It’s been a rough week for my family and me. On Tuesday, my grandmother lost her battle with lung cancer, which she fought gracefully and with a clever wit that only she had. It’s hard being far away and that’s making it seem unreal. This sort of thing is/was my worst fear when we decided to move to Europe: The thought that I wouldn’t be able to be around my people in a time of such sadness. Dave is a champ, dealing with random bouts of tears; it just doesn’t seem real.
I’m lucky. In my 31 years on this planet, I’ve never had to mourn the loss of a grandparent. I say that, with the hope that I will begin to feel lucky, that it’s taken 31 years to experience this. My head knows it, but in typical fashion, my heart is slow to catch up; the feeling of loss seems to overshadow my good sense. I know she is in a better place and the physical pain her disease caused is no longer a burden to her and for that I’m grateful, but I still can’t seem to wrap my mind around the fact that no one will have to pick her up for the next family dinner and take her home before the sun goes down. Towards the end of her life, she often asked (only half-jokingly), “who says the golden years?”
She was a classy woman, never leaving home without “her face on” (a routine that must have paid off, because her face was always flawless; she was just about wrinkle-free until the end of her 80 years). But Grandma Joan certainly wasn’t afraid to tell you what she thought, too. And she wasn’t one to sugar-coat it.
She was proud of her six kids and they people they had become. She loved to go out to lunch or dinner and hear about what was going on in the lives of her children and grandchildren, possibly over a glass of white wine, if the occasion called for it. You could take her picture, but only if you got her “good side” in the photo. She also loved any sort of petite serviceware…pitchers, utensils— if it was miniature and used during a meal, she thought it was darling. I think of her every time I stir my coffee with the tiny spoons they use here in Italy.
She had the best sayings— the kind that made her memorable (in a good way!) to people outside of our family. Personal favorites included, “oh hon, you couldn’t get me to do that/go there to see Christ ride a bicycle!” Or, “oh he’s so crooked, they’ll have to screw him into the ground to bury him” (most likely in reference to a politician). There’s many a story I could share that would bring a smile to the face of anyone that knew her.
My dad says there’s nothing to be sad about, because she lived a full life, passed as peacefully as one can and was surrounded by her children.
But I am sad.
Last night, I was started to drift off to sleep and my thoughts circled to her mannerisms and things I don’t want to forget, like her voice when she called someone ‘hon’ or ‘doll,’ or the way she said ‘Long Island’ which was more like ‘Lung AYE-lind’. But then I tried to remember her laugh and for a minute, I couldn’t hear it, and my eyes shot wide open until it came to me.
But I’m also grateful. Buried in the grief that comes in the wake of such news, I’m so grateful. When I went home in April, I did so with the purpose of spending time with her because that seemed a much more desirable option than going home for a funeral. I got a chance to chat with her, share stories and write down her recipes. I got a chance to let her know everything in my heart while she was around to hear it, and that’s more than most, I suppose.
She will be missed and not a “little dish of chocolate ice cream” will be served without me thinking of her.