Joy, Pain, Tears: Ten Years

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Sitting on a cannon outside of Rochester Castle

Today is the day my family chose to commemorate the death of my late grandma, of whom I am her namesake.  Her death is the one I have felt most deeply in the course of my life.  It is shrouded in a sense of unknowing, because tragically we don’t actually know how things ended—I think most of us choose to not dwell on that reality.

I still remember the night before I found out she had died.  It was my first semester of college, and I had just completed a project for my Spanish class: a family tree.  I knew my grandma didn’t leave England, but as I lay in bed, I thought to myself, “Maybe if I fly there and back with her, she’ll come to my wedding.”

The next day, one of my floor leaders brought me into her room, and my phone rang.  It was my dad.  I could immediately tell by is voice something was wrong.  He told me Grandma had died.  I remember grief washing over me as I registered his words, and then my very next thought being about him, her son, and telling him how sorry I was.

I went to my room, kept the lights off, and cried, pacing around my small dorm space.  I remember pulling out my Spanish project and writing “(D)” next to her name before taking it to class.

Fall Break was approaching, and the whirlwind began.  Expedited replacement passport, a fast trip to England–my first since I was eight, and the process of becoming reacquainted with my British family in person.  When I reflect on those times together, I’m thankful for them.  I”m thankful for the laughter, the bonding, the sharing of memories, and the tears, acknowledging we’d lost someone dear to us.

As I said at the beginning, Grandma’s death is the one I’ve felt most deeply in all of my life.  There are several reasons for this: she lived in a different country, so I only met her twice, and didn’t have the wonderful memories like my cousins, the world wasn’t as interconnected then (plus, she only had a rotary phone), which made it more difficult to keep in touch, and her personality was one that chatted mainly on holidays and otherwise she did her own thing and expected you to do your own thing (or so I’ve been told).  But, I know she loved me.

The biggest reason her death made such an impact on me is that her’s was the first that didn’t come. with a nice, boxed explanation.  All of the other people I’d known who were older when they’d died (and, I’ve known a lot) came with an explanation: “Oh, they lived a long, happy life.”  “They are in a better place now.”  “We don’t need to be sad, we can be happy they are no longer suffering/”. And, often, other religiously inspired cliches.  But Grandma wasn’t even 70, I’d never gotten to know her the way I’d have liked, and having her taken away so abruptly stunned me.  It was the first time I experienced the “It’s not fair!” response to losing someone at the core of my being…and that feeling has never left.

Part of me still feels pangs of regret at not taking more initiative to talk with her, though my reason tells me I was young and it wasn’t as easy then.  I sent her a letter once, with pictures from a pageant I’d won.  She’d kept it, because when she died they gave it back to me.

She loved roses and had bushes of them in her back garden.  I have a happy memory of my first visit to England, when I was five, playing back there with her, my dad, and my brother.

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She spoiled us!  Upon walking in the door when my dad took me over for a week when I was eight, she handed me a bag of (British) smarties (not to be confused with the American).  He said something like, “Mum!  That will spoil her dinner!”  And she probably said, “I don’t care!  I’m her grandma.”

I remember her making me fish sticks and peas and making me sit at the tiny table in her kitchen.  I’m vegetarian now, and I long ago stopped liking fish sticks (except, maybe I’d like them if they were English), but that memory always makes me want to go cook myself a replica meal…just for the memory.

Before leaving the house on outings with my dad, she’d always give me a few pounds and tell me, “Make sure your father doesn’t take them from you!”  I accumulated quite the collection, leading to another hilarious family story of my uncle offering me cash for the pile of coins I was carrying around.  I actually think I would have made out better taking the cash, but I didn’t understand that at the time and started to cry, thinking he was trying to take my money.

She knew how to put the fear in us: “If I have to come upstairs…”

The one time my cousin and I stayed with her together, we thought (perhaps imagined) we heard her walking up the stairs…it was like a scene from a movie: madly turning off the light, leaping into bed, and not saying another word the rest of the night.

She was German.  She was authentically proud and self-reliant.  She loved her family.

Whenever I go to England I miss her.  When I see women around her age, I wish they were she.  I’d like nothing more than to visit her, share a cup of tea, walk around town, and get to know her better, especially as an adult.  I’ll never understand why I didn’t get the chance to know her, my own grandma, better on this earth.  I think I’ll forever feel this hole in my heart and its accompanying ache.  But, I proudly bear her name as my middle name, and I know, wherever I go, whomever and whatever I look at are seen with her blue eyes.

Here’s to ten years.  I love and miss you, still and always.

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