Yesterday I lost my grandmother. Truly, this world lost her, but the experience of grief has a way of being frustratingly singular. I wish I understood how my father experienced his loss, or my aunt – her devoted caretaker for so many years. But all I can know is my own loss. It’s isolating. Even when loss is shared, it is only ever ours.
We knew it was coming, which changes the grief, but I’m not sure whether it makes it easier or not. A few weeks ago we thought she had reached the end and I grieved for the loss I anticipated – for the loss I had started to feel with the ebb and flow of her memory. But then she fought with a tenacity we all should have expected. When she did pass it was like reopening a wound… one I thought had healed, but when I picked the scab the flesh bled anew.
There are so many things I’ll miss about my Gram. She was quiet and sincere, but with a wry sense of humor you might miss if you weren’t really listening. A seemingly offhanded comment could have my aunt and I laughing for days afterward. She was sincere and truthful, but with a fierce independence. If you doubted her, or tried to tell her what to do, she’d defy you just to prove you wrong. I think my husband might note some similarities in the bloodline. Even when the hospice nurse said she only had a few hours left – or a couple of days at most – Gram couldn’t let someone else dictate that… and she gave us two and a half more months of her company.
When I was young, Gram would make hundreds of springerle cookies each year – a traditional sweet of her native Germany – and send a tin to our house at Christmastime. I LOVED when the springerle cookies arrived. Their tough outer crust and strong anise flavor meant not everyone liked them, but I could eat them by the handful on the couch while our mutt, Mitzie, lapped up the crumbs. Selfishly, I reveled in the fact that few people wanted to eat them. It became a special thing my Gram, Dad and I had in common, and it made me feel closer to her despite the miles. On a side note – if you are vegan and have fond memories of springerle cookies (just me?), these almond anise cookies will bring back the taste of your childhood. I feel Gram would appreciate this PSA as she had a sweet tooth as well and always wanted to be sure we had plenty to eat.
Gram was a great listener. Her quiet, unassuming nature invited it. That’s part of why I enjoyed writing letters to her so much. I could open up and reflect about my life and she would respond with a spot-on observation or perspective that I’d never considered. I don’t think she ever realized how much our letters meant to me. It wasn’t an act of charity – it was a lifeline for me.
She also loved animals and treated her Vegas-based grandkitties and grandbirds with much admiration. I wish she had the chance to meet Maverick, though I fear his enthusiastic greeting ritual (jumping on you with his talon-embedded paws for five minutes straight) may have been too much for Gram’s aging body. Instead, she’d ask about him and all the other family canines when we talked on the phone.
I wish I knew more about my Gram… a woman who navigated the latter third of her life solo after her husband passed… who brought five children into this world and had to say goodbye to one much too early… who left Germany as a child but never in spirit. The instant I can’t ask her any more questions is when they all come flooding to mind.
Right now the only question that seems to matter is, “What are we supposed to do without you, Gram?” I miss you so much already and my heart is heavy. I hope it’s ok if I still write to you.