Two of my friends lost their grandmothers last week. My heart goes out to them.
During the summer of 2003, I was finishing my first year of college (at our hometown community college), and I was getting ready to move to Oxford, Mississippi to attend the University of Mississippi. My mom had spent the summer at our new condo in Oxford dealing with painters and movers while I was taking Spanish III and IV back home. She was a yo-yo that summer, bless her heart.
My grandma, who had lived alone in California since the death of her husband in 1997, hadn't been feeling well, and she had gone to the doctor to have some tests done. The day before my mom flew out to spend some time with her, we received the news from the doctor. My grandma had terminal cancer.
I flew to California the day after my classes finished. I'll never forget the moment the plane touched down in Los Angeles. It was the only time in my nineteen years that I didn't want to be there. I didn't want to face the reality of what was happening. Thankfully, the end came quickly for my grandma. She passed away one week later, the day after I returned home to Mississippi. My dad had arrived only a few hours earlier. My grandma was comatose by that point, but I like to think she waited for him so that my mother wouldn't have to be alone.
Our family is a small one - my mom, dad, sister, my grandma and me. My mother was an only child, and my dad's family lives in Naples, Italy. The loss of my grandma was devastating. Although she lived on the other side of the country, we talked, emailed and instant messaged on a daily basis. We spent many summers and holidays together. She was a huge part of our lives, and then she was gone so suddenly, at only 69 years old. Until that point, she had never been sick a day of her life.
Less than one week after her death, I started school at the University of Mississippi. I don't remember much about those first few days. On Labor Day weekend, we flew back to California for her memorial service. That weekend was a tribute to her life. We filled the chapel with photos and flowers, and we played her favorite songs. The rest of the weekend was spent doing the things she enjoyed - riding the carousel at Disneyland, eating a Polly burger and pie at Polly's Restaurant, working in her garden.
The next week, a friend from home who lived in the condo next door invited me over to hang out with him and his roommate. I was living on my own for the first time, and I was struggling with my loss, so I was very grateful for the company. His roommate, whose room was on the other side of the wall from my bedroom, also played guitar. During those first few nights on my own, I found the muffled sound of his music very comforting. A month later, he invited me to dinner with some of his friends. We went to a German restaurant in an old gas station. It was possibly the most bizarre night of my life, but it was our first date. More dates followed - concerts, football games, movie nights, trips to the local bar. We went out as friends, but as time passed, it became clear that we were together. By Thanksgiving, we were a couple.
I know it probably sounds crazy, but I know my grandma brought Jonathan into my life. I see her in him almost every day. He even uses her favorite soap. He lifted me out of the darkness in the days and months following her death and made my college experience one I'll never forget. Along the way he became my best friend, and then my husband.
About two months before our wedding day in fall of 2007, I was driving around Memphis, listening to our wedding reception play list. One of the songs on the play list was Louis Armstrong's What a Wonderful World. It was one of my grandma's favorite songs, and at her request, it was played at her memorial service. I've heard that song hundreds of times since her death, but for some reason, I hadn't really listened to the lyrics until that day. When I heard the lyrics, "I see leaves of green, red roses too. I see them bloom for me and you. And I think to myself, what a wonderful world," I knew she was involved in our wedding. We had picked out Christmas trees and red roses for our December wedding almost one year earlier. My mother and I cried and cried over this.
We still cry all the time. In the six years since her death, the pain of missing her hasn't gotten easier. We want to talk to her, and we want to see her at the top of stairs when we arrive at her house. We still think about her every single day. To keep focused on the positive things, we try to live our lives as she did. We plant flowers, we bake and cook, we love the things that were popular in her generation, and we enjoy the simple things in life. Most of all, we try to make her proud, and keep her memory alive so we can share it with her future great-grandchildren.
That's all we can do, but it doesn't stop us from missing her so very much.
Above: My grandma did the cross stitching years ago, and my mom gave it to me as a wedding present.