Photo of the Week: In memory of Jeanne Holliger Baldwin

I keep thinking about the beach.  My grandmother died two nights ago, which I guess was two mornings ago, and I’m trying to sort out how I feel.  Grief, I’ve found, takes time to set in; from half a world away, my grandmother’s death seems unreal. I’m not grieving yet; I’m trying to.  I remember thinking of her when I took this photograph on the beach in Hoi An in January.  My sisters and I spent many carefree hours playing on the beach in Hilton Head Island, South Carolina, where she and my grandfather had retired in the 1980s.  We’d build sandcastles, search for crabs and sand dollars, splash in the waves and occasionally find the imprint of a horseshoe crab in the wet sand just after the tide went out.

My memories of my grandmother are few; my family never lived near enough to make visiting often possible and, over the past few years, she rapidly lost her memory.  We do, fortunately, have a box of letters written to her throughout her life, the earliest of which is an eighth grade love letter containing the phrase, “Gee whiz, Jeanne” and possibly something about a malt shoppe.  And she did give me what was perhaps the most important piece of advice I’ve ever received: in the midst of moving between eight different states, she advised my sisters and I to “put down roots everywhere.”  Blowing it off at the time, I only recently realized its poignancy and begun to take it to heart.  Because her memory loss was so complete last July, she probably would not have remembered that I moved to Vietnam and I doubt she would approve, mostly because of her generation.  But she would, I think, approve of the fact that I no longer feel rootless in Hanoi.

Thanks, Grandma.

My sisters and I on the beach in Hilton Head, SC, probably around 1998.

Updated 23 April 2012


5 thoughts on “Photo of the Week: In memory of Jeanne Holliger Baldwin

  1. I’m so sorry to hear about your grandmother. It brought me back to when I heard my grandmother had passed, over Christmas 2007. I loved her dearly but like you, she lived too far away (Shanghai) for me to visit more than once a year — not to mention the language barrier, for which I’ll always regret not starting Chinese studies earlier — and my memories of her are far too few. I’m so sorry for your loss. This was a beautiful piece.

    • Thanks for the condolences. Isn’t it sad that we tend to realize only once a person is dead how much more we wanted to know about them, how much closer we wanted to be to them?

  2. I’m very sorry for your loss. You will heal – give yourself time. My father passed away three years ago, and I was so anxious to “get back to normal” that I didn’t give myself time. I went into depression, with resulting physical complications. It was the first death of anyone close to me, and I didn’t know how to “do it.” We don’t talk enough about death in our culture. It’s a very BIG thing that happens in our lives, and it’s shunted to the shadows. We learn from everything that happens in our lives – good or bad. You will remember all the times together, like this photo you’ve posted. In time you will heal – trust me, and be sure to take care of yourself. My best wishes to you and your family.

  3. Thank you so much for the condolences, and for sharing your story. I’m sorry about your father’s death. I think you’re right to say that we don’t talk about death enough in our culture, even though it seems like a pretty important subject considering we must all deal with it at some point. You’ve inspired me, actually, to begin researching how the Vietnamese deal with death and grieving.

  4. Pingback: Home Is Where… « Someone told me there'd be wild things.

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