By Celece Seegmiller, for The Spectrum Newspaper 8/2/2011
Memorable Vacations with Verda
Last year, I wrote a column about the positive effects travel can have on the body, mind and soul. When I wrote the article, I had no idea that my Grandmother, Verda Jensen had been recently diagnosed with multiple myeloma and that her journey during the past year would put my theory to the test in more ways than I could possibly imagine.
I like to compare my Grandma Verda to the Activity Director on a cruise ship. The Jensen family “cruiseship” consists of 6 children and their spouses, 24 grandchildren, and 47 great grandchildren. For as long as I can remember, Grandma was the “ultimate organizer” of family activities and vacations. From reunions for the masses at Bear Lake to weekend getaways at the family cabin in Big Cottonwood Canyon, it seemed like Grandma was always planning a family function and everyone was invited. Just like the activity director on the cruise ship, Grandma was always there to greet us with a big smile, positive attitude, and more energy than most of the kids! It seemed like she was the first one in the water and the last one to go to bed at night because we had to finish that last game of Rook or SkipBo.
Grandma Verda’s motto was “Have Bags, Will Travel” and oh did she travel! I loved receiving her Christmas cards. Of course, Grandma did not send out regular store-bought cards. Every year, I received a photo of Grandma Verda and Grandpa Leon in front of places like the Great Wall of China, the World War II Memorial in Washington, D.C., or the beautiful islands of Hawaii. She always included a letter with her Christmas cards, describing her travel experiences throughout the year. During their 61 years of marriage, Leon and Verda discovered amazing destinations around the world together. In fact, they should have had their own show on The Travel Channel, they would have put Samantha Brown to shame. In 2007, Grandma and Grandpa had a vacation planned to their beloved Hawaii. Unfortunately, Grandpa passed away prior to their trip. Rather than cancel like most people, Grandma Verda packed her bags, invited her 4 daughters and said “Daddy would want us to do this together.” She spent two weeks enjoying the sun and sand, and of course, cherishing the many memories she shared with Leon in Hawaii.
In the fall of 2009, Grandma Verda received a diagnosis of multiple myeloma. Grandma politely declined chemotherapy and traditional treatment. She told the doctor she would return if she was in pain and promptly packed her bags. Her travels then included a Mediterranean cruise with her family, various destinations throughout the United States, and an adventure to China and Mongolia. Imagine my surprise when I received a photo of my 84 year old Grandma Verda on a camel in Mongolia! Of course, that was my favorite Christmas Card. No one would have ever known cancer was slowly taking over her body. Grandma did not let that dreaded disease stop her love of traveling with family and friends and enjoying the rest of her life. After a partial amputation of her right foot, she received an invitation to visit the Big Island of Hawaii with her girlfriends. She told me she was going to Hawaii and stick the “toes she had left” in the sand. That was the kind of woman Verda Jensen was, always finding the good in every situation.
Verda celebrated her 85th birthday on June 23rd with a big party of course. She posted a thank you on her Facebook wall (yes, my 85 year old grandma actually had her own page on Facebook) and on July 15th, Grandma Verda’s journey ended peacefully. When I attended her funeral last week, I could not help but notice how many of the comments were about her love of travel and how many memories were shared about being on vacation with Verda. Family gatherings and vacations with Grandma Verda created memories that our family will cherish forever. She left a wonderful legacy and taught us to enjoy and experience the world. My theory proved to be true after all, travel was good for Verda’s body, mind, and soul – even up to the very end.