Losing a Grandparent

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GrammyVandMe

This picture is of me, Grammy, and my cousin Vanessa about two years before Grammy passed away.

Losing Grammy just before my 15th birthday was the hardest thing I have ever been through to date. Knowing that someone you love so much will never be around again was something especially difficult for me to overcome in my teens. I know that I am fortunate to not have lost a parent or sibling, child or spouse, and that this is the “natural order” of things. However, it was no less significant to my life or any less of a feeling of hurt for my grandmother to die.

If I put myself back into my mental state at 15 years old, I remember feeling so empty. In fact, for a long time, I never felt quite as happy as I had when Grammy was physically present in my life. My brother and I were on a ski trip with our youth group and our parents took us to the hospital as soon as we returned home because Grammy was dying. Her condition had worsened while we were on the trip. We saw her around 8pm that Saturday night for an hour or so. Hospice said that we could leave, she would likely make it through the night. She died at midnight, not long after we left.

We went to church the next morning. The minister, a wonderful man, did the sermon on Grammy and her life. When I first got to church a longtime parishioner saw me and just opened her arms to me. I did not want to cry but that gesture brought the tears flowing hard. My Sunday School teacher brought me into the church for the sermon, so that I could hear about my grandmother’s life. As I am writing this I am emotionally put back into that day and I find I am feeling the same heaviness that I did at that time.

Since that morning at church, I cried every day. At night I would put on my *NSYNC disc and listen to “Sailing” and think of Grammy. I cried myself to sleep each night, wondering if this is how it would be for the rest of my life. I remember after my Granddad died five years earlier, I felt like an angel was in the corner of my room, and I felt peaceful. But as I lay there mourning my Grammy, I felt nothing. No comfort. Only loss.

At school, friends and teachers said they were sorry for my loss. I felt nothing. My basketball coach, Cindy, asked me how I was doing. She was a tough coach, always pushing us, so when she hugged me and said to let me know if I needed anything, I felt comforted and like she, too, had experienced the same loss. That week of school was such a blur. I just remember coming home, doing my homework, eating dinner, and crying myself to sleep. My parents helped my brother and me by having us remember good times with Grammy. It helped in the moment, but I was still so sad.

The memorial service approached that Friday. I was to read Psalm 23 (“yea though I walk through the valley of death I will fear no evil, for thou art with me…”) in the middle of the service. As soon as the eulogy started I began to cry. I really wanted to keep it together and read the Psalm to honor Grammy. We were so close and I wanted to do this for her. My brother asked me if I wanted him to read it and put his arm around me for the first time in our lives. I sniffled, composed myself, and took the podium. I read the psalm clearly, and was so glad I made it through, and as soon as I took my seat, I began to cry again. After the reception and hugging everyone who had come (a LOT of people, by the way), we headed home. That night was the first night that I did not cry myself to sleep. I remember my dad telling me about funerals and how they can give people closure and peace, but I didn’t really believe him until I experienced that sense of peace myself. From that point forward, I was able to move forward. I was still sad to not have her with us and I felt her loss more on some days than others, but I did move forward.

My dad told us one morning that he had a dream of Grammy when she was around 50 years old. She was entertaining at her home and making everyone laugh. He said she looked beautiful and vibrant and happy. It gave him peace to see her like that because his last vision of her that he couldn’t get out of his head was seeing her dying. He felt that she sent him that dream to help him feel at peace, and I believe that. I was so happy for my dad that he had that experience because he was so close with his mom. I remember thinking I wanted her to come to me in a dream.

Fast forward six years. I am in college. I am working three jobs, volunteering at three places, playing hockey and in school. I am overloaded. I am dating someone new (who now happens to be my husband). I am feeling pulled in every direction but I fear that if I leave any of the above things that I will be letting others down. I don’t know what to do. My boyfriend suggests that I give a few things up to have more time and be more balanced. I shrug. I just can’t make that decision. I don’t know what to do, but I do know that I am falling apart at the seams. That night, I had the most powerful dream of my life. Thinking about it, even now, seven years later, it overtakes my body and I have no choice but to feel what I felt that night, and I am thankful for that because I never want to forget.

In my dream, I was walking toward Grammy’s house. I was carrying four bags. One stuffed duffel bag was on each shoulder, slung across my body. I also had two large old-fashioned suitcases in my hands. They were so heavy. When I found myself on Grammy’s street I thought, What are you doing? She doesn’t live here anymore. Yet I walked on, toward the door. I was on her porch telling myself, Seriously, she’s not here. A man bought the house and you are trespassing on his property. But my body pressed on, despite my thoughts. I walked to the door and it just seemed to open up. First the screen, then the wooden door. I remember pushing myself through the wooden door and expecting to find an angry man wondering what I was doing in his house. Instead, I turned right so I could see down the faded blue carpet in the hallway. I saw the bathroom at the end of the hall, the two spare bedroom doors on the right and her bedroom door on the left. It was open and I could see light coming from the room. I could smell the familiar smells of her home and I could HEAR her puttering around in her bedroom, muttering under her breath. My senses were exploding, my heart was pounding and I was frozen in that moment. My thoughts were telling me it couldn’t be, but I was there, it was happening. My thoughts went silent when she spoke, “Just a minute honey.” Heart pounding, I stood in the hallway. I could hear my breathing. It was like I knew deep down that it wasn’t possible, but it was. It was real. It was so real. I was completely conscious in this dream. When she appeared from the doorway, she came toward me, but it was like she was floating. There was a glow behind her and everything was quiet. She was wearing flowing clothing, like a nightgown and robe. I remember it being soft blue in color. She had on her glasses and her hair was worn like it always had been. As she came toward me the bags on my shoulders that were slung across my body faded away. I looked down and the suitcases were gone, too. She hugged me into her chest and said, “Why don’t you just stay a while.” And so I did. I had no worries about being late for appointments or getting assignments done or missing being the places I was supposed to be at. I just was. I was in the moment with Grammy and it felt ok. The rest of the dream is blurry. Little snippets of her in the kitchen and me sitting on the blue sofa in the living room, of her sitting in the chair in the living room and me on the carpet – it was like snapshots of memories I had with her from our time together but I was an adult instead of a child. I felt so at peace, I could have stayed there in that dream with her forever.

When I woke up, it felt like I was transported. I didn’t feel like I had awoken from a dream. I felt like I blinked and was back in my apartment, in my bed. I was not groggy. It was like I had been awake, just somewhere different. I had clarity. Grammy had given me the answer I needed. It was ok to step away from some of the responsibilities I had given myself. When the bags fell in the dream, she was letting me know to let go and gave me the light peaceful feeling I had been craving. She showed me that the important thing in life is to just be in the moment with those you love and I think she wanted me to know that those we love are never lost. I felt her with me and felt that she had been with me. She was watching over me and stepped in when I was truly lost and needed guidance. That moment of being with her again, was all I ever wanted. All I ever wanted after she died was to have one more moment with her. She gave that to me. I will forever believe that this was Grammy, with me. It was no dream. We were together and I am so grateful to her for giving me that. I hold out hope that she will show herself to me again in my life, but I know for certain that she is always there, whether I can see her or not.

Just last week my cousin, Vanessa, and I were sitting outside on her patio with her new baby, Charlie. Vanessa also held a very close relationship with Grammy and felt the immense loss of her death. We are her only two granddaughters and she loved us very much. As Vanessa, Charlie, and I were sitting outside, the church bells began to play a hymn. Vanessa looked at me and said, “Is this Grammy’s favorite hymn?” I listened and sure enough it was “Onward Christian Soldiers” that was playing on the church bells for Vanessa, Charlie, and I to listen to. There Grammy was, with us on the porch, letting us know that she is never far away.

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…I would tell her, “Ugh, boyfriends”.

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Can’t live with ’em, can’t live without ’em?  Yes you can live without them!

Listen, I was the perfect example of a girl who pined away for a boyfriend ever since my first true crush in fifth grade.  I was not the girl getting “asked out” (AKA-asked to be someone’s girlfriend) and I had to sit idly by and watch all of my friends have boyfriends…granted sometimes it was only for 30 minutes!  Some of my friends went out with boys that they knew I had a crush on and I let it affect me way too much.  First of all, friendships should not end because of a boy, and I am proud to say that none of mine ever have.  My relationships with friends always came first because I have great friends who I trust completely.  If one of them told me my boyfriend was scum, I would listen (even if it still took me a while to totally grasp the concept and dump the guy). :o)  Once, a boy that I thought I was in love with in high school asked my best friend to Winter Formal.  She told him she had to think about it and called me first.  She didn’t want to go with him because she didn’t want to hurt me.  I insisted that she go, though, because I knew deep down that even if she told him no, he still might not ask me and then both he and my friend would be unhappy.  So she went, but not until I swore to her that it was ok with me.  She also knew that great friendships always come first.

Any who, back to fifth grade.  I had the biggest crush on *Emilio (*if I’m going to change someone’s name for their privacy I might as well make it Latino).  :o)  Emilio was everything I could want in an eleven year old.  He was funny, kind, cared about his grades and he dominated the flag football field, which was perfect because I was a tom-boy and needed a guy who was strong.  He and I were no doubt friends and we could talk to each other without getting shy or weirded out.  But I was dying inside for him to LIKE-like me.  You all get the difference between liking someone and LIKE-liking them, right?  I even wrote about us holding hands in my diary.  (It was because the rules in “Medic” dodgeball were that you had to hold hands with someone to get them safely across the mid-line after freeing them from jail, but still!  He held my hand!  Isn’t that what silly girl dreams are made of?)  Well I crushed on poor Emilio for about three years.  I asked him out several times, and even though he always said no, he always made up some nice excuse so he wouldn’t hurt my feelings and damage our friendship.  My favorite was, “Well I like someone else right now, but ask me again in a few months.”  He always allowed me to keep hope alive!  Haha–I am hoping you can detect my sarcasm on some of this!

Sidebar–this brings me to another good point that my dad taught me growing up.  If you want something, go after it.  If I ask a boy out, what is the worst that can happen?  He can say, “No.”  Can I deal with that?  Yes.  Not really a big deal in the scheme of things.  So I wasn’t afraid to ask a boy out and I never have been.  If I wanted to talk to a boy on the phone, I called them.  I wasn’t going to wait around for them to call me, because I knew that even if they wanted to call me they most likely were going to be too gun-shy to pull the trigger and do it.  Do you want to know where this really worked for me and makes me so glad that I took my dad’s awesome advice and just went for it?  School dances and DJ parties.  I was not the girl who stood in a circle of friends HOPING that someone would ask me to dance.  If I saw someone I wanted to dance with, I asked them as soon as the beat of a slow-jam started to play over the speakers.  And do you know what?  They almost always said yes.  The only time a boy said no it was because he had already promised that dance to someone else, but he kept true to his word and danced with me at the next song.  Thank God I asked people to dance and could go home feeling like I was walking on the ceiling instead of regretting that I didn’t seize the moment and go after what I wanted.  I hope that you can find the courage to do the same!

Back to boys.  Emilio and I have been friends all through school, and although we never dated each other, I did give my fifth grade self what she always hoped for during my first night at college.  Emilio and I were celebrating our first night away from home with a bunch of friends and he kissed me that night.  Nothing came of it because we didn’t want to be in a relationship (well, I guess I am speaking for him, but I definitely didn’t want a boyfriend with all the fish in the sea of college that I was about to swim through).  It just felt good and it was something that I think we had both always wanted to do.  After that kiss, the little eleven-year-old tom boy inside of me smiled and walked on the ceiling for a while because after waiting seven years, she got what she wanted.

I guess my point is this: it is a waste of time to pine away for boys.  I know you’ve probably heard it all before, but it’s true.  They are SO not as mature as we are!  And, they really don’t know what they want until sometimes, it is too late.  You should spend your time dreaming of the future and your personal goals for yourself.  Enjoy having a crush but don’t let it consume you.  I was convinced that I would never have a boyfriend, even though I had noticed that boys were paying me more attention in high school.  Yes they talked to me and sometimes I could tell they were “checking me out” but none of them were acting on it!  So I came to the conclusion that I was un-dateable.  Then, my junior year of high school, it all changed.  I went on dates, got my first kiss, had my very first boyfriend and it was all over from there.  Once I opened the door to dating, I could never seem to get it closed again!  Maybe my confidence went up and more people found that attractive or maybe it was just timing.  Whatever it was, the only time I didn’t have a date or boyfriend is when I chose not to have one.  This will happen to everyone single one of you!  Just when you think you’ll never be kissed or get asked to a dance, you’ll blink and suddenly be beating boys off with a stick.  I promise.  So, like I said, pining away is a time-waster and does no good.  Your day will come, and then you’ll find yourself saying things like, “I just don’t want a boyfriend right now, Tommy.  I’m sorry.  I hope you understand and can stop IM-ing me as soon as I sign on,” or, “I just need to be single at this time in my life, Pedro.  Good luck with the election, though.”  Get it?

It is unfortunate how we can draw conclusions about ourselves based on what boys tell us or do/don’t do to us.  They are just boys!  They are living their own lives trying to understand girls.  Which, again, I reiterate going after you want because sometimes the person you want to ask out wants the same thing but isn’t as brave as you are, so go for it!  At least if they say, “no”, you can move on (in my case, it took me three years, but I did move on from Emilio).  Find comfort in your friends and family, and enjoy your present life.  Don’t change yourself into something that you think someone else wants you to be.  I was a total tom-boy and probably the opposite of what guys were looking for, but I never tried to change that about myself.  To this day I say things that sound like they should come out of a sailor’s mouth and I can turn a mean double-play in co-ed softball, but I have a husband who loves me for it, and more importantly, I love ME for it.

Hang in there and enjoy your life because before you know it, you’ll be wondering where the time went and trying to find that stick so you can keep the boys back.