Sunday, December 20, 2015

My Grandma's Love

Today, I celebrated the home going of my beloved grandma. She died suddenly on December 20th, when I was twelve. It was a difficult time for me, and yet, today, after many decades of missing her, I can celebrate her life and smile because I know my grandma loved me and I believe her love lives on in my heart and life today.

When I grew up, my family lived on the east coast and we traveled each summer to visit my grandma and my other grandparents in Wisconsin for a couple weeks. Grandma always greeted me with a big hug after our two day trip. She had her delicious date-filled, oatmeal cookies waiting for us, along with her homemade pan of “Mounds Bars,” that tasted just like the candy from the store!

I remember when Grandma purchased a red, metal, Radio Flyer wagon for my sister, two cousins, and me to play with when we visited her. We’d pull each other in the wagon, or better yet, push each other, so we could take turns sitting in the wagon, while steering with the handle and experience the sense of driving on the sidewalks around her block! What fun that was!! Grandma wasn’t concerned about which toys boys or girls played with. I enjoyed playing with her assortment of plastic army men and trucks and jeeps, too, as well as whatever else she had around for us kids.

Sometimes, Grandma would ask my older cousin and me to walk two blocks to Timm’s Dairy, a corner grocery store, to pick up some bread or milk. It was extra fun, when she’d give us money to each buy an orange push-up! What a cool and refreshing treat! She also allowed me to water her grass, one year, when it was extremely dry. I stood at the corner of her front walk, where it met the main sidewalk, and watered a two-foot square section of brown grass until I could “see” it turning green! It took a long time and I think it mostly looked like mud, but that was fine with Grandma!! J

I remember, when I was young, telling my Grandma that our time zone was an hour behind hers, since we lived on the east coast and she lived in the Midwest. I believe she probably gently told me the correct answer and when I disagreed, but she didn’t argue with me or try to force the correct answer on me. Instead, she just listened to me and let me figure it out and learn it for myself, when I was able to understand it better. I cherish that memory and look back with appreciation at her kind and wise response.

I still remember visiting Grandma’s house and finding an old, hand-wringer washing machine in her basement and thought it was strange and funny. I remember the large, metal keyholes in her bathroom and bedroom door locks that were so big, you could look through them. They needed a large, black, metal key to lock or unlock them. I remember the round, table set in the corner of her dining room where my sister and two cousins ate, while all the adults sat around a very large dining room table. Those were such good times to share together.

I was surprised when I visited the 3rd grade Sunday school class at my Grandma’s church. The teacher asked the children if they had been reading their Bibles during the week. I didn’t even know I was supposed to be reading a Bible, even though I went to church and Sunday school, every week, with my parents. My parents had a Bible sitting on an end table. They said to never set anything on it because it was an important book and we were to be sure to dust it before the pastor visited. I realized, later, that Grandma went to a church that believed and talked about God’s word and faith in God as being important, real, and personally meaningful.

I was happy when we moved from New Jersey to Illinois and were able to see Grandma for Christmas. How exciting it was to see her and my other grandparents, and many other relatives, too! The second year, we looked forward to visiting her again! Mom talked with Grandma, a week before Christmas, and they talked about us driving up to see her. Grandma was all ready for us, with her presents wrapped and sitting under her Christmas tree, and her baking was done, including her delicious date-filled oatmeal cookies. A couple days later, my sister and I walked four blocks to Central Park in our town to see Santa Claus. As we waited in line, a neighbor lady came up to us and said we had to go home right away. We found out that my beloved grandma had died, five days before Christmas, and we would not be seeing her at all, not at Christmas, nor ever again. I remember sitting on our living room couch, looking up at the ceiling, trying desperately to keep my tears from falling down my face, while our pastor visited us that evening.

It was a very difficult Christmas for all of us. Even though I was twelve, I was not allowed to go into my Grandma’s house, and wished I could have visited, one last time, to take in more memories to add to the ones I had. The strange thing for me was that my other grandparents had paid for a Santa to visit us at their house on Christmas Eve and we were supposed to sing for him before he would give us any presents. I didn’t feel like singing that year. I missed my Grandma!!! Then, on Christmas morning, my little brother had to have emergency surgery to put tubes in his ears to help with his ear infections! It was a different Christmas for all of us.

I remember going to Grandma’s funeral at church and being so surprised to see someone who looked just like my grandma!!! It turned out to be my great aunt from Montana, my grandma’s sister, whom I had not met. I think I thought Grandma had come back from the dead; they looked so much like! I was disappointed that I couldn’t go to the cemetery site to see Grandma’s body laid to rest. I think I had to stay in the nursery to take care of my younger brother. It was also pretty cold outside.

Even to this day, I still treasure the gift that Grandma had sitting under her Christmas tree for me that year. It was a pink and white pin cushion, with a two-inch, crocheted, lace-like edge around it. She had pinned it to a piece of cardboard and wrote, “To Linda, from Grandma” with the year on it. That was her last note to me. Oh, how I miss her and cherish that note and gift!!!

I learned two other things about my Grandma, after she died, that told me about her faith in God. At her funeral, I learned that her favorite song was, “I Come to the Garden Alone” by Charles A. Miles. The words of the song are:

1.      I come to the garden alone,
While the dew is still on the roses,
And the voice I hear falling on my ear
The Son of God discloses.
o    Refrain:
And He walks with me, and He talks with me,
And He tells me I am His own;
And the joy we share as we tarry there,
None other has ever known.
These words tell me of a person who talks with God, as a friend – honest and true – and one who trusts God, in the morning and the evening, and all day long. Grandma became a widow, with two daughters and a son, ages 16, 11, and 7 to raise on her own. Although my grandfather had owned and run a candy store in town, with homemade candies made from his special recipes, he had no recipes written down, and my grandma could not continue the business. I am sure that my Grandma’s faith, ingenuity, and strength of character are what kept her going, especially, at that time, and in the years that followed. My grandma was able to continue living in her home by making the upstairs of her two-story house into an apartment that she could rent for income, while she and her children continued to live on the main floor. 
Another interesting story that helps me know more about my grandma’s faith is what my mom told me about the events at the time of Grandma’s death. Grandma lived alone and we were all glad that she didn’t die alone, especially in her basement, where she may not have been found for several days. Apparently, my grandma had called a friend, around supper-time, to say that she wasn’t feeling well. The friend had been stirring her soup on the stove and felt an urge to stop what she was doing and go over to my grandma’s house right away. She turned off the stove and went to see my grandma. Grandma answered the door and they sat on her couch, talking about Christmas. Then, Grandma said she was tired and died in her friends arms. I can’t think of a better way to pass from this life to the next, especially when you live alone. I am so glad that Grandma’s friend, trusted the nudge that she had from the Lord to go and be with my grandma, at that time. I’m grateful for them having such a remarkable and close friendship, and that each of them trusted God enough to listen to His “still, small voice” and were led by His Spirit in their lives. To me, this is a testament of my grandma’s faith in God, as well as her friend’s faith, too, and of their very special friendship.
Grandma was the only person who loved me with such an amazing and unconditional love. I remember one time I was visiting at her house, and was looking out her window, trying to see what the three girls in her neighborhood were doing, across the street. As I got closer to the window, my forehead bumped the window and cracked the glass! I was very surprised and also petrified that I’d be in trouble and get yelled at, but no, Grandma took me in her arms and loved me all the same. I will never forget her kind gesture towards me that day.
Interestingly, as the years went by, and I grew up, I missed my grandma tremendously. I missed her when I graduated from high school and went to college. I missed her being present at my wedding. I missed being able to tell her about being pregnant and sharing the joy of each of our four children born into our family. I missed being able to tell her about my children, as they grew up. I missed her every single Christmas, and when December 20th arrived, I’d think of her and miss her even more. I drove past her house and around her block, where she had lived, many times. I’d also visit her gravesite and those of her husband, sister, parents, and other relatives. As time went by, I’d also be at the cemetery where she was buried, for the burial of other relatives - my other grandparents, my aunts, a great aunt, and others, and I’d always stop at her grave afterwards, even if I had to search and look for her gravestone, under the snow.
After missing my beloved grandmother terribly for over 43 years, I went to a six-week class on grief and realized that she was the primary, loving parental figure in my life. Then, I understood why she meant so much to me and why I experienced such a deep, ongoing loss, for all of those years. I was finally able to grieve her death fully and appreciate her for who she was and what she meant to me and still means to me. Since I believe that love never ends, I believe her spirit of love lives on, not just in heaven, and not just within my heart, but I believe I can sense her presence of spirit with me - when I picture her sitting with me or walking or talking with me; especially, at times when I need her loving presence, even just briefly.
In time, I have learned to celebrate her life and be grateful for her. I smile when I think of her, and yet, there are still those moments of sadness, when I miss her being here, in the flesh. Each year, just before Christmas, I set the gifts she gave me, the ones I still have, under my Christmas tree. It’s a way for me to remember her and to remember her love for me, and to celebrate her life and how she touched mine and made such an impact on me and my faith, as well. I set out my favorite stuffed animal, a monkey named Chippy, with brown fur and a plastic face, hands, and white tennis shoes. My sister and I each received a monkey for Christmas from Grandma, with slightly different colored fur. When my sister thought it was hers, we both pulled on him and his plastic hand fell off. She no longer wanted him, but I loved him all the more, and still do, even though my youngest sister played with him while I was at college and he has very little fur now. 

I also set out two coloring books from her – one of fashion hats and one of RinTinTin. Then, I set out a G.I. Joe doll that has always seemed strange to me, because he wasn’t as much fun to play with as my Barbie dolls. I also set the beautiful pink and white, crocheted pin cushion doily with the piece of cardboard, on which Grandma had written my name and the year, in her own handwriting – her last note to me, tenderly under my Christmas tree. 

Lastly, I set out a black and white photo taken of my Grandma and me, the summer before she died, standing in front of our family station wagon, just before we drove back home. We have our arms around each other and I can see she’s hugging me, as always, with genuine love for me, as I look at the indentation of her hand against my sweater. I know my grandma loved me!!

Last year, as I continued my new tradition of remembering and celebrating my grandma’s life, I sat, looking at the monkey, the coloring books, the G.I. Joe doll, the pin-cushion, as well as, at our picture together, sitting under our Christmas tree, and thought of her. And, then, for the first time ever, I had a new sense and appreciation for my G.I. Joe doll! I realized what it had probably meant to my grandma!! She had been a widow for several years, having lost her husband, father, and sister in one year, when her only son went overseas, during WWII, and she did not know if he would come back alive or wounded, or at all. I had a new respect and understanding of my grandma that day, and empathized with her possible feelings, of having her son away, in the war, and appreciated her amazing strength and deep and abiding faith that must have helped her get through extremely difficult times. I felt like she had shared a deep and personal part of her life with me. I felt closer to her then, and still do.

This year, I also appreciated again, the “red, Christmas boot” with plastic mistletoe from my grandma
that I set out every year on our piano and the two small, wooden ornaments from my grandma – one of a red cardinal and one of two angels singing.

My grandma’s spirit of love touches me, even to this day. I know her love for me is with me, on this day and always!!

Thank you, Grandma, for your amazing gift of love for me and for sharing your deep faith and tremendous compassion with me and with others. I will always remember and appreciate you and your gift of love for me. I look forward to when I can see you again, on the other side, when I, too, have been transformed from this body of flesh, to the new one that God will give me, at that time. Until then, I love you, Grandma!! (2015-12-20)

Precious Linda, c. 2015

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