My sadness is less for her passing–she was very ill and very uncomfortable towards the end–and more for the isolation she felt in her last years of life.
I have many lovely memories of my grandmother.
I remember the chocolate chip cookies. She would do all the mixing by hand and pack each batch in foil-lined shoebox, securing the top with a rubber band. I think I spent a good part of my childhood anticipating the next batch of those delicious cookies.
I remember the card games. We would pass the time playing gin rummy and casino.
I remember the buttons. She had this magical box of buttons–small opalescent buttons, massive brass buttons, soft, cloth-covered buttons, plain buttons, colorful buttons, every shape, size, style and hue imaginable. Each time I would visit I could shift and sort this treasure trove of buttons and select a few to bring home. Part of the wonder of the box of buttons was that, no matter how many times I visited, it always seemed to be full to the brim.
I remember her pleasure in displaying the little gifts we made for her. She always kept a clothespin doll my cousin had designed and a little paper doll swing I fashioned. In the way only a grandparent could, she delighted in our efforts, proclaiming each an early sign of “genius”.
I remember walks down Austin street near her apartment in Queens. We would visit the old Woolworth’s and I would be embroidery floss for friendship bracelets or stop in at the New Age shop where I would ogle crystals and books about fairies.
I remember her as I did not know her. Stories of a difficult childhood, a figure so beautiful that she modeled clothes for a local merchant, and a voice so lovely that she won competitions.
When my mom was just sixteen, my grandfather died of a sudden heart attack. My Granny spent most of the rest of her life living alone.
In the last two years, she did not want to see anyone other than my mother or my uncle. Or, rather, she did not want us to see her. We’d talk about visiting, plan a visit, and then she’d call my mother and insist we cancel. My three year-old daughter, who had played with her great-grandmother when she was one, primarily knew her as a voice on the phone. I thought about forcing the issue and just showing up unannounced. But it was very difficult on my mother and I did not want to make it any harder.
At the very end, after Granny moved in with my mom for what would be her final months, she wanted us to visit.
We saw her last month and I nearly cried when she smiled and laughed at the energy of my toddling son, her great-grandson, who she had seen just that once.
Today, my mother called and described for me my Granny’s very peaceful passing. I was fine until the moment when my mom explained how she told Granny that there were people who loved her waiting for her.
And my mom smiled. And my Granny tried to smile.
And when I heard that, I cried.
I am glad my Granny found peace. I just hope she found company. I love you, Granny.