Alternately titled; How to be Sad and Grateful, All at the Same Time.
My grandmother is dying.
There; I said it. I think I’ve known for a while now, but up until just recently, she’d managed to contend with her lymphoma on nearly equal footing; she’d gain some ground, then she’d fall back for a bit, then she’d rally again. I’m pretty sure that she’s going down for the count now, though, and I’m again experiencing the strange combination of grief and gratitude that I felt as my mother fought her battle with cancer.
Here, then, are ten things about my Gramma, while they’re raw and close to the surface.
2. Gramma is one of those old people who never forgot how to laugh. I have a lot of memories of giggling with her – sometimes over really inappropriate things – and I treasure that we had that kind of fun together.
3. Gramma had to put up with a lot of shit in her life. She was born into a (literally) dirt-poor family. She never had a lot of anything. Her mother-in-law was often awful to her. Through all of that, though, she was dignified; she knew who she was and what was important to her, and she never let anyone shake her foundations.
4. My grandmother is generous to a fault. She’d always bake something sweet for us when she knew we were coming to visit. She’d work for months making little doo-dads for the church fairs (my christmas tree is full of ornaments she’s made). She’d always volunteer for fundraisers or church suppers or for helping out “old ladies” (which I always thought was funny, given that she’s an old lady herself).
5. Some of my most treasured recipes were handed down to me with love from my grandmother.
6. My grandmother loves her husband with a depth that is both touching and sitcom-funny. They drive each other up the wall on a near constant basis, but they have always been steadfast about their union. I have no idea what Grampa’s going to do without her.
7. My grandmother has always carried a sadness with her, tucked deep into herself like a pearl. Her firstborn son (my mother’s first husband) died when he was 18. She never got over it, and I wonder if that experience didn’t inspire her to love all the more fiercely those whom she still has.
8. There is a matter-of-factness about Gramma that I’ve always admired. She’s not showy or flowery; she’s never been one to dress up, she never wore perfume, she didn’t need a fancy car. She told people what she thought with a bluntness that was sometimes shocking while being at the same time deeply respectful. She knew her own mind, and I love that about her.
9. My Gramma’s accent has delighted me for as long as I’ve known her. She freely admits to being born a “down-eastah potata-pickah,” and she bears the accent, cadence, and colloquialisms of a native Mainah with pride. She inhales her yesses (which I can’t accurately transcribe in text, much to my sorrow). She called me “dee-yah.” She says things like “roo-bahb” and “cahn’t” and “yuh,” and her clipped, economical speech makes me smile just to remember it (concerning the “roo-bahb;” one afternoon, we were in her yard and she was cutting stalks for me to take home (I’d promised to bring back some rhubarb-pecan bread for Grampa; he loves that stuff). She pulled one of the stalks too hard and it came up, roots and all. She looked at it, shrugged a little, handed it to me and said “stick that in the ground; it’ll grow.” And it did; every spring, I have a glorious, enthusiastic rhubarb harvest, and every spring, I remember that story).
10. I made a point, when the girls were little, to visit my grandparents as often as I could. I did that for my children, who were a set of grandparents short with the necessary absence of my biologicals. I did it for my grandparents, who loved – and continue to love – my children to pieces. If I’m going to be honest, though, I mostly did it for me; when this time came, I wanted to face it knowing that I loved my people as well as I could when I had them… and I did.
Gramma, Bean, and Punkin’, Valentine’s Day, 2005