As a lot of you know by now, my grandma passed away last week. Since then I have been slowly processing that she is no longer here on earth with us. I've been wanting to do a post on her, but frankly it has been too hard until now for me to even put into words what I am feeling. There is still a lot of shock. To me, my grandma had too much fight in her to ever die. She was one of the most real people I have ever known. How can someone so real ever die? She could tell you off in one sentence and then tell you a dirty joke in the next. If she didn't like you, she didn't hide it. If she thought the world of you, she let you know - not caring that other people were in the room. Comments like, "you are my most beautiful granddaughter (not talking about me)" to "your husband is so good looking" (talking about me). She would repeatedly tell Will that if he was only 50 years older, or she was 50 years younger that I would have to fight her for him. When saying goodbye or hello to her, she would ask Will, "Aren't you going to kiss me on the lips?" after Will respectfully kissed her on the cheek. She was extremely smart and had an amazing memory. She had tricks that she used to remember everyone's name and even birthday. She would make a game out of it, and you knew she liked you if she gave you a nickname. Whenever we would visit her, she would greet Lucy by saying, "Loooooooo-Seeeeeee" in a sing-song voice. I will never forget it, and I will remind Lucy of it as she grows bigger and the memories of my grandma begin to fade from her mind.
Speaking of Lucy and my grandma. Lucy always called her "Mama's grandma" instead of great grandma and they had a special bond. My grandma's nursing home was a half mile south of our house, so we got to visit her a lot the last two years. These were special visits, as Lucy would always bring something for my grandma, whether it is a book she wanted to read to her, a picture she drew or a toy she wanted to show her. The three of us would sing songs, and Lucy would cuddle my grandma on her lap in her wheelchair or in her hospital bed. My grandma ate these visits up. She would tell anyone who would listen how Lucy was the smartest girl she has ever known. This would embarrass me sometimes, but I knew it was just my grandma's way of showing how much she loves Lucy. After all, everyone needs someone who believes in them that much. Lucy had a special place in my grandma's heart, as she was her first great-granddaughter. Amazingly, this past year as my grandma began to steadily decline, she became the great-grandma of four more girls - Emma, Kate, Ellen and a baby girl due any day now. When I asked her in her last couple of days what she thought about all these girls she responded with, "Oh Boy!" I just wish my grandma had had the chance to get to know each of them like she got to know Lucy. She did get to meet Emma fortunately, but never got to know her. I told my grandma repeatedly though that Emma has her eyes, and that brings me some comfort to know that my grandma lives on not just in memories but in the physical traits of her family as well. I also think Lucy has inherited some of her spit-fire personality. Maybe that is why my grandma took to Lucy so well - she recognized the likeness.
When we were first dealing with the news of my grandma's passing, Will and I weren't sure to what level we should involve Lucy in the funeral. After talking to several friends and family, we decided that Lucy belonged with her family and needed to be a part of my grandma's goodbye. Lucy was with me, Will and Emma when we said goodbye to my grandma the day before she died and so we decided that it would be important for Lucy to see the next steps involved in my grandma's journey to heaven. Heaven is a regular topic at our house already, what with her big brother being there but Lucy wasn't here when Luke died and was buried, nor for the toughest part of our journey through grief. Will and I struggled to find words to explain to her what was going on. We decided to be as brief as possible in our explanations and let her questions show us what she needed to know. When I got the phone call from my mom that my grandma had passed away, Lucy watched me intently and even brought me a kleenex. After I hung up the phone I explained to Lucy that grandma had gone to heaven and that I miss her so much. Later that day Lucy started running around the house yelling, "Where are you mama's grandma?" and then kept looking out the front door saying, "I can't see her mama, I can't see her." Then she would come to me and tell me, "Heaven is far away mama, we can't see it." At the funeral home Lucy was very curious about my grandma laying out in the casket. She called it "Mama's Grandma's crib" and would tell people to go and kneel in front of it, sometimes leading them by the hand to the kneeler. She even lined up kleenex across the railing of the kneeler so they would be handy when someone needed one. She also kept asking me to touch my grandma and so I would with Lucy watching. The following day, during the funeral mass Lucy kept saying in a sad voice, "Where is mama's grandma? Where is she mama?"
I was especially nervous about the burial at the cemetery. We go there often as a family with Lucy to visit Luke's grave and were very careful to never say that he was actually buried in the ground there, but that instead we were going to spend time with his memory. I knew we would have some explaining to do when she witnessed my grandma's casket being lowered into the ground as my grandparents plots are right next to Luke's grave. She never did ask any questions, but happily skipped around during the burial and tossed flowers onto my grandma's casket once it was lowered into the ground. I stood on Luke's headstone for this part, and it brought me great comfort knowing that my grandma was with Luke in heaven now, and probably already telling everyone else up there that Luke was the smartest boy there.
Grieving while seeing the world through a two year old's eyes has been very interesting. This is uncharted water for me, even though I had thought I was a seasoned veteran at grieving since losing Luke. It is interesting to me that losing someone brings with it it's own unique grieving process and it is like learning a new language each time.
Throughout the goodbyes last week I thoroughly enjoyed the time I got to spend with my aunts, uncles and cousins. Each of them had a different perspective and memories of my grandma and I got to hear stories and learn things I had never heard before. I was in awe as my grandma's immediate family huddled around my grandma while they closed her casket for the last time and we solemnly followed her into the church. It struck me as amazing that a single woman (along with my grandpa who passed away 8 years ago) was responsible for all of us gathered together that day as family - her five children, their spouses, sixteen grandchildren and six great grandchildren. And how the underlying feeling present in the room was love. My aunt and uncle and two cousins sat in front of us in church. My aunt rubbed my uncle's back during the service and my cousin wrapped his arm around his crying little sister. Beside me was my cousin who had gone to work super early that morning so that he could take time off for the funeral and sit next to his mom. Behind me was my aunt, uncle and their four kids and significant others - all sitting together as a solid wall of support. At the very front was my parents, my mom's parents, my aunt and my siblings - all shoulder to shoulder and supporting each other. I am proud of my family and I have to believe that my grandma's love for us is what got us all here today - able to smile through our tears and remember her for who she really was - the perfect blend of sweet and sour as my brother Joe so eloquently put. She was by no means perfect, but we loved her just as she was. She has taught me that to be genuine is one of the greatest traits we can offer, and to not worry about whether or not people will like you. My grandma never asked us to take her as she was, but we did, and I am glad.