Monday, March 23, 2009

Memories of Marie

Today is the anniversary of my Grandma's death. I wrote this almost a year ago, and am posting now in honor of her.

Two weeks ago, on Easter Sunday, my Grandma passed away. It was two days before her 92nd birthday. She lived in a nursing home for nearly ten years, and the past year she was in and out of the hospital four times. Her death wasn’t entirely unexpected, but of course that doesn’t make it any easier. This was my mom’s mother. My dad’s father passed away when I was a baby, and I don’t remember him. My other grandparents died before I was born, including my mom’s father who died on December 23, and was laid out on Christmas day, when my mom was only twenty.

Grandma is the first person close to me in my family who has died. I’ve been to funerals before, but with one exception, they were all for distant family members I did not know. She and my mom shared the same birthday – March 25 – so the wake was particularly difficult because it was held on their birthday. This was the first wake at which I was part of the grieving family. It was an exhausting five hours, filled with the sadness of seeing my Grandma in the casket, the mental exercise of trying to remember the names of all my mom’s cousins who I have met in the past, but don’t remember, and the emotional exercise of trying not to cry too much, because if my mom can be so strong as to not cry, surely I can be, too.

I met Grandma’s good friend and long time neighbor for the first – and likely only – time. Grandma used to talk about Doris a lot. She didn’t drive, so Doris drove her on errands, to church on Sundays, shopping and Bingo. They even went to Hawaii together. It struck me as incredibly sad that I never met someone so important in Grandma’s life until her wake.

That thought brought forth full force the regrets that had only been poking through my heart until that moment. I wish I had spent more time with Grandma. There is so much I don’t know about her – such as why did she only have one of her two sisters in her wedding? – that now I never will. Sure, I spent time with her. We spent every holiday with her, birthdays, and I almost always went with my mom when she took Grandma to run errands. But I wish I had asked more questions, cared more about Marie and not just Grandma. Everyone keeps telling me I was a wonderful granddaughter, and Grandma wouldn’t change anything. Logically, I’m sure they’re right, but it will take time to believe that emotionally.

Grandma loved playing cards. She played Pinochle with her friends, and probably Bridge, but with me she played Kings in the Corner and Dummy Rummy, Crazy 8s and Old Maid. I remember giving Grandma manicures, filing and painting her nails. I remember one Christmas when I was in high school. Uncle Ron and Aunt Debbie (my mom’s brother and sister-in-law) gave me a basket from Bath and Body works. It contained a bottle of nail polish that perfectly matched the burgundy sweater I wore. I opened it and painted my nails then and there.

Every Easter Grandma got a large, rectangular communion wafer from her church, which we would break and share before Easter dinner – sometimes at Grandma’s house, sometimes at our house. I remember Easter egg hunts in Grandma’s yard, and sitting on her couch next to my cousin Matthew afterwards counting our nickels and quarters and candy, and maybe a dollar bill or two if we were lucky.

Every time Mom and I took Grandma on errands, she pulled out her coin purse to give us a few dollars before we left, and always told us to “tell Bill hello” if my dad wasn’t with us.

Grandma had a round ottoman in her living room. I liked to turn it on end, sit on it and roll across the floor on it. I remember a bowl of M&Ms on her coffee table, conspicuously void of any red ones, because of the scare that the red dye caused cancer. I remember playing with Grandma’s makeup. I never put it on, but loved to open the compacts and tubes of lipstick to look at the colors.

Grandma’s bed sat at an angle to the corner of the wall, and I would climb behind it during games of hide and seek.

The first time I did laundry was at the Laundromat near Grandma’s house – which is now a bakery near my house. I did not realize when I bought my first house it was only a few blocks away from where Grandma lived.

I remember when Grandma moved to the nursing home. I went with my mom to clean out Grandma’s house. We spent time looking through Grandma’s wedding albums, then the parents’ version of my mom’s wedding album, which Grandma had in a drawer. It was smaller, not the full album my parents have.

Grandma’s house was small – two bedrooms, one bathroom, living room, eat-in kitchen, sunroom, and unfinished basement. I never thought about there only being two bedrooms, yet one boy and one girl in the family. My mom later told me the sunroom was her brother’s bedroom, equipped with heaters for the winter, and fans for the summer months.

It is these small memories to which I wish I had paid more attention, for most of those I just wrote, I only now remembered. How many other small yet wondrous memories will I never recall?

The funeral was harder than the wake for me. It was not so easy to hold back my tears. The day started at the funeral home, where we said our final goodbyes. We each took a flower from the casket arrangement and lay it in the casket with Grandma. The night before, at the wake, I tucked the birthday card I made for Grandma into the side of the casket. At the cemetery, I took a yellow rose from the arrangement to press and put into my memory box. After that we went to Our Lady of Snows Shrine for a family luncheon. Even through our grief, the food was excellent. Grandma would have loved it. She always loved food, and ate well until her final days.

I went to Grandma’s grave today. It was a brief visit, only a few minutes, but I wanted to stop by, leave a fresh flower (the arrangements from the funeral are still on her grave, wilted) and tell her I miss her and hope she’s proud of me. I do miss her, but I’m happy she is at peace now, with her husband Leo again after thirty-seven years, and know that someday I will see her again.

I want to end with a quote. For my 8th grade graduation, Grandma gave me a greeting card. Within the card was another card, the size of a credit card, which had a painting of clouds and a quote on it. I have carried this card in my wallet ever since, and will keep it always.

"Whatever you dream, dream with all your heart - Whatever you try, try with all your heart - and happiness will be yours."

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