My grandma passed away last week. Still as beautiful at 86 as she was in that photo, she slipped away peacefully while reading the newspaper, and for that I am thankful. Though she was just a little waif of a person, she had more strength than anyone else I knew; she survived colon cancer and lived with a colostomy for 30-plus years, she survived a broken neck (complete with halo) after a fall down the stairs at age 83, and she endured a broken hip at 84 and a series of mini-strokes after that. After everything, I'm so glad her passing was peaceful and easy.
She was my last living grandparent, and that feels very significant. My parents have now become the elders, and there is no denying that I am, officially, one of the Adults. I spent a lot of time with all my grandparents growing up, so this is an idea that I am still getting used to.
I think I knew Grammy as well as anyone did. During my preschool years, I spent my days with her and my Pappap while my parents were at work, and our favorite games were School (a dirty trick of a game that successfully taught me to read at an early age) and "Guessing Cars" -- which involved sitting with Grammy on her porch swing and guessing what color car would drive past next. In high school, she made snacks for my friends and me before volleyball practice and woke us up from our various napping spots to ensure we got out the door in time. She was the one who, when I was 15, recognized that something real was wrong and rushed me to the hospital when my appendix was about to burst.
She was a very giving but also very private person, sharing very little about who she really was inside. She had endured a lot of pain and loss in her life and was emotionally fragile; as a result, she was very guarded and kept things close to the vest. Her love was demonstrated more by her servitude--by her sometimes oppressive way of fussing over and taking care of you--than by her affection. She'd cook you a feast when you only asked for a snack, and she'd force you to wear a wool hat when it was 50 degrees out, but hugs were rare. She'd want to know everything about you, but she wouldn't talk much about herself. It was challenging to truly bond with her. When she died, I was sad that there was a whole other part of her that I never really got to know.
The last time I saw her, earlier this summer, she told me about a recurring dream she had. In it, I am a toddler again, sleeping next to her in her bed. Still dreaming, she wakes up and discovers I'm no longer there. She frantically searches the sheets, worrying that I've smothered. Finally, after tearing the bed apart in a panic, she wakes for real and remembers that I'm all grown up and sleeping in my own bed. If you've been reading this blog for awhile, you might remember that this is pretty much the exact dream I frequently have about my daughter. The way she told it was almost word-for-word how I have experienced it since Johnnie was born. It was strange to hear her describing it while picturing it so familiarly in my mind.
Really, I don't think she could've said anything else that could have made me feel more bonded to her. I know she told me that dream so I would know how much she loved me, but I don't think she knew the significance it would have for me. I'm so glad that was my last conversation with her, the thing I was thinking about as I drove away and she waved out the window, and I'm so glad I get to tell Johnnie this story one day. She might not remember Grammy when she's older, but maybe that shared dream will help her understand a little about her, and about me too.