now knew what death meant. She wandered her grandmother’s property picking the Bleeding Hearts because they spoke for her since at five she had no way of sharing that her heart was drooping, falling to the ground like an over plump peony and Phyllis didn’t know if she would ever be able to smile again.

Eleanor, Phyllis and Freddy Sears Huntington, Vermont. About 1928-29. At grandma Jennie Johns Huntington, VT. Charlie Lewis house in background.

Could it be a combination of both—inherited and acquired. Some of Phyllis’s childhood photos reveal a sourpuss face before losing either parent. Regardless, the melancholy formed a network between the events in my young grandmother’s life. After both of her parents died from lobar pneumonia, grandmother Jennie (Cutter) Johns took the children into her home. A widow of fifteen years, she heroically gave these children all she had and died eight years later leaving the three Sears children orphaned once again.

Phyllis now 13½ bounced around to different family members. She took on a job working for a locally prominent family in Hinesburg as a domesticated helper. One Sunday afternoon, on my weekly visits, in 2004, my grandmother shared with me that she did not like the man of the house she worked at, “he was not a nice man.” Then she segued into being hospitalized because she passed a blood clot, “this big” as she gathered her hands and circled her fingers to show the size of a baseball. Because she was hemorrhaging, the doctor admitted her. It was there in the double occupancy room that she would meet, Belle, another teenage girl, senior to her by one year.

Each day Belle’s mother, Mary (Dumas) Gravelle, was in the room like a giant panda mamma, ready to attend and protect her daughter. Only it didn’t take long before her fierce mothering instincts discovered that the girl in the next bed needed caring for too. When it was time for Phyllis to leave the hospital, she went home with, Mémé Gravelle. It is unclear to me the exact age of my grandmother when this event took place.

women wearing 1930's wedding dress
Phyllis Johns Sears on her wedding day. September 23, 1939

One month after turning 18, Phyllis married Lawrence Gravelle age 26¾. Lawrence was Mémé eldest son. I think, Larry brought the best out of Phyllis, as there are photos of her laughing and seemingly having a good time.

family skidooing
Phyllis and son, Marc Gravelle. About 1964

And that’s where we’d like for the story to end… happily ever after. But it doesn’t—you see I knew Phyllis for forty-eight years. There’s more to the account of a habitually sullen person, but we’ll save that for another day.

52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks 2019: Week 29 Challenging

Related post about Phyllis’s family:
Strong Woman: Jennie (Cutter) Johns
Mémé: Mary Dumas Gravelle
Grandpa Was Shot! Lawrence Gravelle

18 Deaths in 23 Months, but don’t Grieve!

Image by S. Hermann F. Richter from Pixabay

Dear diary, have you heard the saying, bad things always comes in threes, and that seven is a lucky number? Well, I can testify that bad things sometimes come in sevens, tens, fourteens, and eighteen. Luck had nothing to do with seven notification that someone I knew was dead, and by the time it reached 18 this January, I simply stopped acknowledging them. I mean — I still have not sent the sympathy cards to my Uncle and cousins. Why, because I put the breaks on grieving.

It. Hurts. Too. Much.

What I am feeling lucky about, or better yet, blessed by is having these people in my life. I grieved and mourned during 2017 and 2018 more than any other time in my life, including the year of my mother’s death (I think). I attribute this to my age. I was fourteen as I watched my mother die, and I’m not sure that I comprehended the finality of death, and I certainly did not have a faith system in place.

A note to the reader–

I am sharing my heart, so you may want to skip this next paragraph; it’s a brief look into my thoughts and views as a Christian regarding the state of our souls when we die. REALLY pass by if you think it will get your dander up, and skip to Roll Call.

Fast forward, I’ve experienced many deaths. I also have a solid guiding faith that anchors me. Therefore, reflecting on these numerous deaths have not only brought the usual sadness that comes with knowing a relationship has come to an end, but it has also intensified the mourning. Why? Because I don’t know the eternal state of some of these departed soles. As a follower of Christ, I believe that God’s Word found in the Bible is Truth. Therefore, I have become sensitive to what happens when our bodies physically die. The Bible tells me that for those who have accepted Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior when they physically die, they are absent from the body and now present with the Lord — they have gained eternal life. However, for those that haven’t accepted the gift of Salvation, (have not had a living and active relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ) they have died once for all, and they will spend eternity absent from the Lord. This separation, what the Bible calls hell, has been the source of my most profound grief. It has been a deep-dark sorrow, and yet, even this — the fact that my friend or loved one would die estranged from the one who created them, God knew this. This knowledge draws me to lean into His sovereignty and wait on His timing to lift my sunken spirits. It beckons me to muster the courage to share my faith and point to the source of hope.

Roll Call
  1. Neighbor, Edgar B., February 17, 2017
  2. Cousin, Michelle G., April 1, 2017
  3. Cousin, Gary N., April 14, 2017
  4. Neighbor, David B., May 8, 2017
  5. Father’s partner, Kay B., May 22, 2017
  6. Cousin, Edwin G., July 15, 2017
  7. Dear friend, Debbie D., November 19, 2017
  8. Cousin, Laura G., November 26, 2017
  9. Childhood friend, Linda F., January 28, 2018
  10. Cousin, Dawna G., March 24, 2018
  11. Uncle, Roland G., April 8, 2018
  12. Father-in-law, Albert W., July 9, 2018
  13. Cousin-in-law, Billy W., August 4, 2018
  14. Cousins husband, Adam R., August 26, 2018
  15. Friends dad, Angelo L., September 7, 2018
  16. Husband’s friend’s mother, Gertrude F., November 19, 2018
  17. Dear friend, Allyson P., December 10, 2018
  18. Aunt, Bonnie G., January 21, 2019

The 2nd and 8th are sisters. Number 15 I went to support his daughter—she is a sweet friend. Number 16 I didn’t know, only her daughter, as she is my husband’s high school friend. So knock off two from the above list. Remove the neighbors because after all, they’re acquaintances that I only shared meals and backyard chats. Then two of the cousins can be crossed off because one I hadn’t seen in years and the other we only correspond via Facebook, and infrequent visits because of geography. Scratch-off the cousin’s husband, because although he was at the family events, really why should my heartstrings get so caught up that my two little cousins are now without their daddy. Zero out the childhood friend; it was her mother that I’m still very close to, and want to support. So you see, when I am rational and deduct these six, that leaves only twelve that I should be mourning the deaths of, right?

I say, NO WAY to the above. I feel deep sorrow for them ALL!

Honestly, when some people found out that I had a death in the family and heard it was a cousin, said, “Oh, a cousin, you’re close with your cousins? ” Another said, “I understand your aunt died, were you close? One proceeded to say they weren’t close with any of their cousins, so death wouldn’t upset them as it clearly had me. Both peoples questions implied that they didn’t think it should affect me so much because it wasn’t really someone too close to me.

“Ah yah, I just had lunch with my cousin a couple of weeks before he died.”

“Ah yah, my cousin and I visited each other, wrote letters, called, Facebook and texted when these technologies arrived!”

Ah yah, my cousin was in the middle of me and my sister, and as kids we were more like sisters, and as adults we shared the responsibility of aiding my grandmother every time that she was in the hospital, just like close family does.”

Insensitive comments. You bet! It’s not that I can’t forgive them — I do. It’s that I wish to help people understand how important it is to THINK before they speak. At a time when you “think” you are offering words of comfort, you might be dumping a box of Morton’s Salt on a wounded heart. Just because someone doesn’t have close relationships with extended family, this doesn’t give them the right to project their unsolicited opinions. They shouldn’t tell other people how to grieve or mourn the loss of an acquaintance, friend, cousin, brother, sister, husband, mother, father, grandparent, or significant other!!!

Get the message? Sadly I don’t think so. I’m concerned that people will continue with their insensitive remarks because it makes them feel better, that they are helping someone by letting them know that they don’t need to experience sadness for the non-immediate family. They communicate that “It’s all in God’s hands.” “It’s His will.” These are the messages they try to convey as a reason to not get emotional.

I wholeheartedly believe in God’s sovereignty and His perfect timing. But He does provide a time to grieve and mourn. I also think that there is a time to shake off this season and move on, but sometimes…

It’s. Just. So. Hard. And. It. Can’t. Be. Rushed!

Image by Sasin Tipchai from Pixabay

Yet, by the grace of God, I have been able to do some shaking off — knowing full well that the grief may resurface in the future because of a trigger such as a loved one’s death date, birthday, etc. At this time, I embrace it for what it is. I remember the precious life of the dear one that has died. Maybe I cry, even get a little mad, but the grief eventually evaporates just like the contrails spied in the sky, slowly fade. But, I am accepting of the next airplane that may deposit more engine exhaust because it is what the aircraft is designed to do. We, humans, are wired to grieve and mourn death. Not just for the “close ones,” but anyone that God has put into our life…His fearfully and wonderfully made people when they leave this world are worthy of our grief.

Grief does not need to be cleaned up and quickly put away, and it’s really not up to anyone else to say when I should put my sorrow back in the cupboard.

I do hope that I’m wrong above, and that some of my well-meaning peeps and acquaintances get this, and that they stop treating the grieving person as a dirty dish that quickly needs to be cleaned and put away. I pray they learn to linger over the dinner table, spend a little extra time chatting and know that the dishes will get done…later.

52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks 2019: Week 24 Dear Diary

This post is dedicated to Laura and Adam whose pain was so great that they took their own lives, and now we, the ones that loved you continue to carry the pain, for your tragic deaths has wounded us in ways you could have never contemplated.

It’s dedicated to Michelle, Bonnie (Kay), Dawna, Uncle Frenchie (Roland), Debbie, Pinky (Albert), Allyson, and Aunt Bonnie. My brave warriors that battled cancer.