Grandma died yesterday.
Quickly and quietly, without causing a stir as she went. Sitting in her wheelchair at the rehab facility, where she has lived for the past 5 years, among the nurses and staff who took such tender care of her. One minute there with them. The next – a breath in between – her spirit departed.
She hasn’t always been the quiet, fragile, tiny old lady she has been these last several years. Unable to communicate very well through words, she could still express volumes through her eyes. She didn’t suffer from any terminal illness, or cancer, or debilitating physical pain. She had dementia, to be sure, but she still knew my mom and dad, who have seen her almost every day these last five years. And she knew the people who took care of her. She loved them, you could tell. And of course it was easy to see how they loved her. Many of them had become family to her.
It’s been years since she was the Grandma I have always known. Strokes took away a lot of her ability to communicate well. But she used to be one fiery, laughing, twinkly-eyed, say-what-she-means, toe-tapping, piano-playing, nature-loving Grandma.
I can hear her laugh so clearly in my head. She laughed a lot and it was a funny, contagious laugh. The kind that when you hear it, you can’t help yourself. You have to laugh, too.
She loved the Fourth of July, and red, white, and blue. She loved beautiful flowers, and working in the dirt, and reading, and coffee in the morning. She loved a glass of wine in the evening, and sometimes even a cold beer on a hot summer day.
She loved to talk with us about the things that were important to us – no matter what age we were. She was an excellent listener. And she loved to tell us about her parents and grandparents; she wanted us to know who we came from. Who our people were. Family was very important to her, and she wanted us to feel it, too.
She was born in 1921, in Virginia. And that was what her parents named her. My parents gave me her name for my middle name. She was the youngest of six children – 2 strong, handsome boys, and four lively, intelligent, and beautiful girls. She absolutely loved them. I can still remember being a little girl, at her house, watching her play cards with her sisters, or laughing with them, talking, talking, talking. They sang – oh, did they love to sing! That was something which they all passed down to each of their own families – a love for singing. There was not a visit to Grandma’s house where we did not end up around the piano; her playing, and all of singing and harmonizing. I know a lot of really old songs. Songs which my grandma and her sisters and brothers sang when they were growing up. Songs like, K-k-k-Katy, Five Foot Two, Eyes of Blue, My Wild Irish Rose, and the one we were always sure to sing, Poor Babes in the Woods.
My children don’t know this Grandma.
They only know the quiet, frail Granny of the last many years. But I can give them Grandma. I can give them what she gave me – stories of who they come from; stories of their people. Stories of her.
And I want them to know how important it is to love the Grandma and Grandpa they know now – my parents. And to not take a day of knowing them for granted. So that someday, when they have children of their own, and their children know Grandma and Grandpa as “Granny” or maybe “Great-Grandpa”, they will be able to give them the grandparents they have known growing up. They will be able to tell them about how their grandparents went sledding with them on the Big Sledding Hill – even though they were in their 60’s! They will tell them about the monthly birthday bashes at Grandma and Grandpa’s house, and all the cousins, and the pink lemonade, and the laughing, and the singing. About all the love.
In a few days, there will be a funeral. And there will be cousins, and more cousins. And we will sing, and even laugh, I’m sure. We will talk about Grandma – and share stories about her, stories about her sisters and brothers, stories about each other.
Stories of a life lived well, and loved well.
Love you, Grandma!