Moving House

This is a picture of my grandmother on my dad's side. Her name was Elisabeth Marie Löwensen Burns and if the baby I'm carrying had turned out to be a girl, her middle name was going to be Elisabeth. She mostly went by Betty, but we all called her Omi, which is the familiar form of Oma, the German for grandmother. When I was very little, I twisted three pipecleaners into an O, an M, and an I, and painted each one a different color. She hung them on the wall in her living room and they were still there every time I went back to visit, right up until the last time I was in her flat.

She was born on July 14th, 1926 and she died on April 23rd, 2013, which was just a couple of days ago. She was 86, so it wasn't a huge shock. She slipped away in her sleep, which is the most peaceful way to go. These facts bring comfort, but they don't quite ease the crushing finality of it, the fact that she's gone. When my cat Charlie died, the thing I missed most desperately at first was the weight of him, the heft of him on my lap; at my lowest point, I piled a few heavy blankets on top of myself and pretended it was him. The first thing I missed about Omi was her handwriting, the loop and curve of it, how she'd scratch out thirteen kisses after her name in birthday cards because thirteen was her lucky number. I scoured my desk drawers in case I'd kept a leftover note from her. I pawed through the books she'd given me, hoping she'd made an inscription in one of them. My heart leapt to see writing on a flyleaf, then plummeted when I realized it wasn't hers. It was made out to "darling Toot" and signed "Rabbit." She must have bought it secondhand.

A lot of my memories of her are food-related: the toffees she'd keep in her handbag when we were little and cut in half for us, how she'd make us give the wrapper to her afterwards so she'd be sure it was thrown away. When I was older, she'd sneak up behind me and throw a handful over my head when I was doing my homework, then profess innocence when I looked up laughing and asked where they'd come from. I remember the way she diced carrots in perfect little circles before she cooked them, the warm rolls we'd slather with butter and marmalade for breakfast, the potatoes she fried in a recreation of the bratkartoffeln she'd grown up eating. She called the fruit Polos she doled out to us "power sweets" and we called the custard creams she always had in the biscuit tin "Omi biscuits." When she picked me up from school, she always had a cheese sandwich for me in her bag and it was always wrapped in wax paper. She kept Kia-Ora orange squash in a low kitchen cupboard and tap water in an old vodka bottle in the fridge. The first time she pulled it out and poured it into glasses for us, my brother Tom's eyes grew round as dinner plates. "Omi!" he shouted. "No! That's vodka!"

She was the first person to see me when I was born—before my mother, even, who was under heavy anaesthetic—and she said "yes, that'll do very nicely" when she did. She took us to Thorpe Park every summer, and once we made her go on a crazy, whirling, looping ride, and afterwards she had to have a lie-down on the grass in her sensible coat. She had real candles on her Christmas trees and an endless supply of drawing paper in a turquoise Croxley box she kept in the hall cupboard. She played a made-up game with us called "Mrs Flounders" that involved hiding under the table in her living room; one of us would be Mrs Flounders and the rest of us—even her, in her stocking feet—would duck under the tablecloth for tea. For a short time, she drove a bright orange MG, and for a long time after that, a red VW Polo. Anytime she took you somewhere, you had to build in an extra 15 minutes for her to change into her driving shoes and have half a cigarette. She always waved to you from the balcony when you left. 

She came to England from Germany in 1947, raised two boys and a girl, once took my dad on a vacation where they drove their car onto a plane. She wore her hair in a style we called a topknot before topknots were something you saw on Pinterest, and every time she walked us into town, we'd go through a tunnel where she'd call out "oh-oh!" just to hear the echo. She'd pick me up from school on Fridays and take me straight to the library and let me check out as many books as I wanted, then she'd drive me home and we'd watch Blind Date and the Antiques Roadshow and the Eastenders omnibus on her couch. She made me speak German with her for entire afternoons to make sure I got enough practice for my German A-levels, and she kept making me do it even when I sulked. I called her once from the airport when I was in my early 20s, a teary mess after dropping Sean off, and asked if it would be okay if I caught the train to her house. She had guests in from out of town, but she didn't even hesitate. "Of course," she said. "Come right over. You're my granddaughter." 

I have been making tentative plans to go to the funeral in England in the next couple of weeks. It is money I wasn't planning on spending and time I wasn't planning on taking off work and a 12-hour flight I wasn't planning on doing at 28 weeks pregnant—though my doctor has said that it's fine—but this is the thing: I can't not go. I would regret not going. "Weddings if you can," a friend of my mother's once said. "Funerals, always." 

The night before we found out she'd died, my brother Luke—who swears that nothing like this ever happens to him—had a dream that all six of us in my family were moving her into a new house. "It was very quiet and calm and comfortable," he wrote, "and while we were all nervous and scrabbling with each other to organize her new home, she sat in a chair to the side and just chatted and laughed with all of us."  

I miss her horribly, and I can't imagine not missing her every day, but it helps a lot to think of it like that. She just moved house. She's somewhere else. That's all it is. 

Apr 25, 2013

I am so sorry for your loss, and once again blown away by how beautifully you write. Your family is in my thoughts.

Apr 25, 2013

Such a lovely tribute. I'm so sorry for your loss.

Apr 25, 2013

Holly, I am so sorry for your loss. My own grandmother died 6 months ago (one month before turning 99) and although her death was no shock, I still sometimes cannot believe she's no longer here. I am keeping your family in my thoughts and like always, your writing painted the perfect picture - beautiful tribute.

Apr 25, 2013

What a lovely, beautiful Oma. I'm so sorry for your loss. Your relationship sounds wonderful.

Apr 25, 2013

Your oma is so similar to mine that I have tears streaming down my face. Even down to the first name and raising two sons and one daughter, just substitue America for England and there you are.
Good luck on your journey and may you find peace.

Pretzel Thief
Apr 25, 2013

Oh, Holly.


My deepest condolences to you and your family.

Your beautiful, heartfelt words are testament to the incredible love you had and HAVE for your Omi. It's hollowing and devastating to lose a grandparent, especially one so wonderful as your grandma. This post has me crying...I think it's almost impossible not to cry reading it.

Take care, be safe, and I'm so sorry once again. :-(((

Apr 25, 2013

I'm so sorry, Holly and family. She sounds like a wonderful woman.

Apr 25, 2013

I'm so sorry, Holly and family. She sounds like a wonderful woman.

Apr 25, 2013

Dear Holly, as somebody who lost a relative in very tragic circumstances last month - I would tell you - don't think twice - go for the funeral. Everything else is immaterial. Am very sorry for your loss.

Apr 25, 2013

So beautifully written and I am so sorry to hear of your loss. Am sitting here with tears streaming down my cheeks, remembering my darling Grandad who, in August, will have been gone 2 years. I miss him every day and have many wonderful memories, as you do of your Omi.

Take care xxoo

Apr 25, 2013

Holly, I'm so sorry for your loss. I'm the oldest of the grandchildren in my family, and I was lucky to have all of my grandparents until I was 17. I was jealous of my young cousins at the time, as I was old enough for it to hurt so much whereas they were just kids. Now, though, I know what a blessing it was to have had my grandparents for so long. Although it's never enough and I still miss them terribly, I am so grateful for all of the time we shared and memories I'm left with. I hope in time you'll be comforted by the memories of your dear Omi and her obvious love for you.

Apr 25, 2013

Gosh you look just like her, how amazing, and I am so sorry that she has died. Clearly at 86 it's not wildly out of the ordinary, but with those we love, there just is never an okay time for it to happen, even if they're very old or very ill. We just want them to continue being there, same as always.

Very sorry for your loss, hope you make it to the funeral and get to say goodbye.


As usual, this was so beautifully written. I'm sitting here in tears, thinking about the time I was lucky enough to spend with my grandmothers just a few weeks ago, when I only see them every few years or so. It's one of those awful, impossible life situations in which you know something is inevitable, yet its comprehension is ludicrous. Won't they always be there?

Funerals let you experience closure with shared memories among family and friends, but this? I couldn't think of a better commemoration of someone you love than what you've written right here.

Apr 25, 2013

This is beautiful, and so thoughtful. I'm so sorry for your loss. I'll keep you and your family in my prayers.

Apr 25, 2013

I'm so sorry Holly. A good grandma is such a gift. I'm glad you have so many treasured memories to look back on.

Apr 25, 2013

I am so sorry for your loss. This beautiful text would make your Oma feel very proud.
Take care, you and your family.

Apr 25, 2013

I'm so sorry for your loss Holly and for your dads also.

It's great you have so many fond memories of your Omi though. I'm sure she would have love this piece.

Apr 25, 2013

My Oma died two years ago, and I miss her terribly still. I'm so sorry for your loss. I think an Oma, with that wonderful German accent, is such a special, wonderful, lucky kind of grandmother to have.

Apr 25, 2013

What a beautiful tribute, Holly. I'm so sorry for your loss.

Apr 25, 2013

Holly, what a moving tribute. Such vivid memories to hold and treasure forever; though holding onto just memories is not nearly what we want, I know.

I am sorry for your loss, and wish you comfort and peace as you grieve an obviously wonderful woman.

Apr 25, 2013

Thinking of you and your family in your time of loss. What a wonderful woman to have had in your life and memories to keep with you always.

Anna Louisa
Apr 25, 2013

This was beautiful, Holly. My Oma is the same age as yours, (and would sometimes even come to my German classes in college, where she would become teacher's pet!)and you've definitely moved me to call her tonight. Thank you for that.

Apr 25, 2013

So sorry for you and your family Holly. This is a lovely tribute to your Omi.

Apr 25, 2013

A beautiful description of your Omi, brought me to tears and reminded me to cherish time with my own Memaw. Hugs to you!

Apr 25, 2013

Oh Holly, I'm so sorry. Sending you virtual hugs.

Apr 25, 2013

I am so sorry for your loss. This beautiful tribute to your Omi reminded me so much of my Mimi. She is 84, and I have found myself wondering, as she has become more frail and slowed down considerably in the last year, how I will feel when she is gone. Much like this I imagine.

Apr 25, 2013

Blessings and sweet memories to your family.

Apr 25, 2013

I am so sorry for your loss. She is in my thoughts and prayers today.

Apr 25, 2013

Beautifully written! You have some lovely memories to hold her near and dear to you!

Brianne Joy
Apr 25, 2013

Thoughts, prayers, and love to you and your family. Unfortunately I lost my grandmother back in 2005, so I can only imagine what you're going through. It sounds like she was an incredibly wonderful lady and loved by many!


Sending you love and light. My Granddad "moved house" last week, so I know what you mean. Hugs!

Apr 25, 2013

So very sorry to hear of the loss of your Omi, Holly. Losing grandparents is horrible, and one of the worst things about being a "grown up." I love thinking of her passing as just moving house, though, and I'm glad you'll likely be able to attend her funeral and enjoy reminiscences with your family and all the other people who loved your Omi.

Apr 25, 2013

You have such a lovely relationship with all of your family. I'm so sorry for your loss.

Apr 25, 2013

I am SO SORRY for the loss of your beloved OMI. I know the felling al to well. I lost my Grandma a few yrs ago. She was an AMAZING woman!. MUCH A HEAD of her time on this planet. A US MARINE in fact. I too have memories of food with her. She would ALWAYS have multipull kinds of ice cream, and at Christmas make homemade English toffee as well as little shortbread sandwich cookies with frosting(which I now make). Again so sorry for your loss, but thank you for allowing us to remember her with you. XOXOXO

Apr 25, 2013

my condolences to you and your family. this was a lovely tribute

Apr 25, 2013

What a treasure she was! So sorry to hear of her passing.

Apr 25, 2013

I'm so sorry for your loss. Thank you for sharing your memories, she sounds like a lovely woman.

Apr 25, 2013

Holly, I'm so sorry for the loss of your beautiful and amazing grandmother. What a beautiful memorial to her you have just written. I see so much resemblance of her in you, both in looks and spirit.

Apr 25, 2013

I'm so sorry for your loss. I'm so happy that I got to know a bit of her life and her spirit thanks to your lovely tribute.

Apr 25, 2013

My grandfather died six years ago, and it still hurts a little when I think about him. My other grandfather died before I was born, and so he was the only grandfather I ever knew. His passing wasn't unexpected, as he had been battling cancer for a while, but it was still immensely sad. Because of his illness, he and my grandmother couldn't travel to my wedding that summer, so we had a friend film it and then on our honeymoon road trip, my husband and I spent the night with my grandparents and watched the video with them. It was the last time I saw my grandfather before he died a month later, and it is a truly precious memory of watching his face light up at seeing us get married.

Our son is named William, in honor of him, and I look forward to sharing memories with him of the man who wore that name well for 80+ years. They live on in our hearts.

Apr 25, 2013

I'm sorry. And this was lovely.

Apr 25, 2013

Holly, I am so sorry for your loss. I'm in tears over here after reading your lovely tribute. I brought back many memories of my own grandmothers, both who've been gone for years. Missing them never goes away, really, but it becomes a memory rather than a constant ache. My thoughts are with you and your family.

Apr 25, 2013

How wonderful that you were so close with your grandma. My grandmother passed away a few years ago and our relationship was more cordial than close. Going to her funeral while terribly sad, was an opportunity to learn more about the wonderful woman she was.

So sorry for your loss. I hope your arrangements come together easily and your burden feels a little lighter.

Apr 25, 2013

Holly -- thank you for writing this and allowing us to get to know your grandmother a bit. What a beautiful tribute. I was also very close to my grandmother and have written a bit about her and could write so much more. She died at 94 and so, like your Omi, her death was not surprising, but I was devastated, because she had been an anchor for me. I hope the memories of your Omi that you shared and the other memories that are just yours will wrap a blanket of comfort around you in the coming days.

So lovely to think of her having moved, peacefully, to a new place. And nice to think that perhaps your little boy might get to visit her before he moves to his new place with you and Sean in a few weeks.

Safe travels.

Apr 25, 2013

I wish I could've written such a beautiful tribute when my Grams passed away. Thank you.

Apr 25, 2013

This is such a lovely tribute. I'm so very sorry for your loss. Hugs to you.

Apr 25, 2013

I'm struggling with what to say here. Other than that, for not the first time, you've left me sobbing at my desk.

My beloved grandmother is ailing, and it's been so terribly hard. She's 96 in two weeks. It's not unexpected. And yet hat doesn't really matter, does it? You've summed it all up so perfectly.

Thank you for this, so much. Big hugs to you, Holly. I'm glad you get to be there to send her off. xoxo

Apr 25, 2013

It's wonderful that you get to hold on to such great memories of your grandmother. Saying a prayer for you and your family and wishing your grandmother happiness and peace in her new house.

Apr 25, 2013

So sorry for your loss, grandma's always have a very special place in our hearts.

Also random tibit, my grandma's name is Betty, my husband's grandma's name is Betty as well...and they also have July 14th as their birthdays.

Apr 25, 2013

What a beautiful tribute. It's funny -- handwriting and food are two of the strongest memories I have of my grandmother, too. I'm so sorry for your loss.

Apr 25, 2013

I'm so sorry for your loss. My grandma died March 23, 2010 and I miss her every day. My mom's handwriting looks a lot like my grandma's, and it was a long time before I stopped feeling my heart jump whenever my mom sent me anything in the mail.

Apr 25, 2013

so sorry for your loss, Holly. what a beautifully-written tribute. sounds like you have such rich memories with her. hoping your family is finding comfort in each other.

Apr 25, 2013

I'm so sorry for your loss. Thank you so much for sharing your memories and description of your Omi. So much beauty. I had an Oma whom I loved but today I decided that when the time comes, I will be an Omi.

Megan @ Pink O'Clock
Apr 25, 2013

I'm so sorry for your loss, Holly. I really believe that no matter how old we get, we never stop missing our grandparents after they've left us; I miss my mom's father and the "boogy dance" he'd do as we pulled out of his driveway--waving and giggling frantically in the backseat as he did what was basically the Robot--just as much today as I did when he passed away 18 years ago. But I love your thought that our grandparents have just moved house, and I hope you find comfort in your memories of her and your time with your family in these coming weeks.

Love from Florida. xo

Apr 25, 2013

i'm so sorry, holly! isn't it so funny how the smallest things (memories, i mean) mean the most? i know you'll see your Omi again.

Apr 25, 2013

That was a beautiful tribute. She lives on through your stories!

Apr 25, 2013

What a beautiful tribute, Holly. I'm so sorry for your loss.

Apr 25, 2013

Absolutely fantastic tribute. Also, I couldn't agree more with your mom saying, "Weddings when you can; funerals, always." My friend and I discussed this very thing not so long ago. I have so many regrets for funerals that I didn't make b/c of distance or timing. And it means so much to those left behind when you do go.

Apr 25, 2013

I've been reading your blog for some time and regret that it took this long to comment. What an incredible tribute to a remarkable woman. I am terribly sorry for your loss.

Apr 25, 2013

I'm so sorry for your loss, Holly, but what a beautiful life she had, what a beautiful relationship you clearly had with her, and what a beautiful piece of writing to honor her. Thinking of you.

Apr 25, 2013

Such a beautiful memory of her, Holly. You write magnificently, as always.

Sarah Brown
Apr 25, 2013

Oh, Holly, this made me cry. What an amazing woman and what a beautiful eulogy. You were both lucky to have had each other. Sending you all love.

Apr 25, 2013

so sorry for your loss. i wish i had a relationship like yours with my grandparents.

Apr 25, 2013

My grandmother - also an Oma, but Dutch, not German - passed 5 years ago this month, and I miss her every day. A few weeks ago, my little brother came to visit, and we went to a Dutch market near me, and ate Indonesian food that she used to cook (well, one food, the only recipe she taught me), and spent every night drinking coffee and eating windmill cookies and talking about the goofy things she did. It was nice. And comforting, in a way that can only be noticed 5 years later.

Your mother's friend is right - always funerals.

Sorry for your loss, Holly.

Apr 25, 2013

Oh, I'm so terribly sorry. She is a lovely woman and I'm so sorry she's gone. This sucks.

Safe travels to London in a few weeks. I'll be thinking about you and your family.

Apr 25, 2013

Oh Holly. My heart goes out to you and your family. This whole post was extremely touching.

Apr 25, 2013

Your resemblance to your Omi is uncanny. What a terrific way to memorialize her life.

Apr 25, 2013

Oh, Holly, I was almost in tears by the end of this. I'm so sorry for your loss and I hope you are able to make it to the funeral. I just called my own grandmother last night, but I think I might call her again tonight.

Apr 26, 2013

Thank you for sharing such warm and wonderful memories of her with us. I'm so sorry for your loss. I'm pleased you have the comforting thought that she moved house to keep with you when you think of her.

I'd bring you toffee if I could.

Apr 26, 2013

Very sorry for your loss.
What a wonderful tribute.

Apr 26, 2013

Oh Holly, I'm so sorry to read about your loss. I think this is the grandmother you wrote about a couple of years ago too when you were wearing a pair of leather gloves she gave you?
I'm thinking of you and your family at this horrid time.

Apr 26, 2013

Oh Holly, I'm so sorry for your loss. I lost my Nanny two years ago, and I still miss her so much.

Your writing is again so mesmerizing. I was instantly transported to your world with your Omi.

Much love to your family.

Apr 26, 2013

You write in such a way that leaves your reader feeling they are with you.
I am so sorry for your loss. Wishing you safe travels and warm memories of your sweet Omi.

Apr 26, 2013

oh, count me among the many that are sending a few prayers and love your way.

Apr 26, 2013

i stumbled upon here from a random pin on pinterest - and i wanted to say my thoughts are with you

Apr 26, 2013

Sorry for your loss Holly. This really tugged my heart strings as it reminds me of my nan. She was wonderful and I miss her so much. My memories are so similar to yours as I live in England. We used to watch countdown and murder she wrote, make peg dolls, feed the ducks at the park and play with all her beautiful jewellery and pretend to be princesses! She cut the crusts off my sandwiches for me, even into my twenties and I loved her so. I count myself very lucky to have been her granddaughter. I send you my heartfelt condolences. X

Apr 26, 2013

This is so eloquent and moving. I found when my father passed that I wanted to write and write about him to get as many memories down on paper as I could. Greedy for more memories, I then decided to send self-addressed, stamped envelopes to all of his friends with the request that they send me their favorite memories, too. So many people wrote back with such wonderful stories - hilarious, profound, and full of love. I have had those letters bound in a book for my nephews who won't remember him, and maybe - just maybe - it would bring you joy to collect memories of your Omi, too, for your soon-to-be darling little one.

My thoughts are with you!

Apr 26, 2013

Oh, Holly. I'm so sorry for your loss. What a wonderful woman. What a legacy. Thanks for sharing your memories with us. It makes me think of my own grandparents--the ones I have left and the ones who are gone--and what a gift it has been to know them.

Apr 27, 2013

I read your blog and have never commented, but I have to say this tribute was especially touching. (I even stopped midway to tell my husband the part about your brother's dream. It fits with a lot of what I've read of near death and out of body experiences, but that's for another day.) I know she'll be looking out for your boy from her new house.

Apr 27, 2013

I'm sorry. You and your family have my condolences.

Apr 27, 2013

So sorry. What lovely memories you have.

Apr 28, 2013

I'm so sorry for your loss but this is a beautiful tribute to her. It's a sign of great life that she is remembered so lovingly.

Apr 28, 2013

She was lucky to have you in her life. You can see in her eyes in those photos how much she enjoyed being with you.

My Gram died two years ago, and the smell of cooking bacon for breakfast makes me think of her every time. She lived most of her life in a house with no electricity and only a wood stove to cook on and heat the house. When we'd visit her, she'd always be up early in the morning making homemade biscuits and bacon for breakfast.

Apr 29, 2013

Oh, I'm so sorry for your loss. Losing a grandparent is so, so hard.

Your words about her are beautiful - they made me wish to know someone like her. Wonderful tribute.

Safe travels.

Susie Bell
Apr 29, 2013

Such a beautifully written tribute to your grandmother.
I'm sure she knew how much you loved her and you have some wonderful memories to treasure and pass on to your children.

Apr 29, 2013

Holly, I am so sorry for your loss. You wrote a beautiful tribute to her!

Apr 29, 2013

That was beautiful! So sorry for your loss.

Apr 29, 2013

There go the floodgates. My amazing Grandma passed away three weeks ago. And while it wasn't a surprise (at 98!) we're still in shock that she's gone. She was phenomenal in countless ways.

A big teary hug to you. I have to believe that my Grandma and your Omi are somewhere special, surrounded by much love and light.

Apr 30, 2013

"O God, we pray on behalf of Elisabeth Marie. Surround her with your saints and angels, greet her with light and joy. Embrace and receive her into your arms. Bring solace and grace to her family and friends who deeply mourn their loss. Amen."

Apr 30, 2013

As always, beautifully written... Your Omi sounds rather like my Grandma who passed away less than a year before my daughter was born. (We honored her memory by passing her first initial on.) In my case, she was the *first* of my grandparents to pass... then they all went down like dominoes in the next six years. I often think that it was one of the most incredible gifts I could ever have in life, to enjoy ALL of my grandparents so very far into my own adult years... and I also often think that I didn't make as much of that gift as I should have. Your little Hamish will grow up knowing his great-grandma through your beautiful words and pictures. Condolences & best wishes to your family.

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