Grania died a year ago

It was on June 16, 2019—just a year ago today—that Grania Spingies died, collapsing at the door of a clinic in Cork, Ireland while she waited for help. She’d been ill for a while, and had resisted my orders to go to the doctor (she disliked medicos). In September of that year, we learned from her sister Gisela the cause of death:“haemopericardium, rupture of a dissecting thoracic aneurysm”.

Grania was only 49, a week shy of her 50th birthday.  She was a great friend, though I never met her in person—we Skyped almost daily—and had lots of good advice about this website and, indeed, about my own life issues. And, as you may recall if you were reading this site then, she contributed a number of posts, mostly about issues affecting Ireland, including gay rights, abortion, and blasphemy laws. (She was one of the founders of Atheist Ireland.) Grania was born and grew up in South Africa, had German citizenship (her dad was German), and lived for 20 years in Cork, where she worked for a large multinational firm.

In honor of Grania, whom I miss every day, I’m reposting the post I put up when I learned she died. It was called “Grania died“, and I wrote it in shock early in the morning in Hawaii, where I was traveling when she sent me her last email.

This is very hard to write, and is written through tears. Grania Spingies, a very good friend—though I never met her in person—and someone who, as you probably know, did an enormous amount for this website, passed away yesterday in Cork, Ireland. She was only 49, and would have turned 50 on the 23rd of June.

She leaves behind a mother and two sisters, Gisela and Gunda. Grania’s father was murdered by a burglar in South Africa 18 months ago. Her mother is bedridden and doesn’t recognize anyone, so perhaps it’s a mercy that she doesn’t know her daughter died.

Those who follow this site will know Grania’s involvement with it: she was always there to cover for me when I was on trips, to advise me when I had a website issue or wanted to know if I should write about this or that, and to discuss ideas for posts with me (she gave me plenty of them). She also wrote many of her own posts over the years, keeping us up to date on issues like abortion in Ireland and blasphemy laws.

But more than that: we Skyped nearly every day and exchanged a gazillion emails. She had a pretty solitary existence in Cork, but I made sure we kept in touch. She was a great pleasure to talk to— always rational and sensible, but with a fantastic dry wit. As I said, I never met her, though we were in constant touch for at least eight years. She often spoke of wanting to visit America, and I tempted her with all the great food she could try here that wasn’t available in Ireland, like good Southern barbecue.

On Wednesday she became ill with what seemed to be a stomach ailment. Over the next few days it didn’t go away, and I suggested that she see a doctor. She didn’t like doctors, and simply bought pain medication at the pharmacy. Her illness persisted, and by Friday I began harassing her heavily to get medical attention. On Saturday she still wasn’t better, and I made her promise to go to the doctor—an emergency clinic in Cork—by Sunday at the latest.

Here was our last email exchange from yesterday:

On Sun 16 Jun 2019, 12:32 Jerry Coyne wrote:

Are you going to the doctor today AS YOU PROMISED????

Her response:

Yes. Im on my way.

That was her last email; she never made it to the doctor. According to one of her friends, “As far as we can tell, she collapsed just outside the doctor’s office some time on Sunday and had no pulse. They did CPR and rushed her by ambulance to the hospital.” They will do an autopsy to see what killed her.

It’s 5 a.m. in Hawaii, and my brain isn’t clear enough to write more, but let me post some pictures of Grania sent to me by Gisela.

Grania was born and raised in South Africa. She went to the University of Cape Town and then spent several years teaching small children in a remote area of KwaZulu. About twenty years ago, she decided to leave South Africa and take a job with Schlumberger in Ireland, where she did financial accounting. She was a feminist, a secularist, an atheist, and formerly an active member of Atheist Ireland. She loved animals, and often spoke of her cats Trinket and Pippen and her beloved dog Frodo.

A photo of her in Africa:

Grania just before she moved to Ireland in 1999.

As an atheist, Grainia would simply laugh if she heard me say, “Rest in peace, dear friend”. So all I’ll say is that she brought a lot of light into my life, and into this site—often in ways you don’t know about. I will miss her terribly, as will her family and friends, and my heart goes out to those who were privileged to know her.

This is the way I’ll remember her: with that slight smile I’d see on Skype when she pondered the craziness of the world.

In honor of Grania and her life, I won’t post any more today, but I will put up a “readers’ thread” in which you can discuss anything you like. I don’t do this often, and don’t know if it will be successful, but you can talk, kvetch, blow off steam, or bring news to our attention. (There is no need to discuss Grania in that thread; you can do it below if you wish.)

41 Comments

  1. Billywindsock
    Posted June 16, 2020 at 8:23 am | Permalink

    Although few of us here will think of her smiling down from heaven, being able to talk about her and sharing her memory again means she has not left the world completely. My father died thirty-seven years ago and my mother died twelve days ago. I have memories of them both that comfort me.

    • rickflick
      Posted June 16, 2020 at 9:55 am | Permalink

      Sorry for your losses. Keep the best memories.

    • Posted June 16, 2020 at 9:12 pm | Permalink

      Sorry for your recent loss, Billy.

  2. Andrea Kenner
    Posted June 16, 2020 at 8:24 am | Permalink

    Jerry, I am so sorry. We all lost a ray of sunshine with her passing.

  3. BJ
    Posted June 16, 2020 at 8:25 am | Permalink

    I was shocked and dismayed when you posted about her death. I remember having many very pleasant and often hilarious exchanges with her in the comments. I loved all of her posts. She always intelligent, witty, kind, and like someone anyone would enjoy being around. I’m sure she’s greatly missed by all who knew her.

  4. Posted June 16, 2020 at 8:25 am | Permalink

    I’ve been thinking of this day too, knowing that it will come. All of us here (and that is a large number of people) are sorry for what happened. We miss her too.

    • Charles E. Jones
      Posted June 16, 2020 at 11:28 am | Permalink

      Yes, I’m sure a very large number of people miss her. I never spoke to her nor wrote her, but somehow I very much liked her through her posts. Her death filled me with a sorrow reserved for few people.

  5. Posted June 16, 2020 at 8:30 am | Permalink

    Of course I remember. Very sad event. It seems like it was just a few weeks ago, not a whole year. It was a sad Bloomsday.

    Some say you die a second time the last time someone mentions your name. Granis has a lot of that second life left.

  6. Posted June 16, 2020 at 8:34 am | Permalink

    A sad day for all of us here and Grania’s family.

  7. ThyroidPlanet
    Posted June 16, 2020 at 8:36 am | Permalink

    A nice memorial for a fascinating individual.

  8. Randall Schenck
    Posted June 16, 2020 at 8:37 am | Permalink

    Grania told me once that I must have gotten up on the wrong side of the bed. She was likely correct, I sound like that too often. All of the readers at this place miss her a great deal.

  9. darrelle
    Posted June 16, 2020 at 8:39 am | Permalink

    This evening I will raise a toast to Grania, and to her family and close friends that feel her loss so keenly.

    I can’t think of a better legacy than having connected with so many other people in such a positive way as evidenced by what people have written about Grania here at WEIT.

  10. GBJames
    Posted June 16, 2020 at 8:41 am | Permalink

    She is missed.

  11. Ken Kukec
    Posted June 16, 2020 at 8:50 am | Permalink

    I am, too, NOT crying. You’re the ones crying. I’ve just got something in my eye.

    • ratabago
      Posted June 16, 2020 at 9:22 am | Permalink

      Yeah, I’m the one crying. A year hasn’t been long enough to begin to get over it.

  12. rickflick
    Posted June 16, 2020 at 9:58 am | Permalink

    One of life’s sad losses. I’m sure she would have us look to the wins.

  13. jezgrove
    Posted June 16, 2020 at 10:15 am | Permalink

    Atheist Ireland’s “Remembering Grania” post is here: https://atheist.ie/2019/06/remembering-grania-spingies-event/

  14. Diana MacPherson
    Posted June 16, 2020 at 10:51 am | Permalink

    It’s nice to remember her. The fact that everyone does is a testament to how important she was in the world. A shame most of us never learn this. I for one know pretty much for certain though that for me there are many who would be overwhelmed with excitement of the thought of my death and especially thrilled if it hurt. Not to make it all about me, it’s just interesting how we all live with others before we go and what that means after.

  15. Laurance
    Posted June 16, 2020 at 11:54 am | Permalink

    I, too, miss Grania. She was a vital presence here.

  16. scruffycookie
    Posted June 16, 2020 at 11:57 am | Permalink

    I can feel your grief and send my condolences. Keep the good memories close.

  17. Posted June 16, 2020 at 12:52 pm | Permalink

    Very sad. Hard to believe it’s only been one year. Nice to be reminded of her, though I’ve surely thought of her insight many times; out interests were surprisingly well aligned.

  18. Mark R.
    Posted June 16, 2020 at 2:37 pm | Permalink

    Thanks for the remembrance. I remember your post like it was yesterday; the shocking title said it all…it was hard to believe and still is.

  19. kraeuterbutter
    Posted June 16, 2020 at 2:47 pm | Permalink

    It is never easy when you receive the news that a well known person has passed away. A colleague from our department was buried last week. She was only 39 years old and fighted more than 3 yers against cancer. But in the end she lost.
    😦

  20. Posted June 16, 2020 at 2:53 pm | Permalink

    My heart goes out to you. ❤️

  21. Ruthann L. Richards
    Posted June 16, 2020 at 3:18 pm | Permalink

    This is so utterly painful, almost as if it were yesterday. I remember the shock that went throughout my body when I read that headline. I think of her so often and very much miss her animal posts. May the ducklings provide a bit of consolation today. She would have loved their story.

  22. Posted June 16, 2020 at 4:17 pm | Permalink

    😦

  23. Posted June 16, 2020 at 6:16 pm | Permalink

    I do very badly at tracking important dates, even for myself, my family and friends. So, thank you for reminding me of Grania, how important she was to you especially, and to all of us. She added so much value and joy to our lives. Since I can’t raise an alcoholic toast in her memory today (blood thinners), I will drink something else and pretend. The sentiments will be the same.

    Ever since finding this blog, I have been addicted to it and so many of you have taught me so much I wouldn’t have known without you.
    Thank you to Jerry, Grania and all of you for sharing your knowledge (and love).

  24. Posted June 16, 2020 at 6:18 pm | Permalink

    At Coynefest, in 2016, me, Jerry, and Matthew were all together physically for the first time, and I remember Jerry remarking that it was too bad Grania wasn’t there. But, we could think, all four might be together for some later occasion– sadly, it was never to be.

  25. Bruce Thiel
    Posted June 16, 2020 at 6:58 pm | Permalink

    I’ve always thought that what Oliver Sacks wrote on death was comforting: “I have been increasingly conscious, for the last 10 years or so, of deaths among my contemporaries. My generation is on the way out, and each death I have felt as an abruption, a tearing away of part of myself. There will be no one like us when we are gone, but then there is no one like anyone else, ever. When people die, they cannot be replaced. They leave holes that cannot be filled, for it is the fate — the genetic and neural fate — of every human being to be a unique individual, to find his own path, to live his own life, to die his own death.”

  26. Michael Waterhouse
    Posted June 16, 2020 at 7:30 pm | Permalink

    I thought about her just the day before yesterday.
    My condolences again.

  27. Jenny Haniver
    Posted June 16, 2020 at 9:03 pm | Permalink

    These days when I find Hili Dialogue in my mailbox, I often wonder what Grania would have contributed to the mix. Every person who contributes to Hili Dialog offers items that appeal to their unique sense of humor, beauty, horror, weirdness…, and Grania brought her particular je ne sais quoi. Her absence is much missed.

    Her last words to you, “I’m on my way.” Wow.

    • Posted June 16, 2020 at 9:22 pm | Permalink

      Now that you frame it that way, her last words were especially poignant.

  28. Robert Van Orden
    Posted June 16, 2020 at 9:28 pm | Permalink

    A toast to Grania. A lovely and talented person.

    (Raises glass)

    It’s been a tumultuous year. 😦

  29. John CRISP
    Posted June 17, 2020 at 9:10 am | Permalink

    Hard to believe it’s been a year since she died. Whatever the reality, we are programmed by evolution to see our lives and deaths as portentous, so there is always something destabilising about someone just flickering out of existence without warning or or even context.

  30. ginger katz
    Posted June 19, 2020 at 4:03 am | Permalink

    I am so sorry. Grania was a special person. Even though we never met, I regard her as a friend.


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