‘Shit is not a curse word’ or ‘there are always more blossoms’
My grandma was an amazing and fairly sturdy person. She was born in 1923. She was a nurse until she was 67. She raised four girls virtually on her own. And she saved enough so that she could be at home until the end. Right up until she passed her blood pressure was good and her heart was strong. She was 95 years old when she died this past Easter Sunday. She had a good long life, we knew it was nearing the end, but for some reason, this doesn’t make it easier. I’ve been incredibly sad. I was not prepared to be as sad as I am.
The last time I saw grandma in person was July of 2018. I was afraid of going because I hadn’t seen her in four years, had been told how much she had changed and I was worried that she wouldn’t be the grandma I remembered. But I went. She was a little slower getting around, but she was still the grandma I remembered. And I was so glad I got to see her. She was so happy in her home, with her bird feeders and her flowers. She loved flowers. My mom and I did our best to do some chores around the house while we were there, trimming trees, washing her car, weeding her yard, and she loved watching us do all of it. She was so delighted. Morning and evening she liked to walk with one or both of us to the end of the block to see if there were any roses to clip. Her neighbor had told her that she could have as many as she wanted. I always wonder if he knew how completely bare his rose bushes would be when he told her that. I like to think that he did and that he thought her delight in his roses was worth it. One time my mom asked her if she really thought there were going to be any more roses on that bush. I will never forget the pique on her face when she replied, “Might get a blossom or two!” Of course we went, and I think we may have managed to scrounge a blossom or two.
She also had a bit of dementia. She forgot who I was once and had to be reminded by my mom. Only once though. I gave her the same refrigerator magnet three times (she collects them). She had forgotten that I had given it to her and kept reminding me to bring her a magnet next time. It was one from my honeymoon in St. Maarten and she was so delighted each time I gave it to her. I went over it with her all three times. Showing her the map where it was from twice. (My Aunt Janice was on vacation at the time so we would show her the map, "this is where Janice is, this is St. Maarten.”) I had brought some pictures with me and went through them with her. She asked who each person was. There was a picture of me with my friend Kevin. “He looks like a very nice man,” she said. I told her he was a stand up comedian. “I just think that must be the hardest job,” she would say. We would get to the end of the pile and she would start flipping back through. As if she had never seen the pictures before. But you could tell her reaction was genuine. Because each time she came to Kevin, she would say that he looked like a very nice man. And when I would tell her he was a stand up, she would say that it must be the hardest job. I bought an album to put those pictures in for her while I was there. There was a window in the front of the album where you could put a small photo. I didn’t have one, so I just wrote ‘To Grandma, From Meredith’ on the paper and stuck it back inside. When she saw the albums, she went through the pictures again as if for the first time. Then she closed the book, saw what I had written and said, “I get to keep these? Ohhhhhh!” and was so delighted when I said yes. Then she went through them again. Every time she closed it, she was once again pleased to no end to discover that she got to keep the album. We did that five times and it was wonderful each time.
If you have to keep reliving a moment over and over, isn’t it better to be delighted in the moment? That’s one thing I try to remember from my visit with grandma. Choose delight when you can.
The last time I talked to her was on Thursday, April 18. My mom had gone up last minute because grandma had had a fall and wasn’t doing so well, although she seemed to have rallied by the time my mom got there. She wasn’t able to do much, other than get out of bed to use the potty and go back. The day before I talked to her, she had stood up to get back in bed and a rib cracked off of her spine on it’s own. My mom said it was the worst sound she’s ever heard. After that, grandma couldn’t get out of bed anymore and went downhill very quickly. But mom and I organized a FaceTime on Thursday so I could see her and she could see me.
My internet at our current place is the worst. Comcast has comcasted here like it’s never comcasted anywhere else. Almost as soon as I connected to them on FaceTime, the video on my end went out, so I couldn’t see grandma. They told me that she could see me and it was okay. I knew that there was a chance I could get video back if I hung up and called back, but I didn’t want to risk it. I decided she could see me and I could make her happy for a bit. I was so flattered that she still remembered so much of my visit and ‘how busy you were! You sure do have a lot of energy!’ She asked when I was coming back and I told her I would come again in the summer. Part of me knew that was a lie. Part of me really hoped it would be true. Twice I told her. I will come see you in the summer.
She didn’t sound good. I could tell the difference in her voice. I’m beginning to think that maybe it’s a blessing that I couldn’t see her because I was able to be that happy, cheerful person that she remembered, who sent her all the pictures from all these ‘adventures’ and was coming to see her in the summer. I could tell she was fading at the end of the call. I could even tell when the morphine hit because she started talking about dancing and starting singing a little in a way that … I mean, if you’ve ever babysat a stoned friend, you know the way I mean. So we said goodbye. I think I may have even said, “I’ll talk to you soon.” I honestly didn’t think it would be the last one, but… does anyone ever?
My mom went home the next day. I know she’s still kicking herself about it, but grandma had rallied so many times, how would you know? Mom had planned the dates of this trip so she could make it back for her own granddaughter’s birthday and no one would have understood that better than grandma.
My Aunt Janice has always been the closest to grandma. She was by her side all the way until the last moments. I haven’t talked to her, I feel that she has enough going on, but I’ve been told that they asked her to just leave the room for a bit. When she left the room, grandma went. I don’t know how Aunt Janice feels about it, but I feel that grandma didn’t want her to see her die. I think she didn’t want to leave her. Love hurts really good sometimes.
It was a really beautiful Easter, the day she died. Perfect weather, at least in Nashville. I was having a difficult time. I don’t know why, but I felt this way after seeing my friend Erin at the end also. It’s just so upsetting knowing that such a vibrant soul is being trapped in an uncooperative body. I did everything I could to cheer myself up, enjoy the weather and motivate myself to do work. I finally had dragged myself down to my desk and I felt my watch buzzing on my wrist. I saw that my dad was calling and sprinted to the stairs where my phone was plugged in. I knew what it meant.
My mom never calls me when she’s upset. She can’t. On my 20th birthday, they had to put our cat to sleep. I was in college at the time. My birthday was on a Monday. They really couldn’t wait any longer. I answered the phone and it was my dad saying happy birthday and I knew. So I knew when I saw that he was calling. I held it together pretty well during the phone call and he told me he had to call my sister and that my mom would call me later.
I cried for a while afterward. Dean wanted to help. He wanted to get dinner. I said we had stuff here and I should probably eat healthy. I didn’t know what I wanted. At some point, he ordered pizza. He also had gone out the night before and gotten Oreo’s and Reese’s thinking that it would make me feel better. I never, ever eat sugary candy. Eventually, I decided I wanted to watch the Princess Bride. Dean brought all of the sugar and set it on the table in front of me. I thought about grandma and how she had a mini Snickers every day after dinner. (Once we ran out of Snickers while I was there and I had to go to the store real quick.) She had a Mocha Frappe from McDonald’s every time she went out somewhere with someone. “Can we get one of my drinks?” I eventually ate about 15 Oreo’s and a few Reese’s cups. This is what Grandma would have wanted! I told myself. Until my stomach got upset.
Earlier that day, before grandma had gone, but when we knew it was imminent, my mom had told my sister and I that she had to write the obituary. We offered to help. She didn’t know where to start. I told her I would write something rough to get her started and she could go from there. I wrote something that I thought was pretty decent. My mom turned it into something one hundred times better. We discussed including the names of all of the grandkids and the great grandkids. It was eventually decided that grandma would have wanted everyone included.
My dad always called my grandma ‘Big J’ (her name was Jo Anne) and I feel more and more that it suits her, even though physically she was a small person. She had such a personality. She was a sweet as can be, and her most used phrase was ‘Ohhhh myyyyy!’ Which was why it was such an amusing juxtaposition when she suddenly called someone a ‘shit’ or just said ‘shit!’ out of pure frustration. At one point, after losing a board game to my cousin Brooke (and calling her a little shithead), she informed a shocked gathering of family members that ‘shit is not a curse word!’
She was certainly full of both sweetness and the right amount of spice, but most of all grandma was full of love. Love for the animals that she took care of for herself or babysat for her family. Love for all the birds and squirrels and flowers in her yard. And most of all love for her family. Everything was for her family. She was so invested in the doings of each and every one of us. When I visited last July, I was shown an entire bookshelf in what was always called ‘the kids’ room’ full of albums and albums of the photos I had sent her over the years. The kids room was always there for any ‘kid’ that came to visit. No matter how old they became.
My mom finished the obituary yesterday. She had me proof it for her one more time. I was looking at all those names. If you look at just her daughters and sons in law, you’ve got seven people. Throw in her surviving sisters and you’re up to nine. Add in her grandchildren and spouses. That’s thirteen more people. Add in the twelve grandchildren and we’re up to a total of thirty-four people. She deeply loved and had a lasting and profound effect on thirty-four human beings, most of whom she was directly responsible for bringing into the world.
What if each of the thirty-four of us went out with the intent to love as bigly as Big J did? What if we all intentionally went out to approach our families and friends … even strangers and acquaintances, with love first and foremost? What if we tried to find delight in the smallest things? And stopped to smell the roses? Maybe even planted a few.
Waves of sadness still hit me much more frequently than I thought they would. I found some videos of her last night that I had taken (badly) when I visited. When I watch them, it’s so incredibly difficult to wrap my head around the fact that she’s just not there anymore. I am probably not going to be able to make it to the funeral. Flights to Idaho are really expensive, unless you do some budget booking and I have to be able to choose the times that I would arrive. Otherwise I risk being very inconvenient for grieving family members and I really don’t want to do that. The funeral is Friday, so maybe I’ll do my own little memorial to get some closure.
At the very least I’ll strive to live my life to the fullest. I’ll remember that you can never have enough fresh flowers, there’s always room for one more refrigerator magnet, and ‘shit’ is not a curse word. And when things get tough, I’m going to ask myself ‘What Would Big J Do?”