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A Goodbye From my Grandmother
By Casey Unger, MA, LPC
TFC Founder

My grandmother Uldene Neal Casey departed this earth on the morning of June 10th 2002 at the age of 93. She lived the last 5-6 years of her life in an Austin nursing home after leaving Calvert, TX. where she raised me. I grew up in her Victorian home that we shared with my great grandmother and my parents at 508 Gregg St. in Calvert, TX. She was dear not only to me but to all of my friends who grew up with me and thought she was the coolest (and she was the coolest). My grandmother was the kind of grandmother that is so rare.

While I could talk for days on end about how she influenced me in so many ways, I remember her most for her flambouyant hair colors, her love of sports cars, her perfectionism, and how special she made the holidays. I even have fond memories of getting drunk with her one Christmas. To summarize her impact upon me, anyone who knows me well knows that I am and have always been an enigma of sorts, a true iconoclast always sporting flambouyant hair along with a unique style and approach to life. Those who know me also know that I collect sports cars and that I too am a perfectionist.

I remember her willingly and enthusiastically coloring my hair so many radical colors when I was going through my punk rock phase back in the 80's. She was the one who first bleached my hair back in 1979 right after I saw this new band called Blondie on TV and began idolizing the lead singer, Debbie Harry. I still remember what she said about Debbie Harry in all of her punk glory when we first saw her on TV in 1979 and I told her that I wanted her to bleach my hair like hers. At the time Debbie's look was controversial especially in the era of Sonny and Cher and Donnie and Marie Osmond. But, upon seeing her for the first time, my grandmother uttered, "She's so beautiful. She reminds me of Marilyn Monroe!" and then came the peroxide. Afterwards when I cried from the shock of seeing my hair so blonde for the first time and whimpering that I couldn't leave the house like that, she told me that I looked just as beautiful as Jean Harlow. Nevertheless, as a result of her kind words, I did leave the house that day over 3 decades ago with my newly bleached hair that has become my trademark. No matter how radical my style or hair color, she always gave me the thumbs up to sport it and would say, "Do it because you can."

My grandmother was always there to comfort me when I cried over being an outcast and being ostracized. She understood being on the outside in that she too had been an outcast in her heyday. She had been one of those controversial and scandalous "flappers" back in the 20's who had short hair and wore short dresses (gasp!) The flappers got their name due to wearing boots with the tops turned down that flapped as they walked.

While my fond memories would take days on end to tell, I will discuss only a couple more. One is of how my grandmother would watch MTV with me and knew all of the bands. She would sit and watch tv half the night with me. I remember as we sat and watched MTV one night back in 1982, an unknown singer named Madonna came on. I then quipped, "There's the next one hit wonder!" My grandmother promptly chimed in and said, "No honey, she's gonna be as big as Elvis. I've seen the golden age of cinema. She's got something special!" Even with the generation gap, she was so right about so many things.

To proceed on with my story, my grandmother and I made a special pact many years ago. We vowed that whomever of us it was who died first would come and tell the other goodbye. While there are no guarantees in life and things do not always depend on age, she was resigned that it would be her and it was.

On a scorcher of an afternoon in June of 2002 as my grandmother's condition worsened, I went and spent the afternoon in her nursing home room talking to her and saying my goodbyes. She was not lucid anymore but would stir and make faint sounds in her comatose state as I talked to her and said certain things. I knew she could hear me. After doing this, I went back to Bryan/College Station to try and work the next day in my then job in crisis intervention at Brazos Valley MHMR.

In the wee hours of the morning on Monday, June 10th 2002, as I lay sound asleep with my back to my side of the bed, I was abruptly awakened from a sound sleep by the inevitable feeling that someone was in the room behind me and right by the bed behind me. I frantically jumped up and turned around to face who or whatever was there. As I did so I could see nothing but felt it was there. Then I jumped to my feet and was hit like a ton of lead in my chest by the worst feeling of sorrow I have ever felt. It was like the grief of a whole nation hit me in the heart. It was sickening emotional pain and I recoiled and fell to my knees gasping.

After getting back to the bed and falling backwards into it, I tried to sort out what had just happened. As I lay there wondering what was happening, the feeling managed to pass after a while. Not long after this incident the phone rang. It was my uncle telling me that my grandmother had just passed away.

To this day, I believe that she fulfilled her promise made so many years ago on that very morning in the summer of 2002. Inasfar as the awful feeling I had experienced at the time, I interpret it as the sorrow she felt in leaving me and my "psychic split" with her.

We went on 3 days later to have my grandmother's funeral on Thursday, June 13th 2002 at the First Baptist Church in Calvert. This was the church where she had served so many years as an Eastern Star. We were unable to procure a minister that day so the funeral was done by my mother, my uncle, and me who all took turns speaking about our fond memories and leading prayers. I managed to write and give a eulogy that I was proud of and still read to this day. We also managed to dig up a song that she and her husband had waltzed to so many years ago called, "Casey Waltzed With a Strawberry Blonde." It was their song in that his last name and nickname was Casey and she was the strawberry blonde. Strangely, I came from the funeral on that sweltering June day feeling so good and proud of the celebration of her life that we'd all performed.

The name Uldene, in its utter rarity as a name, means "gentle girl." But, that title did not fit her. She was a strong, independent, fiery, and flambouyant woman as rare as her name who can best be described as my saving grace. RIP G-Mother.

Uldene Neal Casey
1908 - 2002