Tomorrow, March 1st, will mark the 6th anniversary of my grandmother’s death (and I should add, the 6th anniversary of the day my step-father was “cured” of cancer- he was literally in surgery two hours away when she died). Generally speaking, I’m not an overly sentimental person and I remember as a kid finding it bizarre when people are too attached to their grandparents. I mean, they weren’t their parents and they were…you know…old, but my grandmother was one of those people that sticks with you, one of those people who for better or for worse, impacts your life.
When I was young she was always the fun grandma because she was always doing something goofy. If we were playing hide-and-go-seek, she was always the one hiding in the cupboard all bent up like a pretzel. There’s a picture, which I want to find desperately now (found it, and it’s at the bottom, apparently our faces weren’t painted, I imagined that part), where all my cousins and I have our faces painted and we’re making ridiculous faces at the camera, and at first glance, you probably wouldn’t even realize that a grown woman is crouched down in the middle, making a face, too. We, her grandchildren, were the lights of her life.
She was also one of the most relentless worriers, which, I believe is where I get my anxiety from. She worried about any and everything, and sometimes shut herself out of life with her worries. She never let us eat ice because she believed it caused anemia (um, and she was a nurse), and she wouldn’t let my sister have an egg toss at the birthday party she had to supervise when I was whisked off to the hospital with a broken arm, because surely with all those eggs, someone would get salmonella.
She was probably the worst cook to ever walk the earth. Her signature dish that we came over for Friday nights to eat was called “Hot Dish.” The ingredients are ground beef, tomato paste and penne pasta. You boil the pasta, cook the meat, stir it all together and bake it in the oven for a few minutes. She’d set out the big green can of parmesan cheese on the table for anyone who wanted more flavor. On Fridays during Lent she made the most revolting casserole, which consisted of several kinds of “cream of” soups, tuna, and crushed up potato chips. It somehow was edible when Grandma made it.
My grandmother admittedly favored me over my cousins, which was an odd position to be in, but I kept the goofy childhood act a lot longer than my siblings and cousins, so we related well. And then my parents divorced and my mom couldn’t afford our house and my sister’s college tuition, so we moved in with my grandparents to save money before getting a new house. I can honestly say that it was probably the most difficult 8 months of my life living there. My grandmother had some personal space issues and she and I butted heads constantly, and looking back, it’s because we were so much the same person that we just couldn’t deal with each other. There’s almost never a day that goes by that I wish I didn’t apologize for being such a brat, and I tell my students about it because maybe they won’t say those things to their grandmothers at 14.
My grandma died on a Friday afternoon. She had had surgery earlier in the week to have part of her lung removed due to lung cancer from smoking for 50 years. She was to be released from the hospital later that day and start chemo the next week, but at some point late Thursday night there was confusion among the nurses and she did not receive a very needed bloodthinner. Her anxiety about the pain and the incision literally paralyzed her and those blood thinners were the only thing keeping her blood from turning into gelatin. So that morning when she got up to go to the bathroom, she threw a clot and died. With no warning, with only her youngest daughter there (who was 30 at the time and with her newborn son), and without saying goodbye.
When I heard the news from my aunt, I screamed and cried, because surely, that could not be true. Not MY grandmother. No, that couldn’t happen to her. But it did. And as of tomorrow, I will have lived a quarter of my life without her. I can’t even wrap my head around that fact. A quarter of my life, has been with her gone. I still half expect her to be in her house when I go over there, I still half expect her to show up at Christmas and I still, 6 years later, cry for my grandmother. Because she has a grandchild she never got to meet, who was named after her and I cannot begin to imagine how proud that would’ve made her. She has 2 great grandchildren she never got to meet either, as well a new daughter-in-law and a new son-in-law and nothing was more important to her than her family. And I cry for all of us who knew her, because she was what held us all together.
At her funeral, the church was more full than it had ever been, literally ever. The priest cried when he spoke, because my grandmother had changed his life. Women and children were everywhere, she had been an amazing labor and delivery nurse and had literally saved, and helped bring into the world, hundreds of lives. Homeless people showed up because when my grandmother retired, she couldn’t sit still, so she went to work delivering food to homeless shelters. We drove from the church 30 minutes outside of town for the burial and over 300 people came back to the church after for a lunch in her honor. People sent 10 hams, TEN hams, to my grandfather after her death as well as at least 15 pies, fruit and cheese trays and just more food than anyone could ever eat in a lifetime.
I hope that she knows that I live each day with the hope of making her proud and that I feel so incredibly blessed when people tell me how much I remind them of her. I cannot imagine a higher compliment than that.
So tomorrow, The Fiance and I will go to the place that she loved the most, a casino (she was never happier than when her whole family came to a casino) and we will play slots for Grandma, because I think she’d appreciate that kind of thing. And I will continue to live my life, and learn from her, knowing that her life, her presence in mine, has shaped me and helped me to grow up the independent young woman that I am.
Rest in peace grandma, you are more missed than you could ever possibly know.