Thursday afternoon, as I returned to my office from a meeting, the phone rang. It was my husband. My mom had just called him to say my paternal grandma had gotten sick. She was non-responsive and being admitted to hospice. I jumped in the car and drove to her nursing home. I sat with her and my parents several hours that night. And I returned the next day, spending many hours saying goodbye. Around 4:30 am Saturday morning, my grandma passed away. We said our final farewells this morning. Below is the tribute I wrote for her and read at the service.
My grandma has been a constant in my life for always. She was the primary babysitter for my sister, the Editor, and I when we were young. We spent countless hours playing games in her living room in the condo just up the street from this church. Grandma taught us to play solitaire. She bought us each our own decks of cards. She got us paper dolls for which she showed us how to create our own clothes. She even bought us the toys in the grocery store mom and dad never let us get. And brought us home the good leftover food from the cafeteria. My favorite was the soft pretzels.
On laundry day, the Editor and I played in the basement, plucking away at the old organ, singing songs with Grandma. Or we'd play Labyrinth or Booby Trap, which Grandma had taught us. My kids still love to play Grandma's old Booby Trap game to this day. And I can clearly remember watching Grandma sew in her little room, with the soap operas on in the background.
And when Grandpa would get home from work, Grandma always had dinner just about done. He'd have enough time to sit in his chair and close his eyes for a couple moments while Grandma filled him in on the day. Of course, when it was time to eat, Grandma would call him to the table, but he wouldn't hear because he'd turned his hearing aid off. When did he turn that off? Before or after she told him the goings on. I fondly remember the two of them yelling at each other because his hearing aid was off.
Most importantly for me as a kid, Grandma always had ice cream in the freezer for after dinner. She said it was only for Grandpa, but long after he died, she continued to have ice cream every night after dinner.
I remember afternoons of Tripoli and walking down to the playground with Grandma. I remember clearly Grandma pushing the Editor in the baby swing for what seemed like forever to the four-year-old me. But the Editor loved to swing, so Grandma wasn't about to stop.
Grandma taught me to ride a bike. She had bought it at the church rummage sale and cleaned it up for me and painted it green and yellow. (Or did Grandpa do the fixing up?) Grandma brought me out to the parking lot and said she'd hold on, but she let go. And I was fine. I must have rode in a circle for hours that afternoon. Grandma watched from her sliding glass door the entire time. She was always watching from that sliding glass door.
Grandma and Grandpa took us camping in their big motor home. I remember swimming at KOAs, Grandma letting us take Grandpa's binoculars to look at freighters when he wasn't around, and taking the ferry to Canada for cherry tarts. Grandma took us to Tennessee and the Carolinas to see our southern family members (all Grandpa's family). And she always made it fun.
That was who she was to me as a kid. Grandma was a lot of fun. She took care of us and scolded us when we deserved it, but I remember lots of interesting adventures and games.
As the years went by, I didn't get to play games with Grandma as much, but I still called all of the time. She always wanted me to write, but I'm no good at that. So we talked on the phone. A lot. I'd tell her about school and life and she'd fill me in on her goings on, whether it be the celebratory meal she was putting together for the group in Florida that week or what she saw out her window here in Michigan, we'd talk about it.
As an introspective teenager and young adult, trying to figure out who I was and what I believed, I tried so hard to get my Grandma to tell me why she believed what she believed. That wasn't so easy to do. I wanted to discuss politics; to know what she felt. She told me she voted Democrat. That was the extent. I wanted to know more, but there wasn't anything more. Not on that topic.
I wanted to discuss religion. She said she believed in God. She belonged to the Methodist Church. There was nothing more to discuss. I tried and tried. And all I would get is the goings on in the neighborhood. It frustrated me, but I knew she was a reserved woman--at least when it came to feelings and emotions. We all know my Grandma was forthright when it came to her opinions. She was never malicious, but blunt. I wanted that same bluntness when it came to the "deep" topics that so entrenched my early adulthood, but I could never get it and I thought I would never know this woman who meant so much to me.
Then Grandma started to get dementia. And she couldn't talk on the phone any more. She'd hang up on me mid-sentence. When I'd visit, she'd repeat herself and get mixed up. She couldn't play games and it was hard for her to be with us. And as the years went by, she wouldn't necessarily know who I was. And I thought I had lost the opportunity to know her at all.
But one very coherent day in February or March 2009, I visited with her. She knew who I was and we talked. Eventually we got around to talking about my daughter, then a one year old. At that time, Grandma enjoyed talking about her youngest great grandchild; her namesake the Dancing Queen. DQ had her second open heart surgery coming and Grandma and I discussed the logistics since Grandma had undergone her own open heart surgery years before. And Grandma was very good about talking about logistics. But, then she looked at me with the saddest eyes I had ever seen on her and she told me "You have to do whatever it takes to save your baby. You should never have to bury a child. I had two babies die. You should not have to live with that." She quickly changed the subject. But in that moment, all the questions I had wanted answered years before were answered in the tear she held back.
Of course, I knew that my Grandma had a daughter and a son after my dad. And I knew that they both were stillborn. As children, Grandma wanted the Editor and I to know that her babies existed; that she had loved them. But until that day in 2009, I didn't realize the pain that my Grandma had carried all these years. And missing something so profound about my Grandma made me rethink every other comment she had said to me; to relive all of the moments that we had shared. I remembered road trips and days at the park, phone calls and vacations, and big sloppy kisses. And I realized that while I was busy talking, I should have been listening and paying more attention. Grandma didn't need to tell me why she voted the way she did or believed the way she believed. That wasn't her. She showed me every day in the things that she did.
My Grandma was a caregiver. She took care of all of us. She was always there. She crocheted countless layettes for babies in need up until the day her fingers could no longer work. She helped build this church we are sitting in today. She put together hundreds of dinners, lunches, and brunches for all occasions. She made many people happy and was always giving of herself.
And in her final few years, she spent a considerable amount of time surrounded by her great grandchildren, playing with them and showing them love. Even though she couldn't run after them on a bike, she still cared for them in her own way. She'd sit in her chair in my parents' living room, gathering toy after toy. Each child had to give Great Grandma a toy so she could play too. Little Car Guy even showed Great Grandma how to play his Nintendo DS. And even though she wasn't able to work the remote at that time, she looked on with great interest because her great grandson wanted to show her. That was her way. She was deeply interested in the people that she loved.
I love you Grandma and I will miss you always.