I love my Gram, faults and all.
Gram wasn't the nurturing, loving warm fuzzy type. She was the get-on-the-back-of-a-Harley-and-ride-up-and-down-the-coast-behind-some-greasy-born-again-biker type. She did that well into her 80's.
She had three boyfriends at one time after my grandfather died and she joined her church singles group at 70.
She put on her bathing cap and bikini and swam every day in her back yard during the summer.
She had no problem telling you to get out of your own way, or what she REALLY thought about you. Sometimes it was hard to hear. Mostly, it was refreshing.
As a young woman, she partied with Merv Griffin and Errol Flynn. She drew on her stockings, put on her red lipstick, and danced all night while my grandfather was at war and her mother took care of my mom.
She was wild and reckless and outspoken.
She loved to sing and dance and play dominoes and garden.
She had the same best friend for 90 of her 91 years.
She lived through her father and teenage brother committing suicide, as well as her stepfather. She broke her back in a serious auto accident, and beat cancer 3 times. She lived through the traumatic loss of her son.
She went to rehab for alcohol abuse at 68, and stayed sober.
She spent summers in the Grand Caymons and winters in Palm Springs with her best friend during the 1980's.
Gram suffered tremendously, but she also really lived. She was a remarkable woman, and she never gave up on herself or anyone else.
I saw her in December. She had Alzheimers, but she knew who I was and though she was frail, she still came out and watched us all dance in the living room as we decorated the Christmas tree and built a gingerbread house. The day I left, I climbed into her bed next to her, held her hand and just listened to her talk. I knew she was really miserable and she told me she didn't want to live that way. I couldn't blame her. I told her how much I loved her, kissed her on the forehead and left. My perpetually resilient Gram was ready to go.
In a few hours, I'll be getting on a plane. It's going to be strange to be in her house without her. I'm a little scared, to be honest. She was a constant for me in a childhood and young adulthood of constant change. I feel un-anchored. I'll say something at her grave when we put her ashes to rest beside my grandfather's. I'll say something else the next day when we gather with friends and family to remember and honor her. But for now, I'll share my good-bye letter to her because it really says it all.
My Dear Gram,
I know I have to say good-bye now. I’m sad about this, but I know it’s okay. It’s your time.
You have suffered more than anyone I know. You’ve also lived the most remarkable life in spite of it. Your suffering is almost over now, and I’m thankful for that. I’m also thankful for the great legacy you are leaving behind.
As you transition out of your life here, I want you to know that I love you. With great affection and delight, I will carry in my heart all of your stories, your pictures, your sense of adventure, your love of the outdoors, and your ability to light up a room like a firecracker. I miss your spark already.
You have imparted some of the most important life lessons to me: The first is how to be a life-long friend. Not many people can say they’ve been friends with someone for almost a hundred years. You and Stibsy can, though. You’ve always been honest with each other, even if it hurt the other’s feelings. But you’ve remained friends for nearly a century and there is tremendous beauty in that.
Second, you taught me how to be marvelous. Even if things aren’t perfect. Even when life is sad or hard or miserable. You choose marvelous, and then it IS marvelous. No matter what, you’ve always found a song on your lips, a sway to your hips, and a spring in your step.
You’ve also shown me that it’s never too late to change. You have always been brave…taking on sobriety in your late 60’s, forever working on your character, embracing your senior singlehood, faithfully asking God to change your heart even when it meant giving up life-long habits and comforts. This is what inspires me most of all. I know you didn’t feel brave at the time, but you were. Even though you were scared.
Thank you for being my Gram. Thank you for letting me be a part of your life. I’m happy you will see your Stevie and Grandpa and Auntie Marion and your own mom soon. I’m thankful you don’t have to hurt anymore, that you will finally be able to unburden yourself and rest fully in God’s Love. I’m thankful for your life here, and your life on the other side of this. I can feel the celebration coming.
One last thing, Gram…If God gives me a daughter and you see her before I do, will you teach her how to be marvelous? Sing and dance with her, show her how to move light on her feet, and how to be a really great friend, okay? And teach her it’s okay to be brave, even if you’re scared.
I love you with all my heart.