I miss my grandmas. To be honest, it surprises me how much I can still miss them five years later. I knew my life wouldn’t be the same without them, but I never knew it would feel like this.
I was a lucky girl. Both of my grandmothers lived long lives and I had them in my life until I was 30. They died within a year of each other. I had the honor of reading each of their eulogies that year and as I stood in front of their churches, sharing stories of their lives, I remember thinking, “How can I be so sad about someone who lived such a long life?” I had lost my dad, a best friend, and a dear childhood friend, but never a grandma. I didn’t understand at the time just how much they were each a part of me.
My grandmothers were incredible women. They both grew up during the Depression. One grew up without a mother, but would go on to become a wonderful mother herself. She lost her husband unexpectedly, with two of her three children still school-age. She would later lose a son, my dad. She was a woman who had the perseverance to never call in sick in 25 years at her job. She had a kitchen table that was a gathering spot for countless friends. The coffee was always on and she was always ready to listen. She made the best pies and she loved to make mints for every event in town. She forced you to eat the moment you walked in her door, the way most grandmas do. She wasn’t one to take no for an answer. My cousins and I still joke about her determination to make every gift “fair”, as Christmas gifts consisted of the same exact thing for all five of us, only varying by color. Looking back on it, maybe it’s because she knew exactly how unfair life would be in every other aspect of our lives. She stayed up late watching the Grand Ole Opry, but would let me and my cousins interrupt it for Unsolved Mysteries.
My other grandma helped her family run their business before graduating from high school. Before she married my grandpa, she joined the war effort by moving across the country to build planes. She was as beautiful as a Hollywood starlet. She raised four kids on a farm that she poured her life into. She survived a horrific car accident in the 60's caused by a drunk driver, resulting in pain she would endure for the rest of her life. She was married to my grandpa for 65 years, taking care of him for several years after his stroke. She drove six hours across the state to come to my programs and birthdays and all the things in between during those decades. She had a way of making the most ordinary things feel so special, like putting peanut butter on crackers before sitting down with me for a game of cards.
These two women were very different, yet in some ways, they weren’t. They weren’t afraid of hard work. They worked hard, and I mean really hard, to provide for their families. They valued education, making it a priority at a time when it wasn’t for young women their age. They loved their families in a way words could never seem to describe, in a way that could only be felt – and in a way that is still felt through the generations. They volunteered their time for countless causes, not because they had extra time to give, but because they loved their communities and the people they shared them with. These women were love and strength and perseveran
I miss them. I miss the way they loved me like only a grandma can, which is one of the best, truest loves. I miss their hilarious subtle comments. I miss their opinions on the small things and the big things - when you’ve lived in this world for over 85 years, you have a lot of life experience to contribute to conversation. I miss the way their fridges were stocked with all my favorite things when I would come for a visit and the way they baked my favorite things. I miss sitting with them, watching their favorite TV show or “program” as they called it. I miss the smell of their perfume and the sound of their voices when they heard it was me on the other line. I miss her when I see the Minnesota Twins play and think about the way she always talked about her “ball games”. I miss hearing stories about my parents, from the women who knew them first.
A few days before my wedding, I came across a picture of me with my dad and my grandparents. I had never seen it before. It took me by surprise, as every person in the photo with me was now in heaven. I stared at this photo, tears falling down. This was my second wedding. There were so many emotions this go-round and so many people no longer here in my life, yet, this picture showed me they were here somehow, to
Sometimes I still feel them here. I see her in the sweet elderly lady at the grocery store in the spice aisle who asks me for help finding the sage. I feel her when I smell her perfume in a store, scanning the room for her because I can’t help it. I feel her when my baby’s chubby fist reaches for my diamond necklace, which was once her wedding ring. He has a middle name to honor her and I like to think that she knows that. I hear her laughter when her family is all gathered under one roof. I hear her say, “Oh you girls!” as my cousins and I laugh to the point of tears, in a way only cousins do. I feel her when I use my pink tool set that she gave me for my last Christmas with her, a perfect gift to remind someone you'll always be there.
Here is some of the best life advice I can offer – spend time with your grandparents. Go love your grandparents and don’t wait. Ask your grandma how she met your grandpa. Stand next to her in the kitchen as she bakes your favorite things. Help her go grocery shopping. Go to the craft bazaars and the church functions. Sit on a porch and drink a beer with your grandpa. Pick them up and take them to their favorite places. Take pictures with them – even when they don’t want to be in the picture. Look at the pictures of them when they were your age and listen to the way they tell you about them. Listen to them when they give you advice – and I mean really listen – the way they always did for you. Hold her hand at the nursing home or bring him a special treat to his assisted living. Spend as much time with them as you can, as often as you can. Someday there won't be any more memories to make.