When I was born, my grandmother showed up, as grandmothers are wont to do upon the birth of their first grandchild, at my parents' doorstep, to help with the daily household chores as my mother got used to being, well, my mother. As the story has been told to me, she ended up being my first babysitter whenever my mom needed to grab a few minutes of that precious parental commodity - sleep. Being a bit preoccupied with this new thing called "life", I can't pass judgement on her ability to cook, clean, or make conversation during that trip, but the last 27 (yipes, nearly 28) years has been a tribute to the bond that we made during those first few weeks.
Despite having half a continent between us for a majority of those years, we have remained as close as ever. Annual visits to her home in Washington were a favored vacation when I was young. While I was in high school, there were a few brief years when I could see her on a daily basis, often staying at her house overnight after a dance or popping by for dinner before theater rehearsal. In college, I could count on her to send me a monthly gift - often just what I needed to keep my checkbook in the black or keep myself stocked with Ramen soup and peanut butter. We eventually traded places - Grandma in the midwest and myself on the West Coast - but continued to keep in touch with monthly, and eventually weekly, phone calls. No amount of distance could prevent us from sharing the events of our lives.
I have often battled with a sense of guilt despite this closeness. As the eldest grandchild, I grew up with a sense of obligation. My grandmother was there for my first days. In my innocent youth, unable to conceive of a life outside of my immediate family, I made a commitment to myself. When grandma needed someone to be there for her, when she could no longer handle things on her own, I would be the one to care for her. We would share her cozy little house by the park, and I would make sure her last days were as comfortable and supported as she made my first. At some point I realized that my life was changing. I had a boyfriend, then a husband. A job. A home of my own. Suddenly, the day arrived when she needed help and I was thousands of miles away. My childhood commitment went unfulfilled.
A while back, my grandmother moved from her home to an assisted living apartment and finally into a nursing home. Her confusion and general weakness made it unsafe for her to be unsupervised. Although she was frustrated by the betrayal of her own body and mind, she seemed to adjust well to her new surroundings.
Early this afternoon, my grandmother died. The relationship that started as she held the infant me to her chest reached its physical end today. I will never again hug her frail frame or hear her wavery laughter over the phone. My memory of her weathered face, white curls, and sparkling eyes at my sister's wedding this past summer will be my last. But there is no distance, earthly or not, that can change the closeness we have. I will feel her courage and strength with me every time I speak up for someone without a voice. I will be echoing her dedication to my grandfather every time Mike and I celebrate an anniversary. I will hear her whisper "Honey, I am just SO proud of you!" with every accomplishment.
Goodbye, Grandma. I hope you are happy and comfortable wherever you are now. I hope that you are once again strong and healthy, celebrating with those you have missed for so many years now. I will see you again some day. In the meantime - I will think of you often and love you always and forever.
Peace be with you.