Hectic months. April brought summer to Seattle and a lull in hiking to me.
My grandmother passed away on the twentieth of April, after almost 96 years of a very full life. It was quiet and not too painful and my parents were with her, and she loved us all so much and had been asking out loud for years why God was keeping her alive for so long. She was born in 1919, graduated from Our Lady of Mercy high school, went to nursing school, and worked at Bausch & Lomb before she married my grandfather in 1945, after five years of refusing him because she wouldn’t convert her religion to his (and as you might imagine, she didn’t). They moved to the farm (the house in which I grew up) in 1947. She nursed my grandfather through cancer, and when he passed away from it in 1970, she raised my father and uncle on her own, with my aunt close by. She never remarried, never so much as went on a date, as I heard it, and she’d lived on her own since 1988, when she built a house half a mile away from the farm. I spent so much time with her growing up. She was extremely stubborn, fiercely independent, exacting, organized, and loved to tell stories. She never smoked a cigarette, she told me, and she absolutely did not put up with any nonsense. She was sharp as a tack, and her memory was better than anyone I’ve ever known, and I feel extraordinarily lucky that it was that way until the end.
I love her so much. My first object handling experience came from helping her rotate out her seasonal decorations and dishes, gathering things from the garage and the closets and behind the bookshelves, angling things in just the right way, and putting everything back into storage in exactly the right place. I like to think I’ve inherited some of her visual memory, some of her fierce sense of adventure and intense practicality. She loved to tell me I was like her, and though it’s not something I’ll often repeat out loud, I’ll hold tightly to those words forever.
It was hard, being far away, as her health failed. Just a couple of weeks, but I’ve never known the distance of those 2,702 miles quite so clearly. I was reminded, and reminded myself repeatedly, that she was glad I was here. I have a career I love and I’m traveling and entertaining and enjoying wonderful relationships, and she thought that was grand. She knew how much I loved her, and when I saw her last (Thanksgiving), just as every time before, we had lunch and laughed and told stories and we were both aware that she was, well, old. “If I’m even around then,” she used to say about everything, no matter how close or far in the future. And she had a wonderful, long life where she did so much and knew so many people and loved us all, and she was ready to die. I know some people say or think that as a consoling, placating thing, but with her it was absolutely true. She was that well-adjusted. But it’s always hard, and there’s a little guilt in feeling like you’re not prioritizing family, and she was my grandma.
I flew home for the funeral, to find she had left minutely detailed plans – she had chosen the hymns and readings and written part of her own eulogy , and her well-known ledger book listing which sentimental objects were left to whom was being passed around for us all to examine our page. The priest chuckled as he expressed his surprise that she hadn’t written his homily as well. We spent the week trying to get everything right and joking that anything we messed up will be the first thing we’ll hear about when we see her again.
And it was a sad week, but we had such fun being together. We talked a lot, we told stories a lot, we laughed a lot. I sang with my uncle, sister, and cousins at the funeral mass. She knit us together so tightly.
She was my last living grandparent, always right up the street, coming to every gathering and school concert and event. The grandkids’ biggest fan. We grew up close to my mother’s parents as well, who lived only an hour away. It was incredibly wonderful to have such great grandparents always so close by.
This is the only wedding-day photo of my grandparents. I wonder why. She shared so much, but I still have more I wish I could have asked her.
I’ll miss her forever, I’m sure. She’ll never see me get married, or move wherever I do next. I’ll never be able to tell her about the adventures I go on, or spend time in her living room listening to stories, or drive her to lunch and the grocery store, or send her letters. We had already begun dismantling her house when I left. She kept everything, as may be expected of a woman with living memory of the Great Depression, and there’s a lot to clear out. I wish I were there for that, too.