My grandmother passed away this weekend. She was in her early 90s and up until a few weeks ago she lived alone in her house relatively unassisted. She was able to walk and talk and though her brain had slowed over the years she was still quick to fight with me about politics and to argue her position when she thought I was wrong.
My grandmother never thought I would have children. I’m not sure if it was my age or my previous health issues, but when I told her the big news over five years ago she was in a complete state of shock. She told me in no uncertain terms that she was happy for me, but also that only a “god-damn fool” would ask a woman if she intended to have children and that it was quite simply no one’s business. She was open in her views and her beliefs. She never shied away from the topic of abortion or women’s rights. She maintained her beliefs throughout her lifetime and to my knowledge she never altered them.
My grandmother was as honest as they come. If she didn’t like the way you looked, the dress you wore or the way you styled your hair that day she would be sure to tell you about it. She always told me to wear lipstick and rouge and at times she would dab some of hers on my lips and then ask me to look in the mirror saying “now see how pretty you look when you wear makeup?” On this my grandmother and I never agreed. I never saw the need to doll myself up and she could never understand why I wanted to look so drab.
When she bought makeup from department stores she always passed down the ‘free’ gifts to me. She didn’t wear any eye makeup because of an eye disorder so she’d give me a little makeup bag filled with mascara and eye shadow. Those little bags remind me of her more than just about anything else in my house. She’d hand it over to me and then say “let’s see what’s inside” and we would spend the next few minutes digging through that little bag.
Her honesty wasn’t always easy to hear, but looking back I’m glad that she told it like it was or at least the way she thought it was. You can say a lot of things about her direct approach to life, but the truth is you always knew where you stood. If she liked your behavior she let you know it and if she didn’t like something you did well she’d give you an earful about it. This may sound pretty harsh, but I’ve dealt with a lot of fake and artificial people in my life and I must say I’ll take the one that’s ‘too’ honest any day.
More than anything my grandmother was proud of my family and I. In college I attained a highly coveted internship. She was so proud of me that she bought me a brand new wardrobe of skirts, ‘slacks’ and tall boots. She had the pants tailored to fit my long legs and she was over the moon excited when she found a pair that fit me. My grandmother always wanted to be a buyer or a professional shopper. She had an eye for fashion and she loved being able to dress my mom and I. My grandmother didn’t like to spend money on much, but she loved buying us clothes she found on the sale racks and clearance sections of department stores like Nordstrom and Macy’s. She was incredibly proud of me, my family and our achievements. She always took time out to praise us and to tell me how proud she was of the rest of the family.
My relationship with my grandmother was rocky at times, but through the birth of my son we bonded more than ever. She was eighty-eight when I became pregnant and she promised me she wouldn’t die before my first child was born. She told me that God couldn’t take her until she met my baby. We didn’t find out the gender before delivery, but my grandmother was convinced that I would have a little redheaded baby boy. She was right. He popped out just the way she said he would.
My oldest is quite smart and she began telling me he was a genius before he could even walk and talk. She would play on the couch with him and say “I really think that’s quite advanced for a child his age”, “Don’t you think that’s unusual for a baby this old to do?” Over the last five years my son gave my grandmother the light she needed. Whenever she saw him her spirits lifted. No matter how sick she had been, she always seemed to get better after she saw him.
My grandmother was very close to my oldest son. She said she wanted to live to be 120 so she could see what would become of him. She wanted to see what he would do and who he would become and her love extended with the birth of each grandchild.
Over the past five years she said she didn’t want to die because she wanted to see him graduate from college. She wanted to see what he would do with his life and who he would become. She told everyone she met about him and when we went to the nursing home she had even told all of the nurses and physical therapists about him. They said “is this your brilliant great grandson?”
When I was young and my mom got mad at me she’d say “you’re just like your grandmother.” She meant this as an insult, but looking back on my grandmother’s life and my relationship with her I can say that ‘being like’ my grandmother is not all bad. My grandmother was an extremely intelligent woman. Even in her final days the doctors were amazed by her math skills.
My grandmother tended to favor those who were intelligent. She respected those with functional gray matter and she was extremely happy with my choice of a husband. She told me he was one of the smartest men she’d ever met, but she always finished that sentence saying “well he picked my granddaughter so of course he’s smart.”
My grandmother was an amazing conversationalist. Quite frankly she could focus on a conversation better than anyone else in my family. She had vivid memories of her youth and she would tell us incredibly in-depth stories about where she lived and what she did throughout her lifetime. No matter how tired she was she always asked me about my husband, my husband’s work, my relationship with my in-laws (which is ridiculously rocky), and my children. She always made time to listen to my concerns and problems and she tried to provide guidance along the way.
I have a lot of memories of my grandmother talking openly about her political beliefs. She never shied away from political topics. (For example: Just a few months ago we discussed the Standford rape case and her views on abortion, which is not exactly every day conversation for a 94 year old.) She always did so with a clear point of view and with intelligent perspectives on difficult issues. She liked to debate topics even when she thought I was dead wrong. In fact, I think she liked to talk about them the most when she and I differed in our points of view.
I feel incredibly blessed that my grandmother lived so long. She outlived my grandfather by 20 years and I wish I could have spent more time with him and the grandparents on my father’s side who died earlier as well. I have changed so much in my 39 years on this earth and my relationship with my grandmother blossomed so much through these last five to ten years. I am grateful that I gave my grandmother the gift of two great grandchildren as well as a grandson-in-law who met her for lunch and chatted with her about her past while I wrangled my children into their highchairs.
My grandmother will be greatly missed. I miss her already.