It’s been a rough two weeks.
Work had been going very well, and my checkups in Houston were slowly approaching. I wasn’t worrying about them… I was just sort of lost in the day-to-day when suddenly something came out of nowhere and reminded me how short/precious/amazing life can be.
I was shopping in St. Paul for some roast for dinner on Sunday, the 5th of October when, out of nowhere, I ran into my parents friends from Mankato, Sue and Wayne. They were up visiting their daughter. It was a random run-in since I’m rarely in St. Paul. We were laughing at how random it was and saying our goodbyes, when suddenly Wayne’s phone rang. It was my Dad! Even more ironic. But the look on Wayne’s face when he answered was all it took for me to know that something was up. I immediately patted my pockets to realize I had left my phone at home. Dad was trying to reach me, and something caused him to call Wayne in the most random of situations. It was Grandma. I raced home to call Dad and hear the news. Grandma Pille had passed away.
This mom of 10 kids had recently reached the age of 85 and was suddenly having some heart issues. We were aware of them, but I didn’t expect it so suddenly. In some ways, her kids had a feeling. Several of them were there with her at the time… helping her prepare to move into an assisted living unit… something Grandma wasn’t wanting to do. She was in the hospital after having some symptoms, and they were constantly visiting her. And when she found out she was finally getting out of the hospital, there was some level of relief on the family. But the morning of her passing, Grandma knew it was time. My mom had planned to leave and go back home and was saying her goodbyes to Grandma, but Grandma gave her a “I don’t think you should leave just yet” kind of response. Mom decided to stay with the rest of her sisters and couple of brothers for lunch. They ate with Grandma. And after lunch, Grandma passed away… her kids able to say their goodbyes, holding her hand, and sharing their love as it happened. If ever there was a good way to leave the world, Grandma did this first class. For all the good she did in her life, she certainly deserved it.
Of course her passing meant the gathering, mourning, and card-playing-in-Grandma’s-honor of nearly every member of her family (a number I’ve lost track of). It was so difficult and so wonderful all at the same time. With such a large family, it is pretty rare that we’re together. Grandma, of course, was a damn good reason to do so. We loved her so much, and needed to say goodbye.
My cousin Meg and I had been asked to speak on behalf of all of our cousins. These were our words (give most of the credit to Meg, since she’s the writer in the family):
There is so much that has been said, twice-told tales of Grannie’s days, the many, the old and the new. Further, and without question there are things that want to be said and shared, all of us bearing the memories, the little or big events that mean so much to every one of us. In fact, all of us want to say so many things, our minds awash with times and events, all weighed with separate yet similar significance. Days could be spent in the retelling of all our tales and should be. However, I will humbly and with great honor do my best to recognize, not simply our stories, but the single constant: Grannie herself, for without there would be nary a story to tell.
I’ve been searching for the right words to say, the memories to highlight. There are many. However, it seems that though some of us kids may have more memories than others, there is no discounting the time spent by each us of, frequent or sporadic. One woman though she was, Grannie, in all her strength and youthfulness had a special way of connecting with all of us, regardless of the time spent.
The other night I came across a card. It was from graduation. Inside she had written, and nothing more, “Be happy in whatever it is that you choose to do.”
That was it and only now do I realize that it was enough. A simple wish, her wish, undoubtedly for us all. In our times of sickness or sadness Grannie has been the one to hold our hands ever-so tightly passing her strength on to us. With our best interests in heart she treated us as individuals, remembering the events of our lives in remarkable detail and supporting us quietly with words of encouragement, ready at any time to take the time to sit and to chat, holding our hands and rapt with attention.
Grandma treated us all individually. She greeted each of us with a smile when we walked through the door… one that lasted until we left.
She embraced our friends, boyfriends, girlfriends when we brought them home, and took interest in their lives because they were part of ours.
She accepted our help when we offered our time.
She was always the first to step in and watch us when our parents needed the help.
She didn’t get mad, and when when she did, it was minimal. She put us in front of her.
She made us feel special while spending time with her, taking us to lunch or shopping or playing a round of cards.
She always thought of us on our birthdays, and gave us a bit of cash when she thought we might need it, knowing she would win it right back in that next game of cards.
She shared her love of gambling with a trip to the bingo halls, or to the casinos.
On a personal note, Grandma showed her love at a time when it meant the most. When I was going through chemo, and my parents were returning to work, Grandma came up to take care of me. She sat with me during the day, helping remind me when to take my medication, cooking me lunch, helping keep some sanity in my world. And my favorite memory of Grandma comes from the way she handled frustration. When I refused to get out of bed in the morning, or refused to eat food, she simply let out a “hmphh”, to show her frustration. And as quickly as it was said, she would be back to her supportive self. After spending her life raising this enormous family, she still had the ability to step in and take care of us when we needed it most.
For all of us, Grannie, your children and children’s children, you will live on in all of our ways and days forward. We will carry your light and youth from an unmappable place, somewhere so simple as to hold a certain magic, time spent slowly and over before its known, made wonderful by your very existence.
You will shine on, a star in every sky burning ever bright, an unwavering guide for all time and ever so brilliant. Above us and beyond, beside us and strong you will be loved with nothing less than the love you gave to us. Yours is a legacy that shall never be forgotten. You are and will always be in our hearts radiant and resplendent.