She Took My Heart With Her That Day

Kids are hard–they drive you crazy and break your heart–whereas grandchildren make you feel great about life, and yourself, and your ability to love someone unconditionally, finally, after all these years.

―Anne Lamott, Some Assembly Required

July 23, 2012

The day my life changed forever. In every way. I became a Grandma at 47.

I had decided I was not going to be a traditional Grandma. I was going to be a “Mimi.” I was going to be fun, fabulous, and always down for adventure.

The parents, my son and his wife, were going to the hospital to induce labor at 5:00 am on the day my grandchild was born. I beat the parents to the hospital. Excited, me? I was about to burst. Where ARE they? The heir is arriving today! And arrive she did.

I remember when I first held her. I immediately burst out crying. I wasn’t sad. I felt such a great, new happiness. I had a light again. A renewed sense of purpose. I had someone to love and I wanted to be her favorite. I tried my best to make this true.


I would make the long drive trip as often as I could, to bring her to my home. I could not get enough of her. My nickname for her was Chunka Chunk. After a few months, I dropped the Chunk and she became my Chunka.

When I asked her what her name was, she replied, “Chunka.”


There was no end to the activities I planned for my Chunka. Birthday parties, holiday parties, and tea parties. My life was filled with light and happiness. That little girl changed my life in every way. I looked forward to everything. I was rarely in a bad mood or ill. I had a shining light―my beloved Chunka.


People often told me how much she looked like me. Being a young Mimi, that was just fine by me. Cashiers would comment on how cute my baby was. “Thank you,” I proudly smiled.

Since the time she was very small, Chunka and I shared a tradition. Tutus. I would have handmade tutus sewn for Chunka for every possible occasion and she rocked them like a mini–ballerina. It was hard to find a photo without Chunka in her darling tutus. I’m surprised she didn’t ask me to wear one, too.

Chunka’s second birthday party was on July 23 of that year. This was the party where she wore her infamous leopard patterned tutu.

June 2, 2016

Before I begin this tragic story, I want to share a poignant moment.

I dropped in to see my Chunka and later her mom called me. She wanted me to know that Chunka had told her, “It was the highlight of her day.” It then became the highlight of my day, and sadly, a forever memory.

Who would ever have known this would be the last day I would be with my beloved Chunka?

Almost three years old, and she’s made more of an impact on my life than anyone. I think of her every damn day. I get up determined to be and do better for HER. To be that Mimi. We shopped, we ate, we played, we did it all. I think she liked shopping best―she inherited the shopping diva gene from me.

July 9, 2016

At approximately 11:30 pm, Chunka was in a car accident with her Daddy. I got the 2:00 am call.

“It’s bad.” They told me.

“Come now.”

I drove for three hours and when I arrived I immediately drove back and this is why. A nurse was talking to me as we rounded the corner to the ICU. When I entered, I let out a scream and began sobbing uncontrollably. It was a horrific sight where Chunka was unrecognizable with tubes, wires, breathing apparatus, machines, and more. Her face was bruised beyond recognition. Her baby hands lay still.

On social media, well–meaning people posted photos of this nightmarish sight with the word pray. Almost as if a smiling photo of my beloved granddaughter would not have grabbed attention. The social media went viral on a GoFundMe and became tortuous for me to endure. I died a little each time I saw the posts. People I did not even know would pass around these ungodly photos and have the bad manners to tag me, with no thought for my feelings or emotions. This is an example of the down side of social media. Or people. I don’t know which. It became a whole new level of vile for me. I had to leave it and just read messages. What else could I do?

The doctors showed us an MRI and told us she wasn’t getting any positive blood flow to the brain due to swelling. She did have good things happen in the first few days, but I never lost sight of the trauma doctor telling us, “The first 72 hours are most critical due to brain swelling. I think everyone else understood this and believe me, I desperately wanted to believe.

Curiously, in the first few days, she turned over and moved a bit. One day she hummed for 24 hours. The doctors explained that what we were seeing was the body’s way of comforting itself. It did make sense to me. Sometimes I hum when I’m overwhelmed without even realizing I’m doing it. Whatever the medical explanation was, to me it meant hope. But you cannot see brain swelling and so many things could not be done due to head trauma.

This is where the proverbial rock and the hard place hit in between in every way.

Her brain did swell. Almost to 80 (on a scale of not good). Normal is appropriately 5-9. They could not “bolt” her brain due to skull fractures, and so it became a waiting game. The wait was excruciating.

I hoped.

I begged.

I prayed.

I wanted to bargain with God.

How could he let this happen?

And to my sweet Chunka,of all people. Yet, I stayed the path. I never doubted. Something would happen. I mean, this is God, for fuck’s sake.

We got nothing.

She was brain dead. If she had awakened at that moment, she would have been in a vegetative state. They told us she was gone.


I had to get out of there. I went outside to the parking garage and began walking. Smoking. Not even caring if I got caught in the smoke-free zone.



Just walking.



I probably got cancer that day.

I hoped that she knew she took my heart with her that day.

Over and over and over.

My sister came looking for me and walked with me for a bit.

My heart was shattered.

My beloved Chunka.


My light had gone out.

Her parents were treated respectfully by having the choice of when the life support machines would be turned off. But the thing is–could you make this decision for your three-year-old child? Neither could they. A few days went by which were heart-wrenching for me. Despite hearing the doctor’s words, this Mimi still held on to hope.

I knew that little girl. She was as tough as whitleather. Full of life. Always up for shenanigans, especially with her Mimi.

I still held on to hope. Those doctors were not taking that away from me. No one was.

The doctors performed another brain activity test, using physical stimuli for a reaction. Water in the ear, hot, cold–tests. Then they disconnected the ventilator. I felt myself tense up. I thought, BREATHE, SHOW THEM!


Eight of the longest minutes went by. The hospital staff reconnected her to the ventilator because they plan the “end of life” with a child only when their parents are present.

I was touched by this act of kindness in a nightmarish situation.

July 20, 2016

Today they let Chunka go, three days before her third birthday. She was wearing the last tutu I had made for her. I was so relieved because the longer it dragged out, I felt she was being disrespected. My heart shattered despite knowing it was coming.

I did not get the miracle I wanted. The miracle I believed in. I’m not angry at God and I still believe in miracles. This one was not possible. I have seen too much in my 50 years not to believe in God and miracles. Miracles come in different forms. Sometimes my beloved Chunka was a miracle. The love we had was a miracle. The fact we had her as long as we did was a miracle. If love could have saved her–it would have. Never doubt it.


As for me, I don’t know what or how I’m going to move forward.

She did, figuratively, take my heart with her.

It was hers.

My light? It’s gone.

What’s next? I have no idea. How will I deal this pain and loss?

Not call her?

Not go to the toy departments?

The little girl clothes?

Her tutus?

Who will I spend my money on now? Who will call me and say, “I wanna come to yow house.”

I hope to be okay one day. But I can guarantee, not one day will go by that I don’t think of my baby. My Chunka. Gone.

But baby, somehow, some way, your Mimi will make lemonade for us just like we did before.


  1. I love the idea! Thank you for reading and commenting on this.
    I tried to write a tribute worthy of her, it means a lot you said that. Xo

  2. Thank you so much and I know, we all prayed. Thanks for caring and for taking time to read this. It means a lot. Xo

  3. Thank you so much and I know, we all prayed. Thanks for caring and for taking time to read this. It means a lot. Xo

  4. Gina,

    I have never felt so much pain and sorrow for someone I only met through Facebook. I always just loved your pictures of your Chunka and her, and your, happy smiling faces. My heart broke in a million pieces for you. I prayed and prayed and prayed for a miracle for Chunka and was just devastated for you, Chunka, and your family.

    I wish you peace and love and light. I believe there certainly is a place called Heaven where, one day, we will be with those that we loved so deeply.

    Sending my love to you and your family…

  5. Gina, this is a beautiful tribute to your “Chunka”. You shared her with all of us during her 3 short years and your love for her showed in every post you made about her. We were all just gutted when we heard about the accident and prayed and prayed and prayed. We will never understand why such “bad things happen to good people”. I’ve given up trying to understand.
    I just hope and pray that some day you will find a reason to smile again and some joy in your life. You probably feel like you will never be happy again, but eventually some day, it will drift slowly back into your life.
    Thank You for sharing this Gina. I think about you often and love you. <3

  6. Heartbreaking. I send you and her parents my deepest condolences and hold you all in my prayers. Losing one’s child or grandchild must be one of life’s greatest tragedies and heaviest burdens.

  7. My sweet Gina, Thank you for telling the story of “Mimi and Chunka”. In doing so, you have become a light for others experiencing such great loss.

    We can never understand why these things happen. It doesn’t seem fair. I know I felt abandoned by God when I lost my son. Then one day he showed me something that, even though I had been raised up reading the bible, I had never read before. It was an entire chapter written about a woman named Rizpah. In her story God showed me that these things don’t happen to just anyone. We are chosen, chosen for our strengths. Our loved ones are also chosen, and that makes them special, worthy of the place they hold in Gods plan. Chunka was, indeed, a very special little warrior. Her life has had a wonderful impact on those who were blessed with her presence. Through you, it will continue to do so.

    God said he’d never put more on us than we could handle. So grieve for her as strongly as you love her. Tears heal, let them fall. Trust that God will be there to pick you up when you’re face down on the floor at his feet. Know that He NEVER said he’d keep our loved ones from us. She is with you every day. She’ll be there with you in a beautiful sunset, you may hear her laughter dance across the wind, or be surprised by a whiff of the smell of her hair. She’s there.

    *hugs* You know how to find me, no matter the time of day or night.


  8. Maria Rigadopoulou

    That girl stole our hearts, because she had inherited her Mimi’s inner light – a light which makes souls shine brightly.
    And souls recognize each other and come together, even under the strangest circumstances. We love Gina, so loving baby Chunka came naturally. She became a part of our lives, just like her grandma….
    Finding out about the accident is something we couldn’t wrap our heads around; let alone the possibility of Chunka moving to Heavens. Yet she did and now all we can do is BELIEVE she is in a better place. Regardless of religious beliefs, everyone knows that the transcedental place our energy goes to is a place filled with Unconditional Love and a Higher state of Being. Everything is perfect there. And it is comforting to know Chunka is there, looking down on her loved ones, protecting them and saying “I’m safe here, I’m happy,find the strength to carry on…”

    I love you, sweetest friend. Keep that light of yours shining. For Chunka’s sake <3

  9. Well… came up, it came out! I did think about though, like what are they going to do IF they catch me??? Look what just happened. Distraught, hysterical and didn’t care. I love you. Your support through all this has meant so much. I’m so glad this piece is well received too. I wanted the world to know how much I loved her……………………

  10. Erika, thanks about sharing Kimberly. Do me a favor though, you cherish every second you get with her, every call, every facetime, just everything. I agree its a different love. A complete love that I couldn’t describe if I wanted. You be that “Maw-maw”. I take pride in being a Mimi! Thanks so much for reading this. And for commenting. G

  11. I love you, and thanks for all your support through all of this. I do watch for signs, and see them sometimes, especially when I need too. You are an awesome friend to have, and I so appreciate you reading this, and you loving my girl. I wanted everyone to know her, as you know!

  12. My dearest friend Gina,
    Thank you for bravely baring your soul to us. Your Chunka or as I call her “Tutu Diva”, will always be a part of your life, a part of our lives. You generously shared Tutu Diva with us these past three years when narrating your special days with her and all the funny and mischievous things you did. Thank you for including us.
    Your Chunka (Tutu Diva) will always be with you. When you feel you ‘can’t’ anymore and just want to curl up on the floor those tiny hands are the ones that help you up and give you courage to go on. I can’t imagine the pain of your loss nor will I try to, for I’ve heard that it’s unbearable.
    My only advice to you is to do what you have done so far: look at the ‘signs’ that Chunka is sending you everyday (remember the supermarket lady?). She is communicating and directing you (maybe even stomping her foot until you are fully aware 😉 ) to give a little of your enormous love to others that are in dire need.
    The void in your heart that you feel will never need to be filled because your Chunka will always live there filling it to the fullest.
    Keep the beautiful memories, laugh at the funny moments you remember with your Chunka. Your Chunka is right there in Mimi’s heart of gold, smiling and feeling serene.
    Gina, there are many people that love you and are there for you (me included). Don’t be afraid to express yourself when you feel the need to. It is OK to smile, to laugh, to enjoy… your Chunka wouldn’t want it any other way.
    Love you to pieces. xoxo

  13. What a beautiful and heartfelt tribute to Chunka, Gina. She’s is a miracle, looking down upon us now. Sweet little girl, we love Mimi so much, we’ll take care of her until you can see each other again in heaven. You’re in our memories and in our hearts.

    Gina, saying a prayer for you every day. I admire your courage and strength. I’m here for you always <3

  14. Gina,

    You know how much I love you, and how I wish I had know Chunka. I feel a little bit like I do know her after reading this piece. It is heartbreaking but the love that you two shared was amazing, and still is. This is a beautiful tribute to her, and I hope a bit of a healing for you too, though I don’t know how we ever fully heal from losing someone so precious and so young.

    This is beautifully written and you had me crying and laughing hysterically, and crying again, “I probably got cancer that day” in the middle of my tears I let out the biggest snort, “So Gina” I said as I shook my head and continued on. I love you.

    N – Xx

  15. Omgosh. . I am so so so sorry!! This makes my heart hurt and makes my chest very heavy!! I am a grandma well maw maw is who I am lol my kimberly will be 4 years old on December 1 2016 and she is my EVERYTHING!!!! I thought I had always knew what the feeling of being in true love was… but I had NEVER truly been in love with anyone the way I am in love with her! I could NOT imagine.. I am so sorry.. breaks me up BUT I will share my kimberly with you!!! xoxoxo love you, erika Louman

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