Thursday, May 10, 2012

Remembering Grandma

Over the past two weeks, I have had to say goodbye to my dear, sweet grandma. Yesterday, I shared the following at her funeral service.

When I agreed to say something today, I never believed it would be so difficult for me, a writer, to put into words what I wanted to say about grandma.

This week, I turn 44 – the same age grandma was when I was born. You would think that at my age, I would be past the point of believing that I would have my grandma forever. I wasn’t. I had somehow convinced myself that grandma would always be here – assuming I had all the time in the world to tell her that I loved her, to visit and give her a hug and a kiss. In thinking about that over the past few days, I came to realize that grandma will always be with me – maybe not in person, but in my memories, and in my heart. And I was very lucky to get the chance to give her that hug and kiss last week, and to tell her that I loved her.

In many ways, grandma helped to shape the person I am today – beginning with my first bike (at least the first one I remember). One Christmas, there were two matching blue tricycles under the tree – one for me, and one for Rob. Later, on a trip to visit us in Edmonton, Grandma and Grandpa laughed when the neighbor and I rode by on a tandem bike. When I really got into cycling and racing a number of years ago, grandma always shared in my adventures (though sometimes, I am sure, in horror!). Most recently, I put together a photo album for Grandma that included several pictures of me racing my bikes – and some where I was a bit muddy (I all doity, grandma!). I don’t think that when those trikes were under the tree she could have imagined where they would lead.

Growing up, grandma was always the caregiver. She took good care of my grandpa for many years, and took care of all of us kids as well. Skinned knees and elbows got the mercurochrome treatment, but she always blew on it to take the sting out. When requested, she always cooked our favorite foods – mine started out being French toast with no eggs, and became shoe string potatoes with homemade chili sauce. I think that might have been what she was making the day that Brad and I arrived for dinner in an OPP cruiser after I totaled mom’s car on the highway. Grandma took care then, too, feeding us, calming us down, making sure we were ok, and getting us back home.

The summer after I finished the 8th grade, grandma had cataract surgery, and admitted to needing some help – she couldn’t do any heavy lifting, and so it was that I went to live with grandma and grandpa for the entire summer – splitting time between the house in Waterloo, and the cottage. It became my turn to take care of grandma (and grandpa). I have very fond memories of that summer – painting the shed at the cottage (with grandpa wearing my flowery, floppy sunhat), gardening, grocery shopping and wheedling a $10/week allowance for chores. We spent our days working in the yard and doing chores, but also playing cards, telling stories, visiting relatives and friends, going to the farmer’s market and other local attractions.

Grandma loved cards. I learned to play euchre at a young age – mostly from watching while the adults were playing. I never could pick up the fine art of cribbage though, no matter how many times gram patiently tried to teach me. Later, gram and I would visit and play gin rummy for hours and she was always gracious about me beating her pants off.

Grandma was also a strong, independent woman – traits that I like to think I have also inherited. I watched, growing up, the strength she showed in managing my grandfather’s disability and later illness. She never complained in the years she spent being the primary caregiver – at least not that I heard. After grandpa left us, grandma continued to show her strength and independence – managing two households, spending summers at the cottage, and heading up our family. There were lots of times when she was lonely, but again, she never complained.

In recent years, grandma and I spent a lot of time reminiscing. I joked with my mom that she may not have remembered what she had for dinner, but her memories of her earlier life were vivid. We’d tell cottage stories and grandpa stories, laughing until our sides hurt, or we started to cry, or both. Those shared memories stitched us together in a bond that will always remain.

Grandma and I also shared a love for flowers (as long as the ones that I sent her didn’t stink!) and our gardens. We’d talk about what flowers were blooming in my garden, what new things I had planted. When I couldn’t send her real flowers anymore, I began sending her pictures of the flowers from my garden instead – hoping to brighten her day, and to share a smile. I will continue that shared love, and will plant flowers in her memory – the non-stinky kind.

Three summers ago, I surprised grandma for her birthday with a visit – long overdue. Many of you have seen the picture of us together at the lake, and that is a memory I will hold in my heart forever, just like so many others. We spent hours talking – she listening patiently to the drama of my life, and both of us remembering many other summers spent in the same spot.

I also inherited the love of odd grandma sayings. A few years ago, in fact, a friend quipped to me that I should write a book – Things My Grandma Says. Even today, I will ask someone with squeaky shoes if they have paid for them, point out a blue spot in a cloudy sky and note that there is enough blue to make a pair of Dutchman’s pants. I never quite understood the “Hold her Luke, she’s headed for the rhubarb” saying, but I loved it anyway. And of course, our favorites – “Don’t eat that Elmer, that’s horse “poop””; “You'd better bereave it grandma!” and the one that made grandpa spit a mouthful of tea across the table – “Too late Ethel”.

So, now I am left with the memories. They are all sweet and delicious – just like grandma was. I will cherish them forever. I’m glad, grandma, that I wasn’t too late. Let me leave you with a poem that I think captures grandma’s legacy to us all.

Legacy of Love
A wife, a mother, a grandma too, 
This is the legacy we have from you. 
You taught us love and how to fight, 
You gave us strength, you gave us might. 
A stronger person would be hard to find, 
And in your heart, you were always kind. 
You fought for us all in one way or another, 
Not just as a wife not just as a mother. 
For all of us you gave your best, 
Now the time has come for you to rest. 
So go in peace, you've earned your sleep, 
Your love in our hearts, we'll eternally keep