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A Grandmother’s Fighting Spirit! — suzanne-mcrae.com

A Grandmother’s Fighting Spirit!

*Note: this blog post was published on February 18th 2013. I had the date in the first sentence marked at February 18, 1979 when in fact it should have been February 19, 1979* *

On February 19, 1979 on a cold winter morning 34 years ago… it was a typical start to the day for my grandmother even though she was about 64 years old then. She made her way to the barn that day to go feed and milk the cows. That day she was also caring for three of her young grand-daughters, so she took them to the barn with her.

Grandma also took care of her household pretty much by herself along with a few of her children that were still at home. She was a woman of incredible strength and determination. She worked extremely hard and had raised a family of 12 children. My grandfather wasn’t very much in the picture with family life. There were still a few kids living at home. They were now young adults, and she was also caring for her 19-year old son who was severely disabled and living at home. He was my uncle even though he was a year younger than I was. His disability required that he receive total care. He was unable to feed himself, sit, talk or walk, yet he warmed a person’s heart with his laughter. My mother always had a way of making him laugh. He needed care like an infant did. Grandma and a few others in the family that still lived at home gave him the care that he needed.

That morning Grandma headed to the barn. One of her sons who still lived at home stayed in the house with his disabled brother. I can’t recall if anyone else was at home that day. Both were asleep upstairs when she left to go to the barn earlier that morning.

That day something horrific happened and I will never forget… Grandma heard the dogs barking from in the barn so she went outside to tell them to quiet down and that’s when she saw her home that was on fire. She ran to the house in attempt to save her sons from her burning home. She rushed inside her home and tried making her way up the stairs but she couldn’t. In the meantime her adult son had to jump out the 2nd story of their home to save himself. He suffered some burns.

Grandma wasn’t able to get out of the house without serious injuries… she suffered 3rd degree burns to probably half of her body that day, as she tried saving her sons from their burning home. Her son that was disabled, sadly perished in the fire that day.

My husband was working for a local business then (that was before we began dating) when he heard of the fire. Along with his boss and another guy, all volunteer firemen, they jumped in their vehicles and headed down as fast as they could to go and help. When they arrived the ambulance was already there and the fire trucks also. Nothing could be done to save my uncle from the burning home.

My husband recalls that cold winter morning as they poured water on the burning house, they could also see the oil tank on fire and it was venting through one of the openings making a loud whistling noise. Before they knew it the tank exploded creating a massive flame in the shape of a large mushroom. One of the firemen violently extended his arms out when he heard the explosion and he knocked a few of the guys to the ground my husband being one of them. All they could do was watch this flame come back down towards them. It all happened so quickly. My husband said that they could have been killed if the flame had not burnt itself out quickly on the way down. Luckily there were no serious injuries for the guys fighting the fire

At that time I was living in the city and working at a government job. I remember my mother calling me that day to tell me that Grandma was in the hospital and that they didn’t know if she was going to survive because of her serious injuries. My Grandmother’s family all gathered in town that evening. All any of us could do was to pray and let the medical staff do their job in caring for her as best they could. The family didn’t know if their mother would survive, and yet they had to plan a funeral for their young brother.

There’s no doubt that Grandma had the will to live. She was in constant and excruciating pain but yet she fought for her life with everything she had. Her face was severely burned… her arms, her hands, her back and more. She endured many skin grafts where skin was taken from areas on her body that had not been burned and grafted on her body where she had been burned. I don’t recall many of the details yet you think I would since the five months that she spent in the hospital in intensive care and in an isolation unit, I was there almost every single day. I lived only 10-minute walk away from the hospital. After work every day just about I would go and visit her. I felt helpless as I watched her struggle… I saw her in so much pain… I saw her fight for her life… I saw her scream and cry as they poked at her and change dressings and whatever else they had to do to help her heal. Eventually she had to learn to eat again and to feed herself. I saw her attempt to knit at the hospital so she could get her fingers mobile again. Grandma was severely disfigured because of that horrific tragedy that day but yet her spirit was shining through.

It was a while before her family would tell her that her son had perished in the fire that day. Yet as a mother I feel that she must have known that. Losing her son created a huge void in her life.

My grandmother lived for 19 years after that day where she was seriously injured. I still remember doctors telling the family that if their mother had been a little granny that sat at home not being as physically active that without a doubt she would not have survived. But because my grandmother could do the physical work of a man and she took care of a family, home and a severely disabled son… that is what gave her the strength to live through this ordeal. She never gave up. She was a fighter every step of the way.


Within a year or so after coming out of the hospital she had her dream home built like she wanted to do eventually. Grandma often would save gifts that she received at Christmas or on her birthday… she would save them for when she would build her new home one day in the future. Well all those presents were lost that day in the fire.

She was proud of her new home, where she lived with one of her son’s. But not long after this move to her new home, her son was diagnosed with schizophrenia and she was faced with yet another difficult journey.

Today as I think back to 34 years ago, I don’t know how I did it going to visit her almost every day that she spent in the hospital. I was happy that I lived so close to the hospital that I could just walk over and be with her. Being her oldest grandchild I felt a sense of responsibility. All of her family lived out-of-town an hour or so away, it was not always easy or possible for them to go in everyday.

Grandma was at the hospital for five months in total. Not that this was a difficult thing for me to do, but it is when you feel the pain that someone else is in and there’s nothing you can do to help make any of it better for that person.

I vividly remember the room she was in, the smells, the tools that the nurses had to use to change her dressings on her burns, the bathtub that they eventually were able to sit her in to help loosen off the burned skin. It was all so horrific.

My Grandmother was a survivor and she lived for 19 years after that horrible day 34 years ago. I don’t know of another person close to me to have suffered as much as she did. Yet her spirit still kept shining through everything she did in life.

My Grandmother is my hero… and I miss her dearly!!


Do you have a hero in your life also? We’d love to hear about that person and your story. Please share with us.

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  1. What a wonderful story and role model in your grandmother, Suzanne. This was just so, so moving. It really touched me.
    Yaz recently posted..Beyond The Clock TestMy Profile

  2. You have written such a beautiful tribute to your grandmother, Suzanne! Her strength and determination were amazing. And what a special bond she had with her disabled son AND with you!

    Thank you for writing with your heart to record this family story!
    Ruth Packard recently posted..HeartbreakMy Profile

  3. Lynn Lafleche says:

    Hi Suzanne
    How beautiful it was to read about your grandma.
    I sure remember that day, as a neighbor.
    That morning i was in school, i can’t recall why but during the fire your grandma came to our place and waited for the imbulance it is a day my mom never forgot. When i came home from school that day i could still smell the burnt flesh in the house…she really was a hero that day…still remember her well…i will be having a special thought for her today..xo

    • Hi Lynn, I’m glad that you got to read my blog post. I am thankful that you were in school that day and didn’t get to see as much as some of the others did. But yet you remember the smell of her burnt flesh in your home when you came back from school. That had to be a very difficult thing for your mother. I am very grateful that she was there for our Grandmother in a critical time of need until the ambulance arrived. Thank you for sharing what you remembered with us. xo

  4. Beautifully written Suzanne. An amazing women with unbelievable strength, a special hero. Thank you for writing from the heart and capturing the essence of your grandmother.
    Julie McCullough recently posted..Fear….My Profile

  5. What a wonderful story of human indurance and a parent’s love for her children. Your grandmother sounds like someone I would have loved to have know. I admire her strength. Thank you for telling her story.

  6. Suzanne, WHAT a story, and what a hero. I’m going to have to ponder whether I have a hero in my life. More likely, I have many. Many who go before me in different areas of life. Love to you!
    Janet recently posted..Grounding your Energy, Part 2 of 3My Profile

  7. Clarissa Harison says:

    Suzanne, what a touching story about your grandmother. It’s amazing the strength that women of that era had and some of the tragedies they had to endure. Sometimes you really wonder how they managed and kept going. I’m sure her experience and your being there for your grandmother changed both of your lives. What an inspiration she must have been for you and others who saw her courage. I enjoyed reading your blog and look forward to reading other posts.

  8. Diane Latulippe says:

    I remember that day like it was yesterday. I was one of the grandchildren with her that day along with my two sisters. Grandma was such a courageous woman. I remember seeing her on fire and she was rolling in the snow to put the fire out on her body. When she left the hospital, my parents were wonderful… they took her in to take care of her. Grandma is an inspiration to us all and she will be forever missed!

    • Diane, thank you for dropping by with the memories you have of that tragic day. You were a young girl, yet that memory of her on fire is vivid in your mind still. Your family was wonderful to help Grandma after she came out of the hospital and we are all extremely thankful to all of you for that. xo

  9. The will to live is so strong in some people but not in others. My grandmother was very infirm and she was scared of dying. She sat up in her wheelchair and refused to go to bed. She was sure she would die in bed. I talked to her when my mother left for a while. I asked her what was wrong. She was sure she was going to hell. I had her pastor come talk to her and a day later she died peacefully. My mother was so mad at me but I’m glad my grandmother died at peace. She just let go. Sometimes you have to let go. Thank you for the other side of the story.
    Sheila Skillingstead recently posted..Creating artMy Profile

  10. oh Suzanne…what a powerful story
    so tragic and so plump with hope
    all at once.
    like life.
    i love her fighting spirit and mamabear heart.
    your heart to honor her here
    is a beautiful thing,
    Jennifer Richardson recently posted..one enchanted evening…My Profile

  11. What a terrible thing to have to endure, and yet she did. I can’t help but think what a strong woman she had to have been.
    Susan recently posted..And Awaaaay She GoesMy Profile

  12. You have her beautiful smile and her strength illuminating your eyes.

  13. Suzanne that story was told so beautifully and with such love. She is smiling down on you dearest Suzanne. The angels are very clear when they say that love never dies. You will keep your Grandmother alive with the love you hold for her in your heart, until you are reunited on the other side of the veil. xo
    Belinda Rose recently posted..Forgiveness Is LoveMy Profile

  14. What an amazing story and life! You’re a wonderful writer and I’m so happy you shared this wonderful story of a courageous woman, who laid the foundation for you. It’s a wonderful thing to give tribute to those whose shoulders we stand on. 🙂 I miss my Grandma daily; mine was a wonderful seer! 🙂
    indigene recently posted..What’s Happening…My Profile

  15. Wow, Suzanne. This was difficult to read without shedding tears. I could feel so much emotion in this story. From your grandmother’s terror at seeing her house burning, to courageously going in to save her children, to, then, having to endure physical pain from the scars and the emotional anguish from losing a child. I cannot even begin to image what the next 19 years were like for her. She is surely smiling down on you for having honored her with this recount. We are all feeling much more light in our hearts after having read her story. Thank you.
    Gabriella recently posted..Meditation for HealingMy Profile

  16. Thank you everyone for reading my blog post and leaving such heart-warming feedback. It means so much to me, and I know without a doubt that my Grandmother would be really touched by all your kind thoughts if she was still with us. No doubt she read everyone of your messages. 🙂

  17. Suzanne, this is a beautiful story. You have such an amazing gift as a writer! Your words paint such a lovely picture of your grandmother and all of the obstacles she overcame. It’s a wonderful tribute to her!

    Thanks also for stopping by my blog! I appreciate your kind remarks so much!:-)

  18. Sounds like your Grandmother was a very special woman. I’m so sorry for your loss.
    Michele Bergh recently posted..Being PerfectMy Profile


  1. […] yet she continues to find the courage to keep on persevering. I must say that both her and my grandmother … are my […]

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