My Gram passed away on Friday night, Saturday morning my time in Korea.
A while back she was diagnosed with dementia which eventually progressed into full on Alzheimer's, roughly two years ago. From there we saw a pretty sharp decline in what she was capable of doing and for this past year she was living in an assisted living residence in their memory care unit. Then about three weeks ago she was sent to the hospital for one issue and her physical health took a turn. She wasn't eating and when they moved her to a nursing home she seemed, as my mom put it, to just be tired of fighting it all. When I checked my email early Saturday afternoon I saw a message from my brother letting me know that she had passed and that my parents and aunts and uncles were there with her when it happened.
I don't think it's necessary to describe how difficult it is to be seven thousand miles away from home when something like this happens. You can surely imagine that it's not an enviable position. Before I left though, I knew that realistically there was a chance that my Grammy would not be there anymore when I came back. The day before my flight, my mom and I went to visit her so that I could say goodbye and I was painfully aware that it might be the last time. She was so funny that day. We came in when she was getting her hair done and I knew by then that it was much harder for her to recognize people but she was happy to see us. We held her hands and my mom talked to her and she hummed and smiled happily. When she was in the chair for her cut she kept making these amusing faces that made the hairdresser laugh. We walked her upstairs after for lunch and one of her old lady friends called her over to a table to eat. I gave her a big hug and a kiss before I left.
What may be hardest about all this is that sad as wakes and funerals are, they give everyone a chance to tell all sorts of funny and sweet stories about the one who's gone and I find that makes everything a little easier to digest. My Gram was wacky and whenever someone came back from a visit and said, "Wanna here a Grammy story?" you knew it was going to be good. Maybe it'd be a story about how she bought sunglasses at Ocean State Job Lot and didn't realize until someone pointed it out that there were skulls and the WWE logo printed on the fronts of the lenses. Or about how she'd put a gift box of chocolates in the freezer one time only to pull them out later and discover they were actually steak knives. Or about how she was single-handedly ready to take down the US Postal Service for removing the public mailbox from her street.
I love that she became a nurse to help out during the war, though it ended before she could. And I love that she and my grandfather, who she lost sooner than any spouse should have to, were together since their early teens. Their wedding picture is one of my favorites. She has this huge, beautiful smile on her face and my Puppa just looks as though he can't believe he's lucky enough to have this woman on his arm. I love that she had a sweet tooth and always had a bag of Hershey kisses on the table when we came to visit. I love that as she got older she was always off on senior group trips and singing in their chorus. When my brother and I were little we'd do this song and dance for her that we learned in school. She loved singing and she got such a kick out of seeing us do that.
What she really loved though was just being with her family. First she was Mom, then Grammy, and then Greaty. The seven great-grandkids are little and it's too bad for them that they won't get to enjoy her crazy antics like us grandkids did growing up but even with things getting hard for her these past couple years you could tell she enjoyed them. She seemed happy just to watch them crawling and running around. And she always enjoyed being at the center of things at these family gatherings. On Christmas we'd set her up right in the thick of it and watch her open her presents and you could tell she enjoyed the hell out of that, Queen Gram.
Growing up at parties and stuff sometimes if you made eye contact with her across the room she'd give you a smile and then wink. It's something my mom does too. I remember once, maybe two years or so ago there was some kind of gathering at our house and she was sitting quietly, mostly just listening to everyone else talk because things were already getting hard for her to say and understand. She caught my eye though and winked and it seemed like this complete moment of clarity, like it was Grammy ten years younger. I'm really going to miss her.
Since I knew she wasn't doing well, I've been on edge expecting some sort of bad news. I've had a couple bad nights where I was sure something happened and I'd hustle down to check my email first thing. But right before I woke up on Saturday something weird happened. I was dreaming and in the dream I found myself opening a door into a kitchen as a bunch of people were coming inside. It was sort of like when friends and relatives start arriving for a party; people had bags of food and were waving hi and going about setting things up. Then my Gram was there in this bright red turtleneck that I could totally see her wearing in real life. She seemed shorter than usual so I had to reach way down to give her a hug. She said, "Happy Birthday" and instead of saying "Thank you" for some reason I said "Happy Birthday" back. I remember thinking in the dream of the year she got me a birthday card that had a picture on the front of a little Native American girl with braided hair, dressed in traditional clothing. She'd said she bought the card because she thought it looked like me and I always found that funny. In the dream she hugged me a few more times, real good hugs, and said happy birthday again. I woke up after that and felt completely calm. Then I saw the email from my brother that we had lost her.
I've mentioned that I'm not a particularly a spiritual person but I shared that dream because it reminds me of something my Gram told me once. In high school I had an assignment to ask three people about whether or not they believed in ghosts. When I asked my Gram this question she told me about a dream she had once, right after my Puppa died. His death was very sudden and she said that in her dream he was there and that he said to her, "It's okay. It's okay". She said she felt better after that dream.
I'm not saying one thing or another about what I think my dream meant or that it matters that I dreamed it within the hour of her passing. All I know is that being away right now is extremely difficult and that hearing those words, no matter where they came from, remind me that even after a loss, things can be okay again.
Sending my love and hugs to those of you at home. She was such a big character and I know we'll all miss her. Rest easy now Grammy Grace.
And thanks for all the stories.