My grandma passed away yesterday. She was my mom's mom, the grandma I was closest to growing up. The one who had us over for sleepovers and let us shoot BB guns off the back porch at leftover utility line flags. The one with a huge backyard with a clothesline and a basement with spare bedrooms where my brother and I slept. The one who loved crossword puzzles and spoke German and Dutch and wrote me long letters from Florida in the winter, with spidery handwriting and drawings of the layout of their condo and maybe five or ten dollars inside. The one who was always doing dishes or wiping the counter. The one who served Ritz crackers and Schuler's bar cheese on Sundays when we went for coffee after church, who poured me iced tea out of a brown Tupperware pitcher. The one who came to all my birthday parties, hosted our Christmas Eve gatherings, went on our annual summer camping trip, cooked me the best fried potatoes ever with the container of bacon grease she kept under the sink. The one who came to the hospital to hold baby Annie on her first day of life. The one who canned peaches and pears and made strawberry jam and drove a school bus for disabled kids.
She was smart, stubborn, fastidious, faithful, and serious, though I remember her laughing a lot too. She drank coffee from morning to night. She smelled like lipstick and lotion. She had Alzheimer's, like her own mother did, and she hasn't been the same grandma to me for at least five years now. I brought her flowers and ate cake with her on her birthday in October. I saw her last weekend and I was stunned. She was less like my grandmother and more like a baby bird, lying in bed, unable to talk, unable to eat, opening her eyes off and on when we spoke to her or held her hand. For the last week, the image has been with me as I go about all the things I go about. As I was falling asleep, I was thinking My grandma is dying. As I stretched my hamstrings in downward dog, I was thinking My grandma is dying. As I hugged and kissed the girls when they got home from school, I was thinking My grandma is dying. As I took a bite of food, laughed with a friend, wrote an article, drove my car, shoveled snow, talked to my mom on the phone, read to my daughter before bed: My grandma is dying.
And now she's gone. She leaves behind my grandpa, her husband of 64 years, a number that is incomprehensible to me, and her four children, her grandchildren, her great-grandchildren. I am at once guiltily relieved that she is no longer suffering in that bed and incredibly sad that she is no longer in the world with me. I'll never hold her hand again. I'll never smell her smell. Two months ago, I still had both my grandmas; now I have neither.
I have friends who have lost parents, siblings, unborn children. This -- me losing my grandparents in their 80s and 90s -- is not particularly tragic, I know. It's simply sad. So for today, I'm trying to get down the good memories as best I can before they fade. I'm trying to find the threads of these two beautiful, smart, funny, strong, stubborn women in myself and in my girls. I'm trying to remember that, in the word of a favorite, Ray Bradbury, "no person ever died that had a family."
"Important thing is not the me that's lying here, but the me that's sitting on the edge of the bed looking back at me, and the me that's downstairs cooking supper, or out in the garage under the car, or in the library reading. All the new parts, they count. I'm not really dying today. No person ever died that had a family. I'll be around a long time. A thousand years from now a whole township of my offspring will be biting sour apples in the gumwood shade." - Ray Bradbury, Dandelion Wine