One of My Favorite People

Normally I like to space out similar types of entries on this blog. Only one pet please a week or one entry about movies, that kind of thing. Today I have to violate that rule. I’m going to follow Sunday’s very personal post with one that is equally personal.

This is Grandma, one of my favorite people in the world (that’s me as a baby, flexing for the camera):

grandma and me

My other grandmother died when I was young, so I barely knew her. I’ve known Grandma for 34 years. She looked the other way when I tossed Andes Mints wrappers behind her TV when I was young. When I grew up and started pursuing random things, she always supported them. She’s frequently requested to play my board games, though I’ve suggested lighter fare instead.

She had a map in her house that showed all the places in the world she traveled–her sense of adventure was unparalleled, and she’s inspired me to experience the world beyond my walls. At the family reunion at the beach this past summer, I regularly had to catch her making a beeline for the water even though her failing lungs and limbs were no longer equipped for solo swims.

She is one of the least judgmental people I know, one of the kindest and most generous people you’ll ever meet, and she’s the anchor of a massive family. She’s outlived two husbands, and she treated the children and grandchildren of her second husband as if they were her own.

Here’s a photo of Grandma, her daughter (my mom), her granddaughter (my sister), and her great-granddaughter (my niece) that I took at Christmas a few weeks ago:

grandma four generations

It was around 8 years ago that I realized how special it was to have a grandmother who was so…alive. I didn’t want to take that for granted. So I started calling Grandma about once a month, just to chat. We’d talk about present life, but I also tried to learn about Grandma’s story–who she was as a child, how she lives her life, what’s interesting to her, what makes her happy.

I learned a lot in those conversations. When you’re in your 80s, you don’t mince words. She had a lot to say about relationships. Despite our difference in years, I listened when Grandma talked about such things. I trust her.

Grandma’s health has steadily declined, and she was diagnosed with a variety of diseases a few months ago. When I was home at Christmas, I knew that was probably the last time I would ever see her. She was still so full of life, and also so peaceful to sit with and just be with. I’ve never seen someone light up the way she did when me or one of my siblings scratched her back–and I’m someone who really likes back scratches.

Grandma was bedridden soon after Christmas, and she was moved from her nursing home to my parent’s house. Over the next 10 days, her children (all 7 of them) congregated around her, taking care of her in the same way she took care of them when they were young. They talked to her, they snuggled next to her, they fed her (when she would eat), and they kept her pain at bay. I’m told that the house was full of love and joy–it was a rare occasion when someone’s wake was essentially held while the person was still alive.

This afternoon I got the call from my mom to say that Grandma died today. In somewhat of a miracle, a number of people were right there by her side when it happened. Mom said that they just knew–it was something in the way she was breathing.

It was my cousin Matt, Aunt Dot, Mom, and my niece. Mom said that my niece–who is only 21 months old–somehow knew that something important was happening, as she held her finger to her lips to signal to the others that it was quiet time. Quiet time for Grandma. And then it was over.

I was talking to Grandma at the beach 2 years ago about heaven. She said she was looking forward to sitting down to catch up with her two husbands (“Bill first,” she said, as he was her first husband, my grandfather, who died when I was young, “then Buzz. Then together.”)

Never has there existed a day in my life when I’ve hoped heaven exists more than I do today. For her. For you, Grandma. I love you and I’ll miss you.

grandma 2014

Grandma, Uncle Bill, and Mom