I don’t know if I have the right words to express just how much I loved and admired my grandma. I suspect I don’t, but I owe it to her to try to find them. I’ve been thinking about what I want to say at her memorial service planned for early December. If I had to give a eulogy today, this is the one I would give:
Grandma loved babies. She told me she always had, as long as she could remember. When I had my first baby, she came out to Milwaukee alone. It was just over a month after the comotion of the holidays when everyone had come out to see Aden right after her birth. Grandma came out then, too, but the visit in February was special and quiet and private. We got to spend hours just looking at the baby and admiring all the cute things new babies do. One of those evenings, sitting in the dining room watching Aden smile and wiggle her hands in the air, we got to talking about our thoughts on life and death in general. Grandma was always interesting to talk to, and I could talk to her about anything. I asked her what her thoughts were on dying one day; if it scared her or if she thought there was an afterlife. Her response was the best one I’ve ever heard on the subject. She said, “Well, I think about all the amazing people who came before me who accomplished so many impressive things, and how they have died, and I think to myself, if it’s good enough for them, it’s good enough for me.”
My grandma was amazing. When she was born women still didn’t have the right to vote, but she loved school and earned a college degree. She had so many interesting stories about working in adoption and I used to beg her to write some of them down. She never did, but I remember the ones she told me, and maybe I will find ways to write them down.
There isn’t a day of living in Milwaukee that I don’t think of her. Sometimes I pass the house she was born in, on the corner of Locust and Cramer. I live on the side of town where my grandpa grew up and I imagine myself and my children retracing his footsteps when we walk by his high school. My grandma’s stories of her early life and meeting my grandpa take on new life for me now that I live in their old town. One of her favorite stories was about how she got to know my grandfather because he would walk her to her bus stop after class because it was on his way home. My husband is a map and transit connoisseur, and he told me he would never tell my grandma this, but he figured out that grandma’s bus stop was nowhere near grandpa’s way home. He was merely going out of his way to be near her.
I know a lot of stories about grandma, how when her kids were at school sometimes she and a neighbor would occasionally wile away an entire afternoon playing Scrabble and feel they were being quite wicked. Or about when she and her friend Florence would visit a place known only as “Lake Twelve.” Or how she used to help her mother do the laundry which was a full two day project every week, and that in the winter they would hang the wash in the attic where it would freeze solid and they would spend the second day ironing it all dry. I once asked her if there was any particular modern convenience she’d seen invented over her lifetime that was especially important and without hesitation she said, ‘The washer and dryer.”
There are so many interesting stories about her as a child and a student and a young married woman and mother, but my own experience with her was as a grandmother. And she was the best grandmother possible. When I was little we would visit my grandparents in Columbus for Christmas and Easter and it was always special. Grandma kept a beautiful home and it was always welcoming. She cooked us wonderful meals, and whenever there were homemade treats on the counter and we’d ask if we could have one she would always say, “That’s what they’re there for!” She was the kind of grandma that made you feel secure and safe and loved.
But I was particularly lucky to have the chance to get to know grandma better while I was in college. I wanted to go away to school, but I also wanted to be near home. By going to Ohio State I was able to be out on my own, but having grandma nearby was like still having a familiar home when I needed it. I started school nearly two years after grandpa died, and gram and I were able to be there for each other. She would pick me up from campus nearly every Sunday. I could do things for her like set the VCR or help with things in the yard, and she taught me how to do laundry without making the washer hop across the basement. She looked forward to cooking me a real meal once a week and I looked forward to eating it. She let me bring my friends. She was the first member of my family to get to know Ian. Grandma came to nearly every performance I gave while I was at Ohio State, and when I graduated she gave me a box of all the programs from everything I’d played in for the past five years.
When I found myself home more because of pregnancy and babies I got into a habit of calling grandma at least once a day. She was wonderful to chat with, and was the perfect person with whom to share baby updates because she never found them boring. She would tell me what was going on in her neighborhood or we’d talk about the news or books or movies. And when Ian was deployed, grandma was the only person I knew who truly understood what it was like to be pregnant and caring for children in Milwaukee while fearing for a husband at war. She would listen to me cry and say, “I know, Kor.” And she really did.
My grandma was smart and kind and made the world better for those around her. She was the best listener I ever knew. And she loved me, and I never doubted that she was proud of me. When I read her some of my earliest fiction she beamed at me and said, “Oh Kory, you are a writer–A real writer.” And because she said it I believed it could be true.
These past few years have been so difficult. It’s been heartbreaking to watch grandma slowly fade to a shadow of the person I knew. There were glimpses of her now and then when I would visit, but the truth is I began mourning the loss of my grandma awhile ago. That doesn’t make this final goodbye any easier. There is no way to accept that my grandma is not in my world anymore and have it be anything but profoundly, crushingly sad. But maybe grandma is finally with her husband again. Or maybe she has simply been released from the pain of an existence she had degenerated into that I know she wouldn’t have wanted. Either way I hope death meant relief for my grandma. And in those moments when I contemplate my own mortality, I can think to myself, “If it was good enough for her, it’s good enough for me.”
I love you, grandma. And I miss you.