Last Sunday, I received the call that my paternal grandmother had died. I 'spoke' to her on the phone the Friday before which was me telling her I loved her and that it was OK to go. All I heard was labored breathing like the dying breath of a suffocating woman. It really burns in my memory. She died in her sleep, which somehow comforts me. I'm glad she wasn't aware of her death nor that anyone has to live with the memory of her dying in their presence. My 15 year old cousin had visited her hours before her passing, and I am thankful he didn't witness that as he cried streams of tears after saying goodbye. I spent a few days home, saw lots of family, paid my respects and realized this was a lot easier now than it would have been 10 years ago.
When I was growing up, I often said I had two moms. My mom and my gramma. My parents both worked and she took care of us, later to be 'helped' by my retired grandfather. She was awesome to me. She was in her 50s through my childhood, so she had plenty of energy to keep up with us and do fun things. She had also given up on parenting so my teen aunts and uncles had free roam, while she could be super gramma to my sister and me. She was fantastic. My grandparents were dirt poor, lived in the scariest house I have ever been in, but they loved me immensely. Because of their love and my grandmother's care and affection, I never needed anything more and never cared that they did not have hot water in their house even in the 1980s.
My grandmother frustrated me, too. As she got older and her health started to fail, and as I got older and could recognize her (and my grandfather's) bad behaviors, I would get upset even though I knew they always loved me. I didn't like her manipulations of my dad and aunts/uncles, but she was a person, not just my gramma. I encouraged my gramma to eat right, to listen to her doctors, to do the rehab the nurses recommended, and to stay on top of her Diabetes and Parkinsons. When her thumb starting to tremor I got on her to get checked for Parkinsons. Her answer was "it's just a shake, I'm old". I said "No it might be Parkinsons and YOU'RE MY GRAMMA!" She was diagnosed in her late 60s and thankfully, the meds she was on could keep it limited for years to one hand/wrist. She rarely listened to her docs. It was aggravating. I knew she had limited time. Why didn't she? This was a downward spiral of worse health, more isolation, and the eventual state of her being overmedicated (cholesterol, parkinsons, diabetes, anti-cancer drugs all at once) and a prisoner to her own body. Her mind was still there; she just couldnt move. Heck, she couldn't sit up straight. My wife met her 8 years ago when she was immobile but still peppy, talkative, sharp as a knife and funny. We noticed she wasn't like that the last few years. If someone had not seen her for 5 years, they thankfully missed the worst years.
- My grandparents would argue, mostly in good humor but sometimes angry, and the exchanges would break down to her saying "Up yours/Fuck you, Arthur" and flipping the smallest 'bird' ever, then he'd say "Jesus Christ Jeanie". I was age 3-9. For a few years I thought Jesus Christ's last name was Jeanie.
- My gramma said "I love you" every single time I spoke to her.
- When I told my gramma about my first love and how she broke up with me, she said, "I knew you'd be like your grampa and fall hard, and she sounds nice but any girl that would break your heart is one fucking bitch".
- She didn't drink because of the alcoholics she grew up in the same home with, and she didn't smoke because during the war they sent her down as a little girl with ration stamps for meat. She stood in line and when she got to the coutner she realized they were ration cards for cigarettes. She cried, the store owner gave the stamp booklet's worth of cigs and she walked home in the rain with other people's cigarettes.
- When I found out in 2004 that she had cancer, my first thought was "What if she doesn't see me get married?" and my 2nd thought was "What if she dies before the Sox win a world series?"
- I called her when the Pats beat the Rams, when the Sox finally won it all, and even when the Sox lost to the Yankees the year before in crushing fashion.
- My gramma cried during games 6 and 7 of the 1986 World Series.
- When I first got my license, I drove right down to tell my grandparents. They were happy for me, congratulated me, and told me to DRIVE SAFELY. When my kid was born 15 years later, I called my gramma and couldn't keep her on the phone longer than 45 seconds. That hurt. That showed me how much she had changed and how far gone she was. The gramma who beamed at me driving and later graduating college became the gramma who couldn't stay on the phone for a minute when my first child was born whom we named in honor of her husband. What was her social calendar for that hour, day, week? Wait to die. Her change had helped me move down that process of accepting her death.
- When people die, I think the prime thing you can do is honor their memory and sacrifice in what you do and how you live your life. A great thing for you is to both take on their best traits and behaviors and learn from their mistakes.
I'll end this with a memory that was a constant repeat. My mom would drop us off sometimes dressed sometimes in pajamas in our pre-school days. I was 3-5 years old. On days when she had time, she'd put my shirt on and let me dance around the room to music like Tom Cruise in "Risky Business". On days when she had less time and patience, I'd put my pants on and then she'd say, "get up on the bed". I'd climb on her bed and be about her height. She'd say "arms up, eyes closed". She'd pull my shirt over my head and in that second where your skin scratches from the fabric she'd give me a kiss. I'd say "Gray gray" (my name for her) all annoyed, and then we'd hug. After a while, I knew what was coming, and she knew that I knew, but we didn't say anything. We kept up that routine and always end in a big hug. I hope once in your life you love a child and they love you as much as we loved each other.