My Grandma was an amazing woman. I can’t begin to capture her essence with words. There are some people in life that you simply have to experience. She was one of them, but I’m going to try.
She died this past June and I was by her side — stroking her cheek, holding her hand, talking to her in the quiet — just an hour before she quietly slipped from this earth. But it’s not the dying that matters most. It’s the living.
She was so full of spunk in her prime. When once asked the best invention of her time, she responded with an unequivocal “birth control.” She was born in 1921. Her response didn’t include jet engines or the artificial heart. No, her response had to do with giving women rights and choices. She once told me, “Your Grandpa can tell me how to vote, but he’ll never know what I do when I pull that curtain.” She had hutzpah all right. And a love that couldn’t be matched.
My Grandma’s love shown brilliantly, like a beacon guiding me home. I cherish memories of long walks on the beach with her, feeling the squishy sand between our toes, the salty surf splashing up our calves and her undivided attention as we spoke about life. I relish the memories of long games of hand and foot canasta, knowing I’d be lucky to hold my own against the card shark master and learning about life in the process. My heart warms at the fond memories of her delightful laugh, soft, warm chocolate brown eyes and wiry, white hair, cropped short due to its almost total lack of styling cooperation. She’d sleep with hard, plastic pink rollers all night to try to get just a tiny wave in her locks, to very little success. My Rolodex of memories of her love is overflowing. Story after story bring me joy, comfort and a deep sense of longing for the woman I loved so dearly.
But my most cherished memories are of her interactions with my children. When my daughter was 5 and my son 8, we visited her. Grandma pulled out the supplies and patiently showed my daughter how to paint, something she had done with me so many years ago. She placed a treasured box of shells before my children, asking them to pick their favorites. She snuggled them close on the couch, captivating them with her storytelling. She loved them with all of her heart, just like she had me for all of those years.
We visited again 3 years later. The grip of dementia had tightened and my sharp, witty grandma peaked through the veil, but seemed just out of reach. Her eyes lit up as she talked to my children. She delighted with my daughter’s singing and listened to my budding engineer talk about school, trying desperately to follow his train of thought. She was happy and my aunt and uncle told me she was more lucid than normal because of the children. However, my daughter and I burst into tears as my aunt pulled away with her safely tucked into the car. The difference was startling and my children and I could hardly keep it together before she departed.
We had hoped to get down there one more time. The children and I knew the end was near. She was in her 90’s and the dementia had worsened each year. In fact, the weekend I went down, the weekend she passed, was the weekend we were all going to go, one last time. But my job wasn’t secure (I lost it six weeks later) and I was worried the children would be overwhelmed with the loss they would surely feel. And so, they didn’t join me. It’s probably for the best that they didn’t see her that way: in a coma, skeletal thin. I want them to remember the vivacious, spunky woman whose surname I took a few years ago. I didn’t know if I would make it in time. I didn’t know if I could hold her one more time and tell her how special she was to me. I didn’t know if I could begin to tell her that she had enriched my life, and the lives of others, immensely. Gratefully, I did make it. I got to hold her hand. I got to hug her. I got to tell her how very much she meant to me. And then, she was gone.
It’s been more than nine months, and my heart still aches for her. I can’t look anywhere in my home without being reminded of her – the window box mirror she gave me so long ago, the watercolor of spring flowers she painted with me in mind, all of the special Christmas ornaments I gingerly wrapped in bubble wrap as I dismantled the tree. I have special notes from her, tucked into my jewelry box, in my office, even on the lid of the box of ornaments she gave me in 2010. Notes that tell me how much she loved me and how cherished I was. She may now be in heaven with my beloved Grandpa, but her memory, her legacy and her love will live on forever in my heart, home and life. She is with me always.