Irene Rachel Helen Oeltjenbruns Mehmen
June 8, 1928 – December 25, 2018
My grandma will now forever be our special Christmas angel. It’s hard to imagine our family without its matriarch, the magnet that drew us all together. And yet I’m feeling so much gratitude – for being born her granddaughter, for her example of how to live life, for my 48 years of memories with her.
My earliest memories of my Grandma Mehmen’s house are of people and laughter and music. I loved it. All those aunts and uncles, and later the cousins that came after me. And the food to feed all those people – especially the stacks of sliced fresh-baked bread piled on a card table at the end of the counter. My grandma and grandpa laughing in the middle of the chaos. And no matter the occasion, always music and sing-alongs.
My grandma was loved by many people, and not just her own large family. When she was in the hospital a couple of weeks ago, I stopped to see her after work one day. I felt lucky that I happened to come at a time when no one else was there, we had a wonderful conversation. I don’t think it happened that she was alone often while she was in the hospital, and even while I was there her cell phone rang at least a couple of times. The nurse in the room said to me, “She is one popular gal!” And she was. She told me that day how a while back she had stopped at the gas station in Osage, and one of the residents from Comp Systems saw her and came up to give her a great big hug. “Irene, I’ve missed you!” he said. “Isn’t that something?” she asked me. “It has to have been 15 years since I’ve seen him!” But that was the kind of person she was. She didn’t just care for people, she engaged them. And they didn’t forget her.
I don’t think anyone would say she had an easy life. Leaving home at 14, losing a daughter, being widowed at such a young age, surviving multiple bouts of cancer. But she made it look easy. My grandma was the ultimate example of mind over matter, of how a person’s attitude makes all the difference. I remember when she was undergoing chemotherapy, and I asked her if the treatments made her tired or sick at all. “Oh no!” she said. “They give me so much energy, I come home and clean my house from top to bottom!” I’ve never been sure if that was really true, or if she just made up her mind that that was the way it was going to be, and so it was.
In the face of hardship, she did what she always did and got to work. And she rocked it. When a rule change meant she might lose her job because she hadn’t graduated high school, she got to work and earned her GED. She was around 60 years old at that point. I’ve always been so amazed by that, and so proud of her.
One silly little thing that keeps popping into my head is when one of the little kids would fall and skin their knee or bump their head, and cry about it. She’d say, “Don’t worry, it’ll stop hurting by the time you’re a grandpa,” and she’d laugh and laugh. And it seems like a trite little quip, but from my perspective it really sums up her life philosophy. It says that hard times will come, they come to us all. But hard times don’t last. There are always better days ahead to look forward to. And that’s what you do – you look forward, not back. You hold hope, not worry. And in the meantime, you ride out the hard times with the help of your faith, your family and friends, a few laughs, a few hands of euchre, and a beer or two.
I’ll miss her laughter, I’ll miss her delight at playing euchre with Rafe and Andy, I’ll miss growing eggplant for her in the summers. But I’ll attempt to carry with me her faith, her strength, her amazing attitude, and her love of life no matter the circumstances.