On Thursday I lost the only Grandma I ever had. She passed away at 12:15 on 12/15. Moments before I was looking at the very same picture album I was looking at the night her husband, my Grandpa, died seven years before. And just like Grandpa, Grandma breathed her last at home, surrounded by her family. We should all be so fortunate.
Death is a funny thing. Not “ha ha” funny–not usually anyway–but the sort of funny where you take note of things like 12:15 on 12/15 or the strange juxtaposition of new fun family memories made while waiting for a loved one to die. In the past several weeks my parents house became Grand Central Station of family gatherings as relatives came from far and wide to see Grandma in her finals days. The atmosphere was oddly festive at times and seemed more like a holiday gathering than what it actually was. It’s not surprising I suppose. My extended family has always been very close and it wasn’t as though we all didn’t have time to prepare ourselves for what was coming. Sure, a month ago no one expected Grandma to be gone before Christmas, but her health had been failing for the past several months.
More importantly, we knew that Grandma was going to a place where she would no longer have to struggle to breath. No more oxygen masks and tubes (or “nose pickers” as my three-year old called the cannula), walkers, or physical therapy sessions. She was on her way to Paradise, to be united with her Savior and reunited with Grandpa.
When I’ve thought about Grandma these last few weeks, certain memories stick out. Images of her in her long blue robe holding a cup of coffee, or calling me the nickname she had for me, fixing melba toast sandwiches for Grandpa after church, or eating Golden Grahams at the kitchen table at the house on Anson Drive. I used to love talking to her about the history of our family; about her life as a little girl in a mining town in New Mexico and how her father came from France as a young boy. Two new things I know I’ll always remember: last Sunday watching the 49er game with Grandma and both of us falling asleep during the game and watching White Christmas with her and my uncle. My uncle and I made a Mystery Science Theater 3000 episode out of it and she told us we were silly.
As difficult as it was losing Grandma, explaining it to an almost four-year old was nearly as difficult. My daughter Lily and Grandma had a very special relationship. Lily was the first, and until pretty recently, only great-grandchild. Grandma lived in a granny unit connected to my parents house by a long hallway. Very early on after she learned to walk, as soon as we got to my parents house Lily would run down the hallway to Grandma’s house. She had a little routine she would go through, always going for the same knickknacks. She would ask Grandma to wind up the music box on her dresser and get the piece of coral down off the shelf so she could feel it.
It’s hard to say exactly what she understands about what happened, but she does seem to get it that Grandma is in heaven now and we won’t be seeing her anymore. She cried when we explained it to her, partly because she did understand and partly because we were crying I think. When we went to my parents house yesterday afternoon she said, “Grandma’s gone” as we pulled in the driveway. Today she told me she missed Grandma. In a way it’s good it happened when she’s so young, but it also means she probably won’t remember much about Grandma. She will always remember the music box and the coral. They are on her shelf now.
Grandma was an amazing person. She was quiet and unassuming, but had a strength that few people probably realized. She was generous and thoughtful and made great potato salad. She was godly, honest, and it was not at all surprising to find her watching the Giants or Cal football if you happened to stop by her house. Christmas morning won’t be the same without her little pig souffle. And the other 364 days of the year won’t be the same, period.