05 November 2009

The Grandmother I Never Knew

Myrtle Mae Borgstadter Beffort 1918 - 2009

I had some news a couple of days ago. My Grandmother, Myrtle Mae Borgstadter Beffort passed away in Salina, Kansas. She was 91 years old. She was the only grandparent on either side that was still living. Well , not really living - I was told that she had been in a nursing home for the last 10 years suffering from Alzheimer's Disease.

I never knew my Grandmother. She is my father's mother. Growing up, I know that we made a trip to Kansas to see them because I have photos. My mother says the last time we made the trip I was 6 years old.

My father and grandmother

My father never talked about his family, not really. I can only recall one thing that my dad said about his mother . After he had a few cocktails I remember him saying that he used to call her "Myrtle the Turtle." I do not remember why he called her that. I only remember him saying that he NEVER called her that to her face. My father died in 1988 at the age of 52. I was 19 years old. An age where I thought the world revolved around me and only me. I never got the chance to even get to really know my Daddy. At that time, it also never occurred to me that my Grandmother had lost her oldest son. Two weeks later, my grandfather dies. First her oldest child and then her husband. If she made any contact with my family during this time, I was not aware of it. I was in my own little world of shock and unbelievable sadness that my father had died. It was my first experience with death up close and personal. Here it is twenty years later and I still miss him. My grief is not over him dying. Not anymore. I grieve because I feel like a part of me is still missing. Not knowing about my father's life makes me feel like a part of me is missing.

As the years went by I began my journey researching my family history. I had always intended to make a trip to Kansas , knock on my grandmother's door and see if she would talk to me. Ask her if she could tell me why or what happened in the past that prevented us from having a relationship. Another couple of years came and went and I told myself "Next year, yes next year I will make the trip to Kansas."

My dad has 3 younger brothers. If any of them will talk with me, I still have a chance to begin to fill in the huge void. If I make that trip out to Kansas. I have, through my research, the basic vitals and information about my grandparents. I have some photographs of them. Through a couple of shirt tail cousins who found me a year or so ago I learned some basic biographical information. I was able to get a copy of my grandmother's obituary and it told me some things about her life that I can now add to her story.

I will find a way to honor my grandmother and her life. I need to straighten out my thoughts and feelings about this. I am feeling guilty for not having a meltdown when I heard she died. I have no memories of ever knowing her. I am saddened by the thought that I will never have an opportunity again to try and get to know her. Which in turn makes me mad because that is a very selfish thing to be thinking about.


  1. Your post hits "home", so to speak, with me. The Martin line that I'm trying to research more about long distance was my dad's mom's family, who I wasn't very close to. My mother and my dad's mom [my Paw Paw] just never got along. It's "funny" how curious I am of her and her family, and how much more I know her now than I did when she was alive. I look at her beautiful photos, and I want to know more. If only she were alive now that I know how important her story is to my story. Oh well. I guess there are some things we have to learn the hard way...and, in a way, maybe we're better off for it. I don't know.

    Caroline Pointer
    Family Stories

  2. Thank you Carolyn, it's that old "Shouda, coulda, woulda" thing isn't it.

    A part of life I suppose, a sucky part, but a part none the less.

  3. Sheri, your thoughts and feelings are very normal. They are not selfish at all so don't beat yourself up! You didn't know your grandmother so you can't feel the same emotion felt when someone close passes on. She was a grandmother in name only, very sad, and I hope one day your uncles tell you their version of what happened. But remember it's only *their* version!

    My dad always regretted that he never knew his grandfather so your blog post hit home for me. My father didn't know that his granddad lived just 6 miles from him! When my dad was 23, his father announced that he was going to his father's funeral (my dad's grandpa's funeral).

    That was the first time my father even knew his grandpa was still alive. Turns out that my dad's father and grandfather had not spoken in over 25 years even though they lived just a few miles apart. Such a tragic part of life but it happens more frequently than you might think

  4. Your posting "hit home" with me too! When I was born all four of my grandparents were no longer living. I too think this was the reason I took up the interest in genealogy over 45 years ago. Now that I am a grandmother to five grandchildren, I realize what I truly missed. However, there is no way to make the loss other than become closer with those relatives who are living. However, this is very hard with family living thousands of miles apart. I truly understand what you are going through.

  5. Sheri

    A great heart-felt post and I know many of us have had the same experience with an estranged relative.

  6. As Thomas said, many of us have had estrangements in our families and the emotions they create are tricky things. Maybe now is a good time to get in touch with your uncles. I'm very sorry you never got to know your grandmother.

  7. Hey Sheri well done. I suspect we all have such a "life" experience we could share. I never knew my paternal grandfather and hardly my paternal grandmother. Finding out more about our ancestors is one element that makes genealogy important. Thanks for sharing your experiences.

  8. As others have said, many of us have estranged relatives, and I think your feelings are completely normal.

  9. I am sorry you never knew your grandmother. I can barely remember one grandparent, two others died before I was born, and the fourth was out of the picture. Since we really *are not* in control, things like this are certainly difficult. I hope you will be able to reconcile you loss, and find some information that will help you understand.

  10. Sheri, this is a wonderful tribute to your grandmother, even though you didn't know her. I taught school in Salina, KS when I got out of college. It's a very pretty town. I'm so sorry you never had a relationship with Myrtle...it was HER loss as well as yours. It's wonderful that you have the photos!

  11. Becky,
    It wasn't Sacred Heart Catholic school was it? That is the name of the school my dad attended.

    To all, thanks for the shoulder to cry on (so to speak). See that's just one of the many reasons I love this group of people - the Geneabloggers. Family needn't be blood to be kin!

  12. Thank you for sharing this with us. It is quite sad. I go along with the others who commented. I have a feeling she had a sad life after the deaths though, but she would be thrilled that you are working on her lineage.

  13. What a wonderful tribute to your Dad and your grandmother. One of the many benefits of age means we can look back at the self-centerness of youth and be thankful we are no longer that impetious person. Those of us who are able to learn that lesson, move forward and it appears you have as well and will do what we can - Blessings to you!!!

  14. Motha Sheri,

    Thanks for sharing. It's not an easy topic to write about, but you may learn that you are not the only one to have this sort of experience. Thanks for your honesty!


  15. I can identify. My dad died when I was 17 (he was 60). My paternal grandparents were deceased before I was born so he was my link to memories of them. Too bad that being a teenager myself it never occurred to me to ask him about them.

    I did seek out siblings of his in recent years when I became interested in genealogy. Almost all of them were happy to share a few photos and memories.

    I say, "go for it!" Look up those uncles and start asking questions. Alzheimer's runs in families. You may have less time than you think to get those answers...