Jenna's (Baby) Food for Thought

Jenna Wolfe: Remembering my grandma with our baby girl's name

June 5, 2013 at 7:00 AM ET

Jenna and Estelle
Courtesy of Jenna Wolfe
Jenna Wolfe took this photo, of her hand placed on top of her grandmother's, in 2008, just before jetting off to help NBC cover the Beijing Olympics. It was the last time she saw her grandmother.

Editor's note: Jenna is blogging about her adventures through pregnancy. Here's this week's installment of Jenna's (Baby) Food for Thought.

Every day, I wear a ring on a necklace looped around my neck. It's not an engagement ring, or a wedding ring, or some fashion statement. The ring I wear belonged to my late grandmother, Estelle, whose name will appear somewhere in our daughter's long, hyphenated, ever-developing, work-in-progress, puzzle of a name.

Jenna keeps her late grandmother Estelle's ring close to her heart.
Courtesy of Jenna Wolfe
Jenna keeps her late grandmother Estelle's ring close to her heart.

Estelle was, without question, a beautiful soul. She was your typical Jewish grandmother, in that she practically worried for a living. No joke. This woman should have worked as a private investigator -- she was so tuned into the where's and the how's and the why's of everyone she ever met. She tracked our flights whenever we traveled (and yet never fully learned how to use the Internet), she knew where everyone was at all times (even though she didn't use a cellphone) and if we were ever on a date, she somehow knew the exact moment we woke up the next day so she could call and find out how it went. She worried about everyone all the time. And this was, somehow, all welcomed behavior because it came from her. She was a special person. Strong like bull, yet weak like decaf. She had it all.

She got sick a week before I left for the Beijing Olympics five years ago. Not knowing what would happen, I went to visit her in the hospital before I left for China. I set aside the whole afternoon. I sat by her bed, cracking my usual jokes, keeping things light, listening to her stories from years past (some repeats, some not). Most of her stories involved my mom -- stories only she would know, only she could tell. I asked her how much of my mom she saw in me, how much of herself she saw in my mom. I filed her nails, brushed her hair, helped her eat lunch that day and before saying goodbye, I took a picture of our hands. Hers and mine. You can tell a lot by looking at someone's hands: where they've been, how hard the journey was, how much work they've done, how well they take care of themselves. Man, she always had the softest hands. It was like she lived in a bottle of moisturizing cream.

When she started getting tired, I knew it was time to say goodbye. I'm terrible at goodbyes. But I looked into her eyes and told her I'd see her in a few weeks when I got back from Beijing. And while I'm not a crier, I could feel myself well up with sadness as I got ready to leave. It just felt eerily final. There she was, lying in a hospital bed, in a that checkered blue and white gown, alone. But yet, she was still the strong one. As the tears prepared themselves for the race down my cheeks, she just looked at me with that beautiful face and said, "You got this, Jennifer. I love you." I managed to squeeze out something that resembled an "I love you," and I walked out, so as not to let her see me cry, sneaking one last peek of Estelle before I did.

Jenna Wolfe visits her grandmother, Estelle, in the hospital in 2008.
Courtesy of Jenna Wolfe
Jenna Wolfe visits her grandmother, Estelle, in the hospital in 2008.

Beijing was quite an experience. I was fairly new to NBC at the time and was still making friends, getting to know colleagues and constantly trying to learn how to say in Chinese things like, "Does this dumpling have pork in it?" After Beijing, my friend Matt met me and we traveled to Malaysia followed by a week in Thailand. It was spectacular: the water, the people, the beaches, the food. We had a wonderful time, best friends from college taking this grown-up trip to the other side of the world.

After dinner one night, we stopped by the front desk before heading back to the room to book a day-long scuba trip the next morning. As we walked back on a perfectly-weathered evening, with the most spectacular sunset as our backdrop, I remember telling Matt that there were certain times in life where you just have to stop and marinate in the moment because those good moments -- I mean the REALLY good ones -- were rare. They don't come around that often. This was one of them. He agreed. It was beautiful. I took a mental snapshot and figured I'd always have it.

We walked into the room to the sound of my cellphone ringing.. It was my mom. My grandmother had just died. Suddenly that mental snapshot I had just taken for one reason was now going to be sealed into my soul for a completely different one.

Without hesitation, I called the airline to book a flight home the next morning. I was told there were demonstrations at the Phuket airport and no flights were coming in or out for at least a week. I was devastated, but there was nothing I could do. So the next day I spent hours walking along the beach remembering my grandmother, chatting with her one last time, saying goodbye my own way. I etched her nickname, Kandi, in the sand along the water and just stood there. Matt took a picture of it and I emailed it to my parents to place in the coffin at the funeral. It's now my screensaver on every device I've got.

Saying goodbye
Courtesy of Jenna Wolfe
Jenna learned of her grandmother's death while traveling in Thailand in 2008, and because she wasn't able to get a flight back to the U.S. to attend the funeral, she said goodbye in her own way.

She would have been over the moon to hear about her great-granddaughter. Twelve more weeks to go, I'd tell her. I'd show her that I wear her ring close to my heart. And I'd warm her soul with news that this little unborn child will carry her name, probably as a middle name. Estelle is a great middle name. And I'd hope that in addition to her name, our daughter would also inherit Estelle's infectious laugh, her witty sense of humor, her larger than life heart, and her passion for the Yankees.

And if by some chance she heard fear in my voice when talking about having this baby, I know she'd take my hand, look me right in the eye and say, "You got this, Jennifer. I love you."

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