Mary Jane Denzer: a granddaughter remembers

Written by Haley Jakobson

“Today I am wearing the necklace my grandmother gave me for my 22nd birthday, a replica of the one she always wore and like the ones my beautiful aunts wear, too. She never took it off, nor do they, nor will I — ever. This is the outfit I wore to my grandmother’s Christmas dinner last year. I mostly do not wear outfits like this. I mostly wear my dad’s sweaters and leggings. My grandmother, who said quite a few things to quite a few people, never said anything to me about my clothes. I don’t know why she let me off the hook, but she did. My dad told me that the day after Christmas my grandmother called him to remark how ecstatic she was about this outfit. She loved it. I loved that it had made her so happy. On the days I opt out of the sweaters and leggings, I dress myself like this because it is how my grandmother taught me to dress. She was the essence of style, and the way she looked on the outside was how she taught me to be on the inside. To live with poise, eloquence, ferocity, and passion. It was important to me that she knew I felt this way.

In October, I wrote this email:

“Dear Grammy,

What I want you to know is that you have given me the strength of a thousand women. That you have built a family of warriors, joy-seekers, love-givers, and kindness. You have shown me fierce passion, what it means to have it and hold onto it, and you have shown me the endless, bottomless, overflowing love a grandmother has for her granddaughter. I will always carry your love in the depths of my soul.

There is no way to explain what you mean me to me, what your friendship has allowed me, where your guidance has led me and how your love has nourished me. I am forever lucky to be yours, to be of you and I cherish the life we have shared with each other. Every moment with you has been joy, excitement, laughter, and true connection.

I have been so angry with every God, with the universe, with my own ignorance and misunderstanding since I was told you were sick. Nothing prepared me for this and I have struggled deeply with any attempt at acceptance. And I know, that sometimes the truth is the hardest thing to accept. I’m so sorry that I haven’t visited more, called more. I’m sorry for these excuses. But I am heartbroken, and scared, at the prospect of living without my grandmother.

I just want you to know that ours is true love. That a childhood filled with sleepovers and visits to the city, family dinners and lunches by the pool will be with me for the rest of my life. That your passion for your life is emblazoned in me and I will share everything about you, every last detail, with my children. They will live in the legacy of their most fabulous great grandmother and they will know how at the deepest root of our family and at the deepest part of me, is you.

I would not be here if not for you and what a miracle that is. Thank you for meeting my Poppy and having my father, making him strong and wonderful and caring and allowing me to have life on this planet. I am because of you, and isn’t that tremendous?

There are no words, so few tangible ways to express the infinite love that is in me for you. But I know you share in that love and we two are the only ones who have to know what that means.

I find it so beautiful that you can find a best friend in your grandparent, that I only had to wait until life was given to me to find you. And it’s so lovely that a few decades after you were born, you found me. There is such certainty in knowing that and so a goodbye is not necessary. We were always meant to be and things meant to be do not have endings.

I thank you for always accepting me as I am, for listening to me for 22 years and for injecting your spirit into every morsel of my life.

I want you to know that every part of your being is loved and cherished. That you will always be safe because you are loved by so many. And that I am always here for you, indebted to you, and in love with everything you are.

Thank you for being my grandmother.

I love you desperately.


My grandmother responded, not 10 minutes later:

“I can hardly find the strength to answer such a beautiful message. I love you too — so deeply — and I am not leaving you yet. We will have more time together to talk about everything — and I will be with you forever — I promise — in spirit and love.

See you tomorrow.”


So, to my everything, I promise to always dress on the inside the way you dressed on the outside. And you better believe, when it comes time for a party, I will be my grandmother’s granddaughter, and be the best dressed guest. In the heaven I imagine you in, you are always at a cocktail party reapplying your lipstick. Every dish is the most fabulous you have ever eaten, everyone is laughing and you are always the most divine. Please save me a seat at your table. In the mean time, I will be loving you from afar.”

Haley was wearing a short black cocktail dress with a fitted top and full, black lace skirt by Australian designer Alex Perry when she delivered this eulogy.

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