I'm sitting here thinking about my Grandma. The years I shared with her, the memories. It's strange, but I'm having a difficult time pinpointing exact, specific memories of her. It's more like one, long unconscious glimpse of her stunning and inspiring character.
My Grandma was the most lively, vibrant person I've ever known.
For our entire childhood, when school let out, my Mom would make the 5-hour drive to her hometown in New Jersey where we would spend the next 3 months until school resumed once again. Our summers with Grandma consisted of working at the family company, making weekly trips to the library, and completing "assignments" which we moaned and groaned about like kids do, but secretly loved.
My Grandma said she had spent forty years of her life cooking for her family so once it was no longer required of her- she gave it up. Instead, she treated herself (and us) to dinner out almost every night. When she walked into her local Applebee's or family diner, she was treated like royalty. As the "adoptive Grandma" of every waitperson on staff, servers fought to get her table. Once our orders were in, they would help themselves to a seat at our table where Grandma would make the same introduction, "These are my granddaughters. Aren't they beautiful?!" The server would then give her the latest updates on their life- where they were going to school, what they were studying, their relationship status. My Grandma would listen intently and give them big hugs as they returned to their duties. Even the servers whose names she couldn't remember were treated like her favorite person in the world. It wasn't until after they left the table that she would ask us, "What was his name? He is the neatest guy and I can never remember his name."
My sister and I joked not that long ago that our Grandma is the sole reason why we are so well-adjusted in our adulthood. Given some of the trauma we experienced in our younger years, you'd think we'd be much more messed up. But every ounce of damage that was done to our young hearts and minds, was instantly healed just by being in her presence. Not a day went by during those summer months when I didn't feel completely supported, unconditionally loved and appreciated for exactly who I was.
I only have one memory of my Grandma ever being legitimately angry with me and it has continued to stick with me all these years. During our annual beach trip to Cape May one year, the three of us walked along the boardwalk and my Grandma noticed an elderly couple (probably around the same age she was) struggling to carry their plethora of beach essentials across the sand. "Kaity, go help them carry their things." Being the horrifyingly introverted little girl that I was, I said I didn't want to, citing that I was too shy and didn't want to approach them. After much coaxing, and consequent resistance from me, my Grandma angrily exclaimed, "Well, that's just crap!" My Grandma never swore, The fact that she used the "c" word was the closest she'd ever gotten. I had never felt more ashamed and disappointed in myself than I did as the elderly couple continued to struggle and my Grandma and Kelly walked back to our hotel 20 feet ahead of me the rest of the way. The only time my Grandma was ever angry with me was for failing to help someone in need.
I think it's safe to say she was my molding force in pursuing a life of service. As we got older, our visits became limited mostly to holidays and an occasional spring break or three-day weekend. But my Grandma loved hearing about what we were learning. One Thanksgiving during college, I took the train to spend the long weekend with her. Over Thanksgiving dinner at Charlie Brown's steakhouse, we talked about politics, religion and life, in general. In a former life, she was an English teacher and her love and devotion to education and learning was something she imparted on us at a very young age.
She introduced me to my love of reading and writing. This blog exists because my Grandma spent so much of her time encouraging me to write. She was enamored with the beauty of the natural world and could frequently be found thanking the trees in her front yard for all they did for her. She took care of herself- eating healthfully and going for long walks around her neighborhood. She treated everyone with love and kindness and believed in the goodness of people.
Every remotely good thing about myself comes from trying to model my Grandma's example.
Even though there is so much more to be said about this woman, there aren't enough words in the English language to do her justice. But I know, she would be happy I'm writing. She would have read these words and proceeded to compliment me on what a beautiful writer I am.
Since receiving the news of her passing, I've been surprised by my own emotions. Although there is some lingering sadness, I have felt mostly relief. My Grandma's last months were not her best and it was heart wrenching to see her in the state of pain she was in, confined to a nursing home bed. My Grandma deserved better than that. I know she is free from suffering and she is at peace. I like to think she and my Grandfather (who died long before I was born) are finally together again and it fills me with joy. My Grandma spent thirty five years as a widow and lit up whenever she spoke about the man whom she was still madly in love with.
Today is the day our family will have an intimate graveside service in her honor. I will, no doubt, be emotionally exhausted when the day is through. But for now, I just feel exorbitantly thankful to have known this amazing woman and blessed to have been able to call her mine.