When I was little, my grandparents used to watch me while my mom and dad were at work. I have letters that I used to write my Nana and practically have her signature memorized from all the cards I've saved over the years. There are countless pictures of me sitting in my Nana’s laundry basket and smiling, and if I close my eyes, I can almost hear her say “how can a little girl sleep so much?” and then bring me pancakes while I watch cartoons in her bed.
|Baby Stephanie and her Nana|
When I think of her, I think of hot chocolate and freshly made cookies, clip on earrings and big, beaded necklaces, and the way her hands used to hold mine in the hospital room when she was scared. I think of her trying to teach me how to cook and then giving me a plate of meatballs and telling me to go watch the news with my pap because I was measuring everything wrong, and I remember the first time I baked cookies with her—early on when she was first diagnosed with dementia—and how her cookies were triple the size she used to make them. She’d get angry but then laugh really hard at the baking sheet, and god, her laugh was magical. A big, full body laugh that just lit up the room.
I remember playing bingo with her in the kitchen while we watched The Price is Right and she’d make me a bologna sandwich for lunch, and I remember asking her how to speak Polish and then her trying to teach me a few words here and there while we sat together on the porch swing outside. My love of flowers stems from my grandparents and the beautiful garden they had together, so when I see hydrangeas, I will forever think of her, just like how when I see roses, my granfather is the first face in my mind.
We used to spend every Christmas day at my Nana’s, so when it snows, I’ll think of her then, too, along with all the polish food she’d make next to my pap’s freshly grown beets and my demands for her potato salad.
At dessert, she’d fill the entire dining room with her cookies, and it was always a hard decision trying to figure out which one’s were worth the calories that night—but it was never really a problem because she’d send all of us home with a box of cookies and a few nut rolls for good measure.
I don’t have to tell you, but I’m really going to miss her baking.
There is a love and a comfort in your grandmother’s cooking that can’t quite be measured my anyone else.
|Like Mother like Daughter like Granddaughter|
I could go on and on for hours, but what I’m getting at here is that I think I’ve been really blessed in life to have the relationship I did with my grandmother. We would go Christmas shopping together every year and when I got Edgar, I immediately got in my car and drove the hour it took to get to her house just so she could see all his puppy wrinkles. She was an extraordinary woman who loved her family and traveled the world and the memories we share are endless. In fact, I can’t think of a single event that she missed, whether it was my softball games (rain or shine), or my graduation days (high school-graduate school). I don’t know if she ever understood what I do or write exactly, but that didn’t stop her from coming to my poetry readings and meeting my friends and colleagues while I got my horror on. Every time that I went to see her, she’d ask me if I was still writing, if I was teaching. I would always tell her yes, and she would just brusquely say “good,” as if that was the only thing that mattered.
But my Nana had been sick for a long time and the past two years have been heart-breakingly difficult for all of us. In a lot of ways as I get ready for her funeral this afternoon, it’s like I’m mourning the loss of her for a second time. I’ve sewn imaginary curtains with her in the hospital room and whispered names under my breath so she could remember them and not be embarrassed. I’ve gone and sat with her and laughed while she told me about how handsome Eric Dance is and then proceeded to blush when he came on the screen, and I remember bringing her a huge bouquet of blue and gray flowers and then her yelling at me for spending money and shoving a ten back in my pocket.
Whether it was at the hospital, the house, the nursing home, or the hospice, I always tried to tell her how beautiful she was and how much I loved her because I never knew when the last time I would see her would be. She would blow me kisses and then kick my ass in rummy, because no matter what stage of Alzheimer’s she had, that woman could play cards and she was fierce.
We did have one conversation that I’ll never forget though, and it was in the hospital after her first fall. I was holding her hand while they were putting a catheter in and she looked at me and said “Stephanie, I’m so sorry you have to watch your grandmother die,” and my heart just broke in half.
I tried my best not to openly weep, and I held her hand and told her that I loved her and that there was no place I would rather be than next to her, that she spent her whole life taking care of me and now it was my turn to hold her when she was scared and love her like she’s always loved me.
And then she smiled with tears in her eyes.
|Me and Nana, Christmas, 2014|
I will never, ever forget that moment, and I wouldn’t trade a single moment that we spent together, good or bad, sick or healthy. I know that you’re going to look beautiful today and mass is going to be gorgeous tomorrow. Dennis is going to cantor, and I know you only met him twice, but he’s that handsome guy who gave me the ring you thought was pretty, yeah? Well, he has a beautiful voice so I’m happy you’ll finally get to hear him sing.
Mom and I are going to do the readings and then I have something special planned for you at the cemetery. I think it will make you smile.
Oh, and try not to clean everything in Heaven, okay? I’m sure God has everything under control. Oh, and say hi to great-grandma for me. I saw a picture of her yesterday and you look just like her.
I love you so much.
See you soon.