Grandmother, mother and savior.
This is how Barbados’ newest centenarian Vida Grace is seen by her three great-grand children whom she raised when their mother Allison Clarke died in 2006.
Grace was 86 when she had to break the news to the three children, who were around ages 16 and ten at the time that their mother, who was her only grandchild, had lost her brief battle with cancer.
It was in the wee hours of January 25, when Grace went into the middle bedroom of her Wildey, St Michael home where the children were asleep, to inform them that their mother had died, after coming home from the hospital just hours before.
The tears flowed as the children were overcome with sadness and grief.
But as hard as it is for Rashida Clarke to forget the painful experience of losing her mother, she would always remember her great-grandmother’s voice assuring she and her siblings that she would take care of them.
Sharing the touching story with Barbados TODAY during Grace’s 100th birthday celebrations on Tuesday, Clarke declared that the centenarian provided the best life for her, twin brother Rashid, and their younger sister Ramona.
Rashida said Grace was elderly, but she went above, beyond, and jumped barriers at times, to ensure that they never realized their mother was no longer present.
While in her 90’s, Grace even accompanied a then Parkinson Memorial student Ramona, on a school cruise.
“The death was a shock to us because obviously we didn’t know what it was like to live without a parent. So we didn’t know what to expect. We thought everything was going to be in turmoil. But honestly, we are beyond grateful to our grandmother.
“Without the physical presence of our mother there, we never recognized she was not there because our grandmother made sure we always had our meals and we were ready for school. When I entered university, she even went as far as to make sure I got on the shuttle in town. I am truly grateful to her for raising the three of us,” Rashida said.
She recalled that even though Grace would have had help to an extent, raising teenagers and a preteen was not at all an easy task for someone at that stage of her life.
From toddlers, the children called Grace mummy, so it was easy for them to continue doing that when she became their legal guardian.
“It was easy for her to just sweep into the role. It was nothing new because we were all in the same household. She pressed for us, did laundry for us, I mean right up to the University of the West Indies. She dealt with all the financial issues with school. I decided to work when I was at UWI because I like my independence.
“But though I was working, she still made sure she gave me money in case I needed anything. She ensured the household was always kept clean. Whenever we had an issue, we could definitely go to our grandmother and she dealt with it,” Rashida said.
“She actually had a conversation with us, which I appreciated, because adults think children don’t know what is going on. She actually came to us and said ‘okay, mummy has passed, but we are still a family and I will take care of you’.
“That she did. We will always miss our mother. Every year for her anniversary is a tough time for us. But when we look at our grandmother, we just realise how fortunate we were to have someone like that in our lives,” Rashida continued.
Though she allowed them to play and enjoy themselves, Grace insisted that the siblings focus on their studies, and pursue careers that would enable them to hold their own in the world.
Twenty-eight-year-old Rashida is a quality assurance technician, and 23-year-old Ramona is a swimming instructor. Their brother who was unable to attend the celebration is also holding his own in life.
Standing next to her sister, Ramona who is the mother to a one-year-old daughter, said she admired her grandmother for always doing her best to make situations look like they were going to be okay, even when to others, it did not seem so at times.
Rashida nodded in agreement with her sister.
“Yes we all remember the day that her granddaughter, my mother died. But sometimes we sit and talk about the good times that we had, we would share the moments. She would tell me what my mother was like when she was younger and we would reminisce and laugh about it.
“From Wilkie Cumberbatch Primary I went to Parkinson and she tried me in everything to see what I was good at. She tried me in netball, she tried me in basketball, cadets, everything. She was always at PTA meetings and year level meetings,” Ramona said.
Ramona pointed out that her great-grand mother seemed to always know what she and her siblings were up to.
Grace even went to certain places and events with them to ensure she kept a close eye.
Ramona would never forget her memorable experience of an elderly Grace accompanying her on the cruise.
“Parkinson had a cruise and she went with me. So I was on the cruise walking with her on this boat and everybody was asking me why was your grandmother here? And I was like, ‘she is just making sure that I good’. I could laugh at it now, but obviously then I was like why,” Ramona said, as she sister stood beside her laughing.
If her charges had any night events at school, or birthday parties, Grace, whose only child is still alive, never missed the action, as she was up, front and centre with them.
“But my grandmother provided the best life for us, and that is why we would rather be no where else, or doing anything else, than to be here with her today. I mean, when I think about it, she could have made the decision to not be there for us when our mother died, but she was there.
“Now, she has gone back to baby stage, we have to take care of her. We spend a lot of time with her and ensure she has what she needs,” Ramona assured.