Eight years ago yesterday, my G-Ma passed away. Which makes today the anniversary of that first full day without her. I woke up in my childhood bedroom that morning and stared at the popcorn-style ceiling (laden with asbestos undoubtedly) and had the same rotating thought. I was still living in a world where she no longer was.
In her younger days, my grandmother, Eileen, was basically a blonde bombshell. She belonged to a dance troupe who entertained the troops during WWII. I have never in my life worn anything as seductive as the leotards that she was sporting in the 40’s. My poor grandfather stood defenseless against her many wiles from the moment they met at a Red Cross dance. Decades after leaving England for the U.S., there was a slight lilt to her voice, the faintest remnant of her British accent. Well into her seventies and eighties, she was a flirt armed with a decent story-telling ability and a lighthearted titter. She could work a room. Everyone in it knew just how damn charming she was.
“G” was, in many ways, a product of her time. She was thrilled when I decided to go to graduate school, thinking it was high time for me to meet a potential husband. I reminded her on multiple occasions that her grand plan was inconveniently thwarted by the fact that most of my male classmates were Jesuits. On another occasion, she gave me this relationship advice.
“Janelle, you just need to have less opinions and wear brighter colors.” Richard still claims that he loves that fact that I wore taupe and olive green on our first date.
Yet, here was the thing about G-Ma. One might be tempted to underestimate her. He or she would be sorely mistaken. My other grandmother, Frannie, once accurately illustrated the difference between her and G-Ma.
“I lived into my 90’s due to genetics. Eileen’s longevity is by sheer force of will.”
As sparkly as G-Ma’s personality was, her actions were better characterized by dogged perseverance. She spent months helping my cousin prepare for his GED exam, when so many others had given up on him. As an Avon lady (obviously she sold Avon in retirement), G-Ma realized one of her elderly clients was being financially defrauded by a caregiver. G-Ma spent months of her “Avon visits” surreptitiously documenting evidence to bring to Adult Protective Services. On another occasion, G-Ma helped one of her tenants secure a restraining order against the ex-husband who was harassing her. She also spent my freshman year of college trying to learn computer literacy, for the express purpose of emailing me. She never got the hang of it, but I love how hard she tried.
G-Ma only ever broke one promise to me, the vow that she would dance at my wedding. If she were standing beside me reading this, I guarantee that she would blame me for taking my sweet time. I am comforted that she and Richard did meet once, about eight months before she passed. By then, the dementia had taken its toll but she still had good days. On so many levels, that New Year’s was a good day. For most of the afternoon, she held Richard captivated in the far corner of the room.
The ebbs and flows of grieving her can still surprise me, although I see certain patterns. The birth of both my boys stirred such deep longing for her presence. Like that morning after her death, it is hard to fathom that Nicholas and Daniel will only know a world without her in it.