My grandmother died. It wasn’t unexpected. We all knew it was coming. After a major stroke in October, she was never herself again. Her health would wax and wane. We’d all prepare for the worst and then she’d make a comeback of sorts and we all breathed a sigh of relief. She was our grand matriarch. The glue that help this big family together, despite the miles-and sometimes, fights, between us. Yet no matter how prepared, our hearts have all been ripped out and shattered.
There are the placating ‘she’s in a better place’ condolences. Which I suppose is true, but as far as I am concerned here with ME is the better place. Not gone. Gone forever.
My gram was a one of a kind lady. She was tough, stubborn and had the biggest heart. There was always room for one more at her table. Literally. As we’d all bring home straggling friends from time to time, and they always found a place to stay and a place at the table with her.
She loved her family. Fiercely. Generously. She loved having them close. Before she had her stroke, when I was visiting with her, I was joking about the fact that my kids (18 and 20) were never leaving home. She just smiled and said ‘I always liked having my family close. It always made me happy’. And it did. She was never happier then when her house was bursting with energy. Kids, grand-kids, great grand-kids, all around and underfoot. In and out the door a hundred times a day. There was always coffee on and she was always ready to sit and chat if you needed her.
She was a bargain shopper. She loved going to the Salvation Army (or the ‘Boutique’ as she called it) and filling her cart with anything she thought she could find useful. Or eventually useful. She had a collection of curtains that would astound some people. And damn if I didn’t go to her on more than one occasion and she would pull out the perfect curtain I needed.
She loved animals. All animals. Big, small, wild, domestic. Once when I was little, my grandfather brought home a baby hawk (yes a bird) who had been orphaned after it’s mother was killed. She raised it. His name was Hunter and he would sit on the top of the floor lap behind my grandfather’s chair. When he got big enough, we set him free. A random box of baby raccoons once showed up at our house. The were taken care of until we could find someone more skilled to help. Baby rabbits were often found, half a live after a cat attack. We’d try to nurse them back to health and if we couldn’t, they received a proper burial in the back yard.
She loved beautiful things and saw the beauty in everything. Flowers, trees….anything. She had room in her heart to find the beauty and hold onto it.
She never judged you. No matter you mistakes or missteps. One of her favorite sayings was ‘You burned your ass, now you have to sit on the blister’…meaning you got yourself into this, now you deal with it. But with her help, of course.
She brought me home from the hospital after I had my daughter. At 20, I was a terrified young mother. When we got to her house, the first thing she did was lay my daughter out on her dining room table and strip her to her diaper. Then she counted each little toe and kissed them. She ‘oohed’ and ‘ah’ed’ over her tiny little body. It was clear she was in love.
When I went back to college when my daughter was just a few months old, it was my grandmother who watched her. I’d take her there in the morning and my gram would be awake in bed waiting. She’d cuddle my little one in next to her and talk to her. I knew with a doubt, my baby could not be in any better hands.
When my son came along, she fell in love again. With his bald head and chubby legs. She would sit and just hold him and look into his eyes. They would share a magical and special bond for the rest of her life.
She wasn’t your typical grandmother in most regards. She didn’t bake. Ever. She rather hated cooking (it was a good thing my grandfather liked to cook!). She wore high top sneakers (she stole my black high tops when I was in high school and I couldn’t even be mad, because she looked so darn cute in them!).
She worked the night shift before she retired and every night when she got up for work, the house would smell like Estee Lauder Youth Dew. That was her scent. I can’t even begin to tell you how much I miss that smell. To be held tight by those arms and breathe deep that scent.
She won’t be here to see the birth of her first great-great granddaughter. My first granddaughter. That March day will be full of excitement and love, and tinged with sadness that she won’t get those sweet toe kisses.
I loved her. I love her. I miss her. Every second of every day. My green-eyed sparing partner who loved to argue with me for fun. Who loved me from the moment I came into this world and the moment she left it. And I never doubted it.
Betty Jane had a life well lived. Well loved. And when I look into my granddaughter’s eyes when she’s born, I know that I will see that special twinkle and I’ll know that my grams was taking good care of her before her arrival.