My sister just called to give me the update on my 94 year old Grandma's health. Not good. As the details of hospitals and end of life are filling the airwaves, I flash to my childhood memories...there's too many trying to hog the spotlight...the time we delivered day-old baked goods from the grocery store to the food banks around town...the time my amazing Grandma made a bridesmaid's dress in an afternoon...all the moments we played as a band of cousins in my grandparents' tiny house and she let us wear her jewelry, her makeup, her outdated dress-up clothes, the time she traveled with my six-person family to Israel for over a month when I was just 3 years old...and of course there are the little snippets that barely capture a length of time and flash like slideshow gone haywire, image after image after image...I can barely place the images in space and time but somehow they completely conjure the essence of my Grandmother. I can taste the Certs mints (do they make those anymore?) and smell her house filled with the mix of baked macaroni and cheese and fresh cookies. I can feel the faucets of the sink in her bathroom, and smell the soap of my childhood. I feel the 40 year old shag carpet under my toes and the dip of the couch from being worn down in the same place, where she would clip coupons, read her Reader's Digest, and knit all the sweaters for various grand and great-grandkids.
My grandpa passed several years ago and honestly, I am surprised my Grandma has lived this long. Her mom and aunts lived into their nineties and 100s. Long lives all around.
I mourned the loss of her when she started to forget us. I didn't lose her, though. I mean, I have had a really long and full life with my grandma. She has met my 2 year old son. She has told me stories of my dad. My sense of loss is not collapsed with my sense of simple sadness. Or maybe gratitude? I've had such loving moments with my grandma. And she has filled my heart with a sense of self that I could not get from anyone else. She has loved me in all my awkward, rough, scared, distant, confused, probably disrespectful, beautiful, lost, angry, proud phases. She has been to my graduations, my birthdays, my no-big-deals and not one time made any less or more of the moment. When I bounced around colleges for nine years, she didn't once harass me about it. She said I was just fine the way I was without finishing college.
She told me about Scotland and her travels to Europe. She kept my dad alive for me when I wasn't ready to let him go by telling me stories about how he was with her. I loved to hear that she missed my dad, because that missing made it okay for me to feel it too. And sometimes her missing of him was sadder and I wanted to keep him alive for her, too.
She took pictures at every event, always getting doubles so she could give them away to us. The pictures were just honest captures of our regular lives, but I love them candid and real.
I haven't been to see her in a couple years. I can't bare to see a person that isn't my grandma anymore. I did the same with my grandpa, and I have no regrets. I am a visual person and I want to keep the last image of her in my mind. I want to see her huge smile...as if whatever she's looking at was the most amazing thing. She emodied awe.