Obama’s Family Loss

When I first heard of of the passing of Madelyn Dunham, 86, grandmother of Barack Obama, my reaction was like that of my friends: “Oh no. How tragic she missed this by just a few hours: the likely culmination of an historic journey to the Presidential nomination by her own flesh and blood.”

This morning’s press pays far more attention to the races in the swing states – the weather there and the usual political speculation on Election Day – than to her death.

But then I thought about her grandson’s reaction.

Yesterday Obama said simply “she has gone home.” He had visited Mrs. Dunham at in Hawaii last month, knowing she might not see him through on his likely journey to the Presidential nomination tonight.

His words reminded me of how I felt during own grandmother’s death this time last year.

She’d been sick in England; I was in New York; we were very close. But she was ready to go. And she made it very clear she didn’t want me blubbing by her bedside as she left this earth.

“Don’t come and see me darling” she told me over the phone. “You’ve got children, a job…you’ve already given me the greatest gift, just by being you. What I need for you now is to go on and live your life to the full. I absolutely insist you do not come.”

Such was her determination that I never visited the death bed. But I was ok with that. I’d seen her a month or so before – so my last memories of her as fragile but still beautiful and in full command of her faculties. She was the sharpest nonagenarian I’ve ever known.

Thus, I’d said goodbye to my grandmother in a way we both understood – and I suspect that’s what happened last month when Obama visited his grandmother for a day. And that’s why he went ahead with a rally in Florida, yesterday morning, having just learned of her death.

I speculate, of course, but if Madelyn Dunham is the kind of “unsung hero” Obama speaks of, then like my grandmother, a woman of quiet decency who did not seek the limelight, she didn’t need to linger on to watch the grand finale of her son’s journey. She knew enough of her grandson’s character to know that however things turn out – he’d make her proud – and that he’d be all right without her.

He would, of course, just miss her like crazy. V

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