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  • Joanna Madloch

Erica Ludwig

Updated: Nov 15, 2019




My maternal grandmother’s name is Lillian Ortiz. Her family came from Spain and Puerto Rico, but she was raised in New York.


When she was still very young, Lillian met my future grandfather Frank Lavelle and they married quickly. The marriage, however, was not a happy one. Frank turned out to be physically abusive, and while my grandmother was pregnant with their second child, my uncle, she decided to separate from him.


As it often happens, the news of separation came to my grandfather as an unpleasant surprise, and he wanted to stop my grandmother from leaving him. One day he came back home with the intention to reconcile and would not take “no” for an answer. They started to argue, and in his anger, Frank ended up stabbing Lillian in the stomach even though she was pregnant with his child. Following this, he left her for dead. With incredible luck, not only did she recover in the hospital, but she did not lose her baby, and my uncle was born fine. On the other hand, while fleeing the scene, Frank committed suicide by crashing his car. There was an article about them in Daily News, which I am holding in the picture. The baby in the photograph is my mom, who was Lillian’s first child.


My grandma is undoubtedly one tough woman! She didn’t let her horrible experience define her. She became neither bitter nor scared. A couple of years after the stabbing, she remarried, and the family moved to New Jersey, where Lillian had three more healthy daughters, and lived a long and happy life. Now she has nine grandchildren, with me being the oldest. In the photograph I am presenting, she is holding me in her arms.


Her house was always the center of our family life. Her door was always open, everyone was welcome and taken care of. At 75-years old, she is still very close with all of her kids and grandkids.


At the same time, all her life grandma Lillian maintained her free spirit. She has never dwelled on bad things in her life and concentrated on good ones. For this, I admire her. It takes incredible strength to have gone through what she has and not let it define her.

I hope she’ll be around to meet my children someday. I’m so thankful to have grown up with her all my life, with so many people losing their grandparents so young. I really feel lucky.

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© 2020 Joanna Madloch.