This post has been written in my heart for two weeks now . . . but putting it down in typeface seems so much harder, more permanent. How is it that I can be a grown woman, a full-on adult person, and still feel as vulnerable as a child?
I know I’m lucky. Until just a few years ago, all four of my grandparents were still living. That’s pretty darn good. And then my grandfathers both passed away, within months of each other. They were both in their 80’s and had battled health problems for years, so the end, while sad, was not a surprise.
But my grandmother . . . my paternal grandmother, she’s the one who seemed destined to outlive us all. An indomitable force. A woman to be reckoned with.
The force, the rock, the head honcho . . . she’s gone. She died two weeks ago, just six days after being diagnosed with inoperable lung cancer. She was 89, going on 60. A year ago she was riding elephants with my dad and stepmom in Laos. Not long before that, it was camels in Egypt. She was amazing.
She was amazing, but not in what you might call a “normal grandma” way. She wasn’t cuddly and soft. She didn’t coddle. She wasn’t the grandma who baked cupcakes and knitted booties. Although she did bake and she did knit. In a perfunctory sort of way – a means to an end.
She was no-nonense, even when I was little. I don’t remember her ever saying “I love you” to me – and yet I always knew she did. Just as I knew she expected me to do my best, to try hard, and to pick myself up and dust myself off when I fell. She’d listen if I needed to talk, she’d empathize with my dramas, but there was no getting away with anything, no pampering or spoiling.
I didn’t know a lot about my grandmother. I know her parents died when she was still a teenager. I know she had a fabulous Aunt Betty who took care of her, the aunt who lived in New York and wore beautiful gowns and took trips to Europe. I know she got a degree and had a career when that wasn’t the norm for women – and she raised four boys too. I know she was a staunch Democrat who married a firm Repulican – although I didn’t even know that until I was nearly 30. She was truly the matriarch of the family, and the hole she leaves is large and deep.
I spent the week after she died at our family lake cabin – her cabin – in northern Idaho with a group of friends. My friends were worried that they were intruding (the trip had been planned long before her change in health) but it was right, it was fitting to be there, to be with friends and kids and to know that she would have been happy about that. Next week I’ll be back in northern Idaho for her memorial, surrounded by my family and by her community, all the people she touched, and that will be right and fitting too.
Most of all I know that she loved life, that she lived with determination, and that she was deeply committed to her family and her community. These are the things my grandmother gave me. These are the things I carry with me, always.