(Originally published November 5, 2013)
My grandmother passed away this morning. I’m not exactly sure how old she was (those details tend to escape me) but somehow she just kept getting cuter the older she got. She hadn’t had teeth in years but that didn’t stop her from eating whatever she wanted to eat. Steak? No problem! She must have had gums of steel.
This was my dad’s mom. Have any of you heard your dad cry? Yeah, it’s completely heartbreaking. I broke into pieces when my dad called today and said, “Well…(in a way too high-spirited/high-pitched way that gave away the fact that he was bracing himself against the wave of anguish rushing up his throat from his chest), I have bad news.” <Voice cracks> “We lost Grandma this morning.”
I was at work and walking out of the office so I could talk/cry in private (you know, in the parking lot). On the way out I exchanged a look with my co-worker Rann that told her everything she needed to know. My previously inappropriate comment to my boss about why I had to interrupt our meeting to answer the phone was really the truth: “I need to take this. My dad never calls. I have a feeling it’s about dead Grandma.” (If you know me, you know this is a classic example of my sense of humor. If you don’t know me, you think I’m an A-hole. Eh. Grandma knew I was funny A-hole.)
I just talked to my brother. We reminisced about the picture-perfect grandparent experience we were privileged to have. It’s not that they spoiled us with stuff or even all that much physical affection (that I remember). It was that they lived in an amazing house on an amazing property and my brother and I got to play at their house all the time. And I mean play. Like the kind kids used to be able to do before helicopter parents were invented.
The property was a wonderland for us. There was a little forested part of the back yard where we could play hide and seek in the woods and (my brother’s words) “walk through spider webs and stuff.” There was also a huge garden area–with actual rows of crops, not just little raised beds. There was a tiny stream that ran through the property with a couple of little bridges that Ryan and I would pretend to fish off of. There were grape vines (I might be lying about that…) and tons of strawberries. And the flowers?! Holy cow! I seem to remember that my Grandpa was the flower expert and my Grandma was the food grower. It’s entirely possible I have that backwards, though. There wasn’t a bald spot in that yard–every square inch was filled with nature in its glory. It was little kid paradise.
The house itself had HUGE picture windows overlooking the yard (did I mention that my grandfather built the house?). Grandma and Grandpa each had a reclining chair–and woe were we to be sitting in Grandpa’s chair when it was his time to sit in his chair! He came off so imposing and so scary–and yet we also knew he was just pretending not to be the softy he really was. Grandma called the couch the “daveneau” (a word I can’t even find on Dictionary.com). Imagine being tiny and trying to figure out what the heck a daveneau is!
The basement of the house was a little bit scary, but also fascinating. There was one entire closet filled with just my grandma’s square-dancing dresses–what seemed like HUNDREDS of them! There was a storage room that housed a little personal full-body steamer that a taller person could sit in, close themselves into, and have only their head showing out the top. It was an odd contraption and it reliably (like 100% reliably) housed a spider.
I could go on and on, but you get the point. These were two amazingly cool people that I was lucky enough to have as Grandma and Grandpa all these years. My dad’s broken heart for sure breaks mine…but really I feel like the little kid in Cocoon (if you remember that movie). At the end of the movie (spoiler alert!) he waves to his grandparents as they leave Earth to go learn new things from the aliens. He’s the only one who really knows what’s going on and while he’s sad to be losing them from his day-to-day reality, he knows they’re going on to do something cooler than he can even imagine.
And that’s how I feel about Grandma. She’s been wanting to be free of her body for a few years now–wanting to rejoin Grandpa and their son Kerry (my uncle), who passed a couple years ago. She talked about it all the time: “I just want to be with Grandpa and Kerry again, I just want to be with Grandpa and Kerry again…”
I’m totally the kid in Cocoon: I have tears in my eyes and a huge smile on my face as I imagine (and can feel in my body) the pure joy that surely accompanied Grandma’s reunion with Grandpa and Uncle Kerry. I stand to the side looking through the chaos of sadness that surrounds me and I say under my breath, “Yeah, Grandma! You go, Girl!”
Here’s a picture so you have a visual (a little fuzzy, but the best I can do right now):
I love you, Grandma. I’m happy for you. Please send me a sign that you made it alright.