My Grandma Burns died in April 2009. I don’t miss her that much in the Spring but come December, my heart aches for her, particularly around Christmas, a time where her power as the family matriarch shined brightest. I’ve spent a couple of hours today writing around my grief, trying to articulate how much I miss her presence in my life. I swayed from memories of holidays and graduations to birthdays and weddings. I tried to get a grip and in an attempt to focus I pulled her death notice:
Dorothy A. Burns, nee Hannigan, 92 years old, beloved wife of the late Peter J. Burns; loving mother of Dorothy (Hank) Yudice, Peter (Mary) Burns, Marie (Jerry, Ret. C.F.D.) Craven, Tom (Jeanne) Burns, Karen (Rod) Thiessen and Jerry, Ret. C.F.D. (Peg) Burns; cherished grandmother of 23; proud great-grandmother of 31; dear sister of the late Jim Hannigan and Veronica Lucas; fond aunt of many nieces and nephews. Funeral Tuesday, 8:30 a.m. from Thompson & Kuenster Funeral Home, 5570 W. 95th St., Oak Lawn, to Our Lady of Loretto Church, Hometown, for Mass at 9:30 a.m. Interment Holy Sepulchre Cemetery. Visitation Monday from 3 until 9 p.m.
Published in a Chicago Tribune Media Group Publication on Apr. 12, 2009
I decided to write the first 10 things that come to mind.
- Her name lives on through her great-grandchildren, Emma Dorothy Burns, the daughter of my cousin Peter and his wife, Tomo; and Hannigan Doyle Chambers, the daughter of my sister Jennine and brother-in-law, Aaron.
- Her mother and aunt live on in my daughter, Bridget Ellen, who is named for my Grandma’s maternal Aunt Bryde, who raised my Grandma for her first year, following the sudden death of my Grandma’s mother, Ellen Hannigan.
- If my Grandma’s first-born were a son, he’d be named Peter. So when the first-born was a daughter, she named her Dorothy. Grandma once told me, “What’s good for the goose is good for the gander, if Dad could name his son after himself, then I could name our daughter Dorothy.” Her second-born was a son, and he was named Peter, of course. I loved that she was a feminist before her time.
- My parent’s first-born, Annmarie, is named after my Auntie Annie, a cousin who raised my Grandma, and my Great Aunt Veronica and Great Uncle Jim. Annmarie’s name is the union of my mom and Auntie Annie, who without, I’m quite sure I wouldn’t be writing this today.
- Whenever my Grandma spoked of her son Tom, a warm smile came over her. She’d talk of his shenanigans and his heart of gold. I see them both in my brother Kevin.
- My Grandma told me she met a woman on the bus when she was pregnant with her fifth child. The woman was holding a baby and my Grandma told the new mom the baby was beautiful. To which the woman responded, “Her name is Karen”. That’s how Karen Francis was named. It was blasphemous in my Grandpa’s eyes to name a child a non-Christian name. I was given the name Karen after my Aunt, and I thought it was pretty cool because every year for All Saints Day I had a handful of patron saints to choose from, including Catherine of Siena, St. Catherine of Alexandria, and St. Therese The Little Flower.
- I don’t know where Jerry’s name came from, but I liked that he and my father shared the same name. My dad is Jerome. My uncle is Jeremy. They both go by Jerry. And my Grandma loved them both, one as her son, and the other like a son.
- My favorite story which makes me believe in fate is from January 1942 at St. Bernard’s Hospital. Patricia Craven and Dorothy Burns shared a room in the maternity ward. Patricia gave birth to Pasty, and Dorothy gave birth to Marie. The mothers would meet again 27 years later when Patricia’s son, Jerry, married Marie.
- As I think of my life, with her in it, I think the most important gesture came in February of 2000 at my husband’s 30th birthday party. She told me the key was under the mat when I needed it. My marital problems were not well-known, but she knew they existed, and she knew I needed help, and I was too stubborn to return home to my parents. A couple of weeks later, I moved in with her, and a few months after that moved to Maine, officially ending that chapter of my life
- All of the Chicago / Quincy family shared the most special time of the year with her, Christmas Eve. It evolved over the years, all because of her. For a woman whose mother died just months after her birth, my Grandma had more maternal instincts than anyone I have ever known. Her heart was rich with empathy, her soul aplenty with joy. She was revered.
When I think of Christmas, I think of the birth of Christ, Mary and Joseph, and the importance of family. I think of how our entrance into this world is remarkably simple and humble. Christmas reminds me of how our individual decisions form the person we become. We can choose anger or we can choose kindness. My Grandma had plenty of reasons to choose anger, but she was a big believer in what you put out to the world you will receive in return. Life is like a boomerang.
I miss my Grandma more than ever this year, because there is a different permanence to this holiday. A parenting agreement now dictates what was once a no-brainer, Christmas Eve with the Cravens and Burns and Christmas day at our house.
When I think of Christmas, I think of my Grandma. She embodied everything that birth of Christ taught us: humility, grace, simplicity, kindness, and love. She loved her family, and we loved her. I know if she were here, she would tell me to buck up. And she’d ask me to carry on her own example and to love my family, and accept its current form, and by doing so love and kindness will be returned.