Celebrating 100 Years. Saying Goodbye.


My grandma, Florence, died this morning. She would have turned 100 on the 19th of April. She died at home in Portland, which is what she wanted. And she got to live at home until the end, thanks to my uncles’ care and a number of caregivers who cared for her over the years. Part of me thought she would just continue living on forever; she had so many close calls over the years (‘turns for the worse’), but she had always perked up and kept on living.


Even though she lived such a long and good life — a life that should be celebrated — I feel so sad that she is gone. That she is not in the world anymore. For me, that’s the really shitty thing about death — it always hits me as a shock that suddenly this person in your life, who you love, is not there anymore. You can’t call them up or go visit them. You can’t save a funny story to tell them when you see them. You can’t touch their hand or kiss their cheek. (She had the softest hands I’ve ever felt.)


Florence Gillespie was an amazing woman. She was funny as hell. Sharp as a tack. And honest in a refreshing way. She loved to tell stories. One of my favorites was to hear about when she and my grandfather eloped. They snuck out in the middle of the night, drove over to the next town and woke the minister up at his home to marry them. The minister’s wife was the witness.


She was born in 1914, the year World War 1 began. She lived through both World Wars, she lived through women getting in the vote in the U.S., she lived through tremendous technological innovation and landscape change. Her death, in many ways, marks the ending of a generation.


100 years. Sometimes when I visited her, I would sit there and watch her doze and wonder about the remarkable things a person sees and learns and witnesses in 100 years. She outlived her friends and many of her family members. She saw such a lot of loss and pain and beauty and change.

I want salad

For now, just a simple note to mark her death, celebrate her life, and say goodbye to a life well-lived.

Join the Conversation


  1. Katie,
    Thank you so much for your lovely tribute to Florence. I loved her so much and am so sad that she is gone, and at the same time so grateful that we had her with us for so long. When I was talking with Peter this morning on my way to work I was struck by how much she saw and experienced in those 100 years. Think of it: 1914-2014. Florence and I had so many happy times together and shared the thankfully few, very sad times. She was quite a spirit. Hail to Flossie! She will be in our hearts always.

  2. I always liked the story about her and Stan digging up trees in the national forest to plant in their yard. They were rebels way before it was cool to be a rebel. Bye Florence.

    1. Shhh!! You just posted that on the INTERNET!! Just kidding, I always loved that story, too.

  3. Katie, this is a beautiful tribute to a splendid grandma. It’s a damn shame she didn’t live to see it–and missed it by only a few hours! I’ve been waiting by the phone for the call saying they were wrong, that it looks like she’s not dead after all. It’s not likely to come, but it still seems that had there been anybody since Jesus who could have pulled it off, it would have been her. She loved cats, and dogs, and she had lives like a cat, like two cats: ninety-nine: nobody gets more nines than that, except maybe some sequoia trees. Today is the ending of something great. A little derangement must be allowed.

    1. I keep waiting for you to call me up and say “April Fools!! We’re having a birthday party after all and she wants chocolate cupcakes and coffee ice cream!” I keep seeing her in my head eating a bite of ice cream and licking the drips off her lips, her eyes lighting up as she says, “Mmmmm…..” I loved how she did that.

  4. I always thought it was so funny when she and Stan spent the better part of a day driving from grocery store to grocery store buying large quantities of sale items.

  5. She was a great person. She was wonderful to talk to. I’m so glad to have known her, and happy that she had you close by (relatively anyway). Your tribute was lovely, Katie. It is hard to accept that you’ll never see a person again. Well said.
    Sending you all big hugs….XO

    1. Thanks so much, Aunt Leigh. Yes, she was wonderful to talk to. Big hugs to you, too. XOXO

  6. What a lovely woman! So very glad that she lived relatively close so you could be with her as much as you were. Thinking of you during this sad time.

  7. Thank you, Katie, for your tribute to Mom, Grandma, Great-Grandma—the dame of the Gillespie clan. She had a great, expansive heart that she extended to us all.

    When Mom and Dad eloped, they had to get far enough away from Portland so that it would not appear in the Portland papers, so they went to Stevenson WA, up the Columbia River, and found out where the judge lived, knocked on his door late at night on St. Patrick’s Day. He stuck his head out the upstairs window, with his night cap on, and agreed to come down, bringing his wife as a witness, to marry them.

    We will all celebrate her life on her birthday, April 19th, at her home in Portland.

    1. Rick — of course! You tell the story just like she did (and *much* better than my botched version). Thank you. xoxo

  8. I am sorry for your loss. It can break your heart at times. I know I miss my Dad everyday. He’ll be gone 3 years this month & I still talk to him some days. I know it sounds crazy, but he was such a presence in my life.

    1. Thanks, Paula. I don’t think that sounds crazy at all. I have trouble thinking about losing a parent. I think that would be unbelievably hard.

  9. I was surprised to hear of Florence’s death, and I was sad. But as Katie said, she lived a good long life. We all should live such a long and healthy life.

  10. Katie, I am sending you and your family my deepest condolences, but I am in awe of your lovely grandmother and the beautiful tribute you wrote. She sounds like she was a very, very special woman.

  11. Katie,

    I’m so sorry for your loss .
    This is such a beautiful story about your Grand Mother. It touched me so.
    I loved her. She was a mentor to me. I enjoyed hearing her stories. Her memory was so amazing! She and Stan had so much fun together. They loved each other so much. I never got to meet him, but I feel as if I’ve known him. They brought 3 wonderful men into this world . I’m happy I got to meet them. I will miss the beautiful Florance. Thank you so much for sharing this story. Peace to you. Vonda her former neighbor and friend

  12. Florance has been on my mind. We lost her one year ago April 4th. This coming Sunday, April 19th would have marked her 101 birthday. She lived an amazing long life and still lives on in my memory . Happy Birthday Florance. I miss your stories and lovely smile. I will light a candle for you. Vonda

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