The Fourth of July this year is especially emotional. My beloved grandmother died almost a year ago, and Independence Day 2016 was our last “slumber party” together. She passed on roughly 36 hours later. Grandma had to have one last day to be independent, and she spent it with her equally independent granddaughter.
My gran or G-Ma as I called her, was a lady. Looking at photos of her today I noticed her composure was always on point. She didn’t slouch until she was older and osteoporosis made her slump. Even when she wore pants, if she was in a sitting position, she delicately held her hand across her lap, as if she was wearing a dress or skirt. Grandma’s parents, my great grandparents, were immigrants from Bohemia. My G-Ma always insisted she was Bohemian and not Czech. She was never interested in the American definition of Bohemian as a type of hippy chic cult because it didn’t represent her or her people. New York hipsters of the 60’s culturally appropriated Bohemian culture, and grandma wanted nothing to do with their interpretation and found it offensive.
Family mattered to G-Ma and when I knew her, she was a peacemaker among her children. She was also truthfully a bit nosey and could be mischievous. Gran taught me the art of cribbage war and would sometimes look over her glasses and say “see…I’m first around the corner” with a subtle smile. In cribbage she didn’t play around and at 100 years old she beat me twice. Twice! She even did the “round the corner” bit. Anyone who spent time with my grandma was subjected eventually to her cribbage prowess. She rarely lost but she trained me well. So well I beat my oldest uncle twice last year. Twice!
When I was young my single mom would need a break from me & I definitely needed a break from her (my mom has mental illness) so I spent a lot of weekends at Gran’s. Grandma’s was my refuge, my home away from home, and my source of relaxation & wisdom. She helped me refine my cooking skills, let me eat candy and watch TV, and tucked me in…even when I was a teenager. She talked to me about civil rights, grandpa (who had passed away when I was seven), being a young girl, being a mom, and her worries regarding certain family members. She never shared details, she’d just say “I’m worried about so and so.” She was a nervous lady and a worry wart but she had sharp sight and could see details no one else would think to notice.
For example when I was 11 I wore some silly plastic bracelet that I loved, but I’m sure it probably looked like the cheap thing it was. Apparently when I had visited her two weeks prior I had had the bracelet on my left wrist. I walk into her door and not two minutes later she says “you wore that bracelet on the other wrist last time.” She was dead right and I couldn’t believe it. That was just how she was…smart but sly about it.
Grandma was also a bit of a Martha (bible Martha not Martha Stewart, though there was a bit of that) and liked her guests to feel comfortable. I’ve heard hospitality is a southern thing but my grandma liked to make sure every one had what they needed. This means she’d go to the store just to get certain beverages or snacks for company. The details mattered. Her home was always very clean without being sterile or stuffy in any way. There was a softness to her décor that lent itself to a sense of comfort in her surroundings. When people visited her she would sit in her creamy tan living room chair and listen and listen and listen. If there was any consoling to be done, she’d tell you “I’m sorry you’re going through that” and offer what help she could. She never offered what she couldn’t. She kept her word.
Last July I flew back to the state I was raised in after being away for a few years to be with her for the dying process. So many times I wanted to scoop my grandma up and take her home with me to care for her. It would have been impractical and impossible, but I grieved being away from her. I wish I had called more. I wish I had visited more. I was so afraid of her death, especially after her 90’s that I just sort of tried to avoid having to deal with the heartbreak every time we talked. I think many people lament not spending more time with a loved one before they die. I’ve been told not to be so hard on myself & that I was a good granddaughter. But I could have been better.
Every single time we spoke she always told me she loved me. I’d say “I love you grandma” and she’d say “well that goes double for me. I love you so much.” My grandma was the one adult I could count on as a youngster and I think if I hadn’t spent as much time as I did with her as a kid and teen, I wouldn’t be the woman I am today. We had our own special relationship that to this day I benefit from. She gave me my first Bible, took me to church every Sunday I stayed with her, and had the patience of a saint with all my ideas and inventions. She lived Jesus’ love in a way I’m still learning to do.
On July fourth I sat next to grandma all night. I was the only one with her and became her primary family caregiver. At dusk I listened to the sound of fireworks while the television played the Star Spangled Banner. I looked over at my very sedated 102 and seven month year old grandma and said “well you just had to get in one more Independence Day didn’t ya?” Hospice had her on the fast track towards her end but she wouldn’t let go. In fact the day I arrived to be with her she was still conscious. When I saw her I immediately went to her and said I was there and that I love her. The first thing she said to me were her last words. “I don’t want to die.”
In her room, before she died, was a small American flag that was a part of her mementos area. Grandma was a devoted wife and dedicated mom and grandmother, but she was also a free-thinker and her own person. Her independent spirit came out in ways that were subtle. She didn’t need to convince anyone of what she thought or conform to some political ideology. She was an American and lived the American dream. She worked hard as a mother of four, grandmother of fourteen, and a magnificent housewife. Though my grandfather worked in the film industry and provided well, grandma still was haunted by WWI, WWII, and the Great Depression. She always cooked her eggs in bacon fat (which is delicious) as a response to her childhood poverty due to war. She never forgot the sacrifices made so she could live as she did. Grandma was always grateful to God for all her blessings.
Since she died, the world itself feels like a different place, and since November 9th 2016, it is. I have found myself saying many times “I’m glad grandma doesn’t have to see all this.” I think she would be terribly disappointed with the way people are treating each other online and all the incivility expressed towards those with political differences. She left the world before it became brutal again. She left before it gets bad again.
Her strength is in me and all those who loved her. Grandma was a true American treasure and I hope to be as patient with others as she was and as amiable too. I want to honor her legacy with my life and if I see her in Heaven, I hope we can play cribbage at least once. I’m sure she’d still probably win.