A Life Well Lived

10:14 AM

Today marks a year since my grandma passed away.

I think getting through Christmas was the biggest emotional hurdle to pass. Today feels solemn and heavy, but Christmas was the worst.  I had taken a Christmas sweatshirt from her closet, which ended up being a shirt that I would actually wear (it had adorable kittens on it).  It hung in my closet all year, and as Christmas grew closer, I almost couldn't make myself put it on.  If I wore it, it was no longer hers.  It would no longer smell like her house.  I kept delaying it, and finally, on Christmas day, I slipped it on.  It fit like it was made just for me.  Any fears I had were gone, and I knew that I could make it through the final holiday of the year.

The night that she passed, I was trying to sleep, but was having trouble picturing her face for some reason.  I had chosen not to go to the hospital, because I wanted my memories of her to be when she was still herself.  I lay in bed that night, struggling to envision her.  At some point, I was no longer awake, yet not quite asleep.  My eyes were closed, and my grandma's face began flashing in my mind, from different angles, and she was smiling and laughing.  I realized that I too was smiling, and my entire body felt warm from the inside out. I went to sleep at peace. My first sign.

The next day, we took our dogs for a walk, but decided to go a different way than usual. We reached the top of the hill, and the first flower I saw was a bearded iris - my grandma had these all around her house and was always digging them up to share with me.  As we continued walking, a bright red cardinal began following us.  It would pause on trees, watching us walk, moving along as we did.  It's rumored that cardinals are symbolic of deceased loved ones coming to visit us.

 On her first birthday following her passing, a female cardinal crashed into my bay window.  It hit the ground, stunned, and didn't move.  I went to check on it, and decided to sit with her until she flew away.  We sat in my backyard for what seemed like an eternity, her dark eyes watching me intently.  I talked to her quietly, reassuring her, and waited while her breathing calmed.  After a few stretches of her wings, she flew away. Another sign.

On a particularly difficult day, when I cried and wished that she was still here, I stepped outside to see my daffodils had opened their blooms that day.  She was an avid gardener and loved beautiful flowers, which she always shared with me.  Another sign.

The day of her funeral was incredibly difficult. She had selected a beautiful casket, a pearlescent pinkish purple.  The words spoken over her were beautiful as well, the phrase echoing "a life well lived."  And that she did.

Grandma (right) and her friend Marilyn

After graduating college, she moved to Chicago, got an apartment with two girls, and worked as a flight attendant for Delta airlines. It was there that she met my grandpa.

Grandma and Grandpa leaving their wedding

 They lived there a while before moving back to her hometown, building a home and started a family.  She raised four children, cared for her parents and in-laws, and eventually became a grandmother.  She always had a calendar on her wall, which she treated more like a diary, documenting her daily tasks (as well as those of everyone around her).  She documented our lives, in words and pictures, giving us our past through her eyes. I found those calendars stashed away in a closet, and I was able to get the calendars from the first year of my life.  I got to see what time they went to the hospital to wait for me to be born, when I got checkups, my first tooth, my first words, when I walked.  I flashed back to nights spent with her, tucked into bed and reading a book. Waking up to the smell of coffee brewing and sausage frying in a cast iron skillet.  Homemade birthday cakes.  After school snacks of my favorite things.  Grocery shopping, always on Friday.  Milkshakes stirred together in a glass; learning to sew or crochet.  Waiting anxiously for chicks to hatch and puppies to be born. Vacations to Chicago and the beach. Warm hugs and I love you's.  We were well fed and well loved.
Me with Grandma and her flight attendant friends, Marilyn and Lois. Chicago.

We were always baking something

Me with her puppies Buddy and Jim 

There were always chickens

Our creativity was never discouraged. Nor our supplies (Crown Royal bag to hold my treasures)

At her funeral, I had several unrelated people tell me the exact same thing she had said to them, things that only my heart needed to hear, and I know that these were all gifts from her. Afterwards, we all gathered at her house to eat.  Grandma always sat at the same spot at their kitchen table, and so when it was time to sit down, everyone was avoiding her seat. I decided to take it, being the oldest grandchild.  I think it was my way of letting her know that I would take her role, of being the gatherer and feeder of the family.  She always left out her magazines so I could copy down my favorite recipes, and taught me how to make her yeast rolls, which we have at every holiday. She passed those traditions to me over the years, encouraging me to create.
Her cookie jar with the cookies she always made for Grandpa

Thankfully, time heals all wounds.  While I can feel the void of losing her every day, the sharpness of that pain is slowly lessening.  What first came as sudden hot tears, now comes as a deep ache in my heart. There are plenty of days that I wish I could go see her.  I want to start sewing again and I need her help.  I want to show her the pictures of all my backyard birds.  I could really use one of her hugs.  I'm honored to be similar to her in so many ways.  I think what makes good grandparents so wonderful is that they are your stability.  They fill the roles you need at whatever time you need them - parent, grandparent, friend, confidant, cohort.  They help raise you,  they feed you cake when you should be eating dinner, they bestow upon you all their wisdom and life experiences.  And sometimes they let you watch horror movies at five years old that scar you for life.  Nobody's perfect :)

Oh, and this iris? It opened today. Love you Grandma.

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