I lost my grandmother, technically last New Year’s Eve, but really last December 30, 2011. I was lucky enough to have her in my life, with all her faculties and still able to live alone (with non-live-in help) right up until the end – her end being when I was 45 years old.
I got to have the wonderful spoiling as a child (there was something special about Coca-Cola with ice in grandma’s glass glasses – there was no Coke in my fridge at home), and the privilege of knowing her from an adult perspective too, as I grew up.
My family is very political, very blue, very articulate and very opinionated.
Grandma would have Loved the election last night, and I would have been on the phone with her (with my Dad hanging out at her house for the festivities) for hours, all of us with a glass of single-malt scotch in our hands . . .
A few years ago, I decided everybody in my family was getting single-malt scotch for the holidays. In addition to the above traits, we also all drink scotch (although our individual places on the peat-oak spectrum varies). I didn’t think all that much about it until during one visit with Grandma soon after that holiday where I gifted everyone scotch, she shared with me that she had told her bridge friends (she played bridge up until the last month of her life, aged 94) about my gift, and her friends thought she had the coolest grandkids ever!
I’ve been pretty busy lately just surviving the required schedule of work and treatment, but last night (and I know she was there with me, as she is now, just by my remembering her) I thought about how much she would have enjoyed her evening . . . keeping up with various family members by phone as the night progressed, with a glass of single-malt for sipping, as Obama won a second term and the entire country (in various ways) voted for fairness, equality and the positive evolution of our society.
Below are the remarks I shared at Grandma’s memorial service (redacted to preserve family privacy):
My grandmother was clearly the matriarch of this family. She ran it with love, strength, passion and intelligence.
I grew up being called “Grandma’s own,” both for the similarities in our personalities and because there is a very strong physical family resemblance. I always heard that moniker as a compliment and accepted with pride that I was like her, someone I love and admire.
That’s not to say that strength and backbone, combined with a vast vocabulary, are always a good thing. In certain circumstances, that combination can result in a mighty sharp tongue. It has been said of Grandma that her tongue was sharp enough to cut pastrami. Like many inheritable traits, that one has been passed down through the generations. Indeed, I’ve heard that same tongue come out of [my aunt]’s mouth, and my own.
But the best side of that combination is the fierce love and support she demonstrated for those people and causes that were important to her.
For instance, how many people can say their grandmother took them to a pro-choice rally? An aunt, mother, sister, yes, but their Grandmother? Not many, I don’t think…but I can.
And on a more personal level, while that kind of strength and smarts can have its downside – as many in the family sometimes have trouble talking about less than positive emotions (anger, sadness, frustration) – Grandma always communicated to me her no-doubt-about-it, unshakeable, absolute, almost taken-for-granted faith in my abilities to succeed in whatever life throws at me, something that has stood me in good stead through the years.
And it started early. Those of you who’ve been to our family dinner celebrations have seen that generally they are intelligent and well-informed, with strong passionate opinions flying all over the place. I recall being encouraged from a very early age (one at which other families might think kids should be seen and not heard) to participate in the conversations and being taken seriously…as long as I could back up my opinion.
Grandma also provided what she could, even when it wasn’t requested in the best possible manner. When I was in my late elementary school years, Grandma and Grandpa were at that point in their lives when they were traveling all over the world, going to all the places they had decided they wanted to see. I was completely jealous and in what must have been a truly whiny voice, I said (and I think I actually said it very much like this) “You guys have been everywhere and I’ve never even been to Alaska.” Why I said Alaska I have no idea, it was the first thing that came to my mind. But they heard the need, the request behind the whining tone. After a brief pause, I was told, “You’re right, and if, when you graduate from elementary school, you still want to go to Alaska, we’ll take you.” Well, I did still want to go and go we did, on a two-week cruise. My first memory of that trip was being treated like a grown-up by both of them, at the tender age of 13. I have myriad other memories from that trip – from my first Tequila Sunrise that I don’t think they knew about, to the other kids I met on the ship, to watching glaciers break off into the sea in Glacier Bay, to just missing being in time for High Tea at the Empress Hotel in Victoria, British Columbia, to the hand-beaded slippers I brought home and wore until they fell apart and off my feet.
Not only did I grow up being called “grandma’s own” on personality, but physical genes are very strong, especially through the women in this family. I was constantly called “[my aunt’s name]” while growing up, even when [my aunt] wasn’t around. I knew I had reached true adulthood in my Grandmother’s eyes when, at a family dinner sometime in my 20’s, Grandma called [my aunt] “[my name].”
All of that strength and passion and strong opinions can sometimes be hard to get along with. I realize that at times I resemble that remark. I, of course, was only a child for much of my relationship with both Grandma and Grandpa, but something about how they got along I think had sunk in by the time I had grown up enough to start looking for a partner for myself. I have to wonder if at least I learned that there are men out there who can live with and love a woman with that much sense of self, and that helped me find my own.
Just like Momsie before her, Grandma wasn’t done with anything after losing Grandpa. When I first decided to speak today and began deliberately reflecting on my Grandmother’s life, I had a phrase in mind that I thought applied here. I had heard it many times – something about speeding in spent and this close to being late for the end of one’s life – but I couldn’t remember exactly how it went. Coincidentally (as I’m sure it had nothing to do with me from his perspective), last week a friend of mine posted the exact phrase I was thinking of on Facebook. It goes like this: “Life’s journey is not to arrive at the grave safely in a well preserved body, but rather to skid in sideways, totally worn out, shouting ‘Holy Shit…What a Ride!'” That was my grandmother.
During her blessedly short illness, some of her hospital caregivers who didn’t see her when being admitted, but later when she was fighting the good fight, tried to tell us that her sometimes only semi-lucid state was maybe the best we could hope for – she was 94 after all. But we had to educate them, that, as [Hubby] put it – 2 weeks ago you had to make an appointment to get on her social calendar! In fact, the last time she played bridge, just a couple of weeks before she became ill, she played 3 days in a row, and was disappointed that she and her partner only came in 4th out of 19 tables!
Last year for Mother’s Day, [Hubby] and I gave her an original iPad after we had upgraded to the new models for ourselves. During that visit, with it being her first time ever using an iPad, she picked up how to read her email, and download and read books on the device. The last time I visited with her, just a week or so before her final hospital stay, she showed off to me that she had learned how to download borrowed books from the local library and read them on the iPad!
So Grandma, here is my pledge to you: As “Grandma’s own,” I will try to live my life as fully, as passionately, and as lovingly as you did, right to the very end. I miss you and I will love you forever.
Last night, you came to the front of my mind. What I wrote above was true then, is true today, and will always be true.
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While writing this post and wandering around WordPress, I found these ladies:
They remind me so much of none other than my grandmother (who, coincidentally, was also named Helen), and her sister-in-law, my Great-Aunt. Not that I could Ever replace my grandmother, but I’m gonna head over there and see if they’ll adopt me over the net or something. Or at the very least I’m gonna go follow their blog, for some guaranteed future laughs, I’m sure.
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