Thursday, March 15, 2012

Goodbye to Grandma

I know that I said I would write more often, and I was really on course. In the background of my life, however, there was a family emergency slowly unfolding. My Grandmother had fallen days after Christmas, breaking her hip and beginning the slow departure away from us. I decided to head home early in February to see my Grandma. I had a sinking feeling it was for the last time, but little did I know that I would not get to see her at all. I got in rather late on Saturday for a visit, so I planned on going the next day to spend most of the day with her at the nursing home. Sadly, she passed in the night before I got to see her. I was left with the consolation that she knew I was coming. From there it was the whirlwind of funeral planning, visitors to my parent's house who came bearing the meat of Christian mourning - ham,  phone calls to relatives, and the hardest of all taking care of things at my Grandparent's home. It truly became real to me the morning after we started alerting family, and the first visit from a relative came early in the morning bearing coffee cake and breakfast supplies. Old traditions die hard I guess, and making sure that you do not have to worry about feeling yourself at times like this seem to be still an honored tradition. 

 It has been a rough few months. I have felt rather conflicted about whether or not to address this on the blog, but I felt it was necessary. No one was able to bring themselves to do a eulogy at the funeral, and I feel at this point I am finally ready to do what we could not at that time. I cannot capture the specialness and wonderful character my Grandmother had in words, but I will give it my best try.

My Grandmother was one of the nicest, most caring people you could ever know. A lot of people will say that about someone when they pass, but for her it was very much the truth. My Grandmother was a self sacrificing person. She opened her home to my Great Uncle John and his wife Marge when she was in need of 24 hour a day nursing care. Grandma also often times took care of neighbor's children, so the parents could work to make ends meet. She loved kids. Every year at Halloween she would count the number of trick or treaters that would visit her door. She always had a nice thing to say to each about their costumes. Grandma was always a voice of encouragement to her grandchildren. If you needed guidance and a kind word, she was the one to call. This does not mean that she was a push over though as she was also a truth teller. When I started playing soccer on the boy's team, she would always tell me to not be upset when they treated me like one of their own and to not expect special treatment because I was a girl. It was a lesson that stuck with me and got me through tough times in the male dominated field of athletic training in college. "If you want to play with the boys that is fine, but don't be surprised when they treat you like one and don't complain about it either." It was solid advice.

Some of the most simple but useful things were taught to me by my Grandmother. When I could not seem to learn to tie a shoe, one of the most traumatic things that happened to me in kindergarten, she was there for me. I figured I would wear slip on or velcro attached shoes my entire life, but she had other ideas. She sat with me on her bed for hours until I got it down. It was a long process, involving the promise of fresh baked peanut butter chocolate chip cookies at the end of it, but by the time I left that day I was tying shoes. Grandma was also the one who taught most of us to throw a baseball and also to bat, making sure you used both hand the whole time. She would stop pitching to you if you did a one handed follow through. It was just deemed too dangerous, which was probably right. My love of athletics, in fact, was passed to me by my Grandma and my Mom.

I am a Cubs fan because of her, and she was so die hard, she would never miss a game. Grandma would stick by that team no matter what, even proudly wearing a Cubs shirt through some of the worst seasons. During the warm summer months, she would watch the team on the television and listen to the radio on the back porch, switching off innings to ensure she was hearing Harry Carry call the game. She would go in and out of the areas of the house as the announcer switches would take place. She was also a basketball fan, watching the Bulls just as religiously as the Cubs. No matter how bad my sports endeavors were, she would be there as well, sitting through soccer matches in pouring rain and snow. She and Grandpa would brave icy roads to see me play basketball and volleyball. They also made every dance recital, school play or musical, art show, Grandparent's Day function, the list goes on. In all of this, other pearls of wisdom came from my Grandma. After particularly bad losses, she would always put things into perspective. "For there to be a winner, there has to be a loser. This time you were on the losing end, hopefully next time you will be on the winning side."

My Grandmother was a hard worker. She worked in the Elgin Watch Factory when she was younger. She also helped my Grandpa build their house from scratch. Mostly the two of them did all the work with little outside help. The house is a testament to their hard work and determination. They would work full days at a job, and then come back to the house site and work until dark. She would then go on to make their house one of the most welcoming places. The cookie jar was always full, and there was always a toasted cheese sandwich coming you way if you ask. Grandma was also a meticulous record keeper. She kept track of the millage and gas usage of the car every year we went up to Wisconsin for the fishing trip. We found her notebook with all the costs and notes on building the house. She kept every card, letter, or piece of correspondence she ever received.

Grandma also gave me some of my quirky personality traits. People who know me through Belegarth often times think I learned archery out on our battlefields. Little do they know that I actually learned all my archery skills from my Grandma. She had a bow, arrows, and a target for practice in her basement. I spent many hours down there target shooting. Honing my skills at this pursuit was something she felt more than comfortable to allow me to do at a rather early age. It was some of the earliest responsibility and trust placed in me to be safe, responsible, and to do the right thing. I am one of the most respected archers in Belegarth because of Grandma. She was also a Vegas lover. Grandma and Grandpa would go to Vegas every year with the company. My love for the old glitz and glamor come from her stories of the early days of the new strip hotels.

Gardening was another passion of hers. I hope that someday her awesome skills with plants will rub off on me. She was able to nurse some of the most sick plants back to health and even get plants to bloom again of their own accord. She always kept a hibiscus plant, and it is still there at the house, blooming away. She loved a lot of natural plants rather than showy flowers. She loved bittersweet, Lilly of the Valley, impatiens, and daisies. She grew roses she received from a cereal box give away. Grandma would always discourage the picking of wild flowers or flowers that were not in our yards. "If everyone picks a single flower, there will be none left for people to see. They will all be taken, and sharing them with others is much better than taking one for yourself."

Artistic pursuits were always encouraged at Grandma's house. I painted projects with her on tray tables, tree ornaments, or just on paper. Grandma had a huge picture window in the living room that she would decorate for all the seasons and holidays. Grandma and Grandpa would also hold many of the holidays at their house. There are so many memories of the kids table and sneaking black olives into each other's cola. Santa delivering Christmas presents he happened to forget to deliver on Christmas, sometimes as late as June. Easter egg hunts through the large back yard were always a hit, especially if you found one of the eggs that contained the "big money."

Grandma was also rather sentimental. She would proudly wear shell or macaroni necklaces out in public and tell everyone who asked that her wonderful grandchildren had made them. She saved all sorts of napkins and pieces of paper from their travels. She was brave enough to travel to both Europe and Venezuela to see the Amazon at a time when world travel was not necessarily a thing that many people did. Grandma is one of my pillars of homemaking. When you stepped into her house, even if you had not been there before, it felt like home to you. I strive to make that same feeling in our house, even though we did not build it ourselves.

It is in that spirit that I finally had my gut check in this whole experience. Going to the house was somewhat hard, not seeing Grandma at the door was harder still, but seeing a framed piece of writing that I did in the third grade still sitting on her hope chest really made me open up the water works. It was a short paragraph, detailing what a great homemaker my Grandma was, and, after all this time, she still had that little paragraph framed and saved. I am sure she looked at it often, and my mom said it meant so much to her what a wrote. In the end it really is the small things that seem to matter. Of all the things I wanted to take with me were housewares. The cut glass "banana split" bowls she used to use with me on sleep over special occasions. The "malted" glass that she had decorated just for me and served milkshakes in. The metal mold that she used to make gelatin hearts for me the year I missed my first Valentine's Day party with the flu.

On the day of the wake, I wore my Mom's clothes as I oddly did not have any black with me. The night was filled with family meeting and of all things filled with laughter. Many people came, and I am sure she would have been surprised to realize just how many lives she touched in her own special and seemingly small but actually impactful ways. It was a true Irish style wake with plenty of story telling and reminiscing about her and Grandpa - their adventures and time together. I was in a small way glad that she and Grandpa would now finally be together for the Valentine's holiday. I knew that she missed him so much. The next day at the funeral, she got one of the things she wanted for her funeral - snow. The most beautiful snow globe style snow floated and fell softly through the air. It was in its own way beautiful tribute to someone who loved nature and the natural world so much. And as we walked around the plot area looking at all the family that has passed before us, all I could hear in my mind was a lecture I used to use when I taught high school on literary analysis. Snow in stories is a great unifier and a beautiful symbol of this as it falls on both the living and the dead equally.

I miss my Grandma very much, and while I know it will get better with time, I feel such a deep hole and loss. I love you very much Grandma and you will be so missed.


Ivy said...

Beautifully written. I'm so sorry to hear about your grandmother's passing.

dre_ah said...

We each find a small group of amazing people as we journey though life who inspire us and drive us to be not only the best we can be, but also the best we can be to each other. It's sad to lose one of those people, but amazing to know how much they inspire others and how that sprint lives on.

Thank you for sharing your grandmothers story which is inspiring and lends a lot of explanation to path of how you have become you over the years and a peek into the future to come.