My paternal grandmother was born in 1931, and married my grandfather when she was just 16 years old. She helped him raise 5 kids on the salary that the US Army provided, until she was able to establish her own career many years later. They traveled the world courtesy of the Army, and during that time she attended several colleges, learned many foreign languages, and soaked up as much culture as she could. Not bad for a little girl from a tiny town in Arkansas.
As I got older and was unable to find a husband, the only thing she ever said was “It does get harder as you get older, but you will find someone.” When I finally did, she welcomed him into the family with open arms. I would sometimes walk into the sitting room and find a black and white movie on TV, my husband sacked out on the couch and my grandmother asleep in a recliner.
When we found out our first child would not be coming home with us, she grieved along with us. When our daughter came home she was the first (and to this day – only) person I left her with. At 5 weeks! There was no one I trusted more with my daughter.
This past Saturday, my grandmother died.
I don’t think it has completely hit me yet. It wasn’t unexpected: she has been in ill health for years, and the last 8 months have seen her in and out of the hospital and the nursing home. She was convinced that last Thanksgiving was her last. She was right.
She was generous, loving and strong. She worked hard to leave a legacy for each child, grandchild and great grandchild, not just in possessions but in love. Her home was open not just to family, but to neighbors and strangers. She always made sure there were extra children’s gifts under the Christmas tree just in case someone showed up. She never wanted anyone to feel left out.
About a month after Thanksgiving my father sent me a picture of my grandmother. Eighty two years old, she was climbing on the counter in the kitchen from a chair because she couldn’t reach the high shelf. She was in her nightgown, probably preparing breakfast. She looked appropriately guilty for being caught there, but I’m not sure if it was because she was in her nightgown or because she’d been admonished for climbing cabinets many times in the past.
I am so grateful that she was in my life for as long as she was. I am grateful that she got to meet and bond with my husband, and that she got to meet and spend time with my much-longed-for child. Last summer when we were visiting them she gave me a wonderful compliment. She told me that she thought I was doing a wonderful job raising my child and she was proud of me. I cannot describe how much those words meant to me.
She raised 5 children of her own, adopted two more, and took in one of her grandchildren when his mother went astray. Somewhere along the way she found time to teach me what it was to be a strong woman, a good wife, a loving mother and a great person.
I will miss her more than words can express, as soon as my heart figures out she is really gone.