Betsy Whitt

I read. I write. I think. I live.


Today is April 6th. I always notice when this date comes around, though I haven’t mentioned it to many people.

Four years ago, my grandmother died. She was terribly special to me, and I still miss her. In the months following her death, I often found myself thinking I ought to call and tell her this or that, or that I would put it in my next letter, and it always came as a shock that I couldn’t. It still happens from time to time, but nowhere near as often.

There have been a lot of changes in the family in the last four years–marriages, babies, cross-country moves. Life moves forward and takes us with it. The missing is no longer sharp and sudden, but gentle, savored because it also brings memories of traveling and sitting up close at the opera and her exclamations when I described a teammate’s injuries while playing Ultimate frisbee, and the day when she wouldn’t hug me because my dyed hair and painted face alarmed her.

Yes, that really is me.

I don’t think I’ve posted a picture of her before, so here’s one I’ve always liked. I was showing her plans for a quilt.

Three years ago, I wrote a piece in memory of her life, and I read it again every year. In case you’re interested, here it is:

In memoriam

My grandmother died a year ago today. I have not yet attempted to put my thoughts and feelings into words, though the pen or the computer is my preferred method of expression in most cases. At times I question whether I have truly grieved for her, but more often there is a quiet acceptance of her absence. I miss her painfully, at times. I miss her interest and her wisdom. I miss being able to write her letters. I miss sharing my life with her, and hearing her excitement about my crazy ideas. But I also know that she is in a much better place, and I will see her again. I know that she knows about my crazy ideas and is still excited about them.

Let me tell you about her.

My grandmother’s name was Virginia, but no one ever called her that. Her adult friends all called her Ginx, and the family all called her Diji. That’s DIH-gee, not Deejee. How she got the name is a long story, but the end of it was that all of my friends knew my grandparents as Diji and Doc.

Diji’s favorite color was red. She had red blazers and red plaid skirts and red sweaters and red fleece mittens. The wallpaper in the living room was red. Not white with red designs – it was red all over. The couch was always red, and the chairs. Not scarlet red, or old-lady-lipstick red. Deep, rich, warm red. Good red. The carpet was black, and the woodwork was all painted white (“Don’t put your dirty fingerprints on the paint!”), and she always had pictures tucked in her piles of work. Sometimes they were a snapshot that we’d sent recently, and sometimes a photo from my childhood that she’d plucked from an album to remember us.

After her funeral one of our family friends, Rachel, told me a story. She said that she’d been driving by Diji and Doc’s house one day when my brother and I were visiting. I was small, probably only five or six years old, and Diji and I were sitting out in her rocking chair on the front porch. Rachel said that she’d slowed down, intending to call a hello. But Dij had me on her lap, facing her, and we were so deep in conversation that Rachel said she couldn’t bring herself to intrude on that moment. I remember those times, head to head with Dij, sitting on the front porch. I have no idea what in the world I could have been talking about – I was only five, after all – but she had stopped all of her other activities to listen to me.

She did that for my entire life. Dij always had time to talk, and always wanted to hear what I was thinking or learning about.

I began writing letters to her in the summer before my sophomore year of college. We wrote almost every week for four years. I miss that desperately. I miss reading about the farmers’ market and how quickly Doc’s bread sold this week. I miss someone asking how my latest quilting project is coming along. I wish that I could have taped her most common responses, so that I would be able to play them back when I miss her most.

I wish that she had been able to be there for the wedding, that I could have handed her my bouquet in honor of her own marriage. I wish that I could have hugged her one last time. I wish that she had been able to see the quilt that I made for Matt’s wedding gift – the quilt for which she helped to pay, helped to finish. I wish that she could have been there, but I know that she knew that I had found my match. She lived to see all of her grandchildren paired with equal partners, and that is more important.

I remember the way that music was something spiritual to her, and how she could hardly get through singing some of the hymns on Sunday morning because she felt their meaning more than most did. She was a phenomenal organist, and played for many years. She loved to see her love of music echoed in her grandchildren. She was so proud of me at my senior voice recital. They were late because of traffic, but I made everyone wait until she was there before I started. I couldn’t have done it without her there. It just wouldn’t have been right.

There are many times when I know that I will wish that she were still here in this world – when my children are born, when we buy our first house, when I publish a book. There will be many times, good and bad, when I will reach for her advice and find that I must do my best without it.

On the morning when Diji passed away, she was in the hospital. My mother and grandfather got phone calls from the doctors that they should come as soon as possible – and they did, but by the time they got there, she was gone. Mom said that she looked just as though she were sleeping. I think that she could have held on long enough to see them – but she had already said her goodbyes, and she was never one to make a scene.

She didn’t dwell on her own passing, and I don’t think she wanted us to, either. After all, she is only sleeping. And some day, we will all wake, and rise to meet once again in the skies.

She will meet my children and invite them to sit in her lap as I once did, and I will get that hug. And for that, it is worth looking forward more often than we look back.


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