Happy Mothers Day!
I think it’s fitting to share a post about my grandma with you all on the day of the year dedicated to celebrating the wonderful mothers and grandmothers in our lives. I’ve been blessed with such an awesome mom, and am also lucky to have grown up with an amazing grandma, who passed away a little over a week ago.
With my grandma last Christmas
I think that for a lot of people, a grandma is someone they see a few times a year at holidays, get weird gifts from that they’ll never use, and never have real conversations about life with. For me, when my grandma passed away, I lost one of the closest people in the world to me.
My grandma somewhere around 60 years ago, in what we’ve deemed her Austin Powers look
My grandma was such a selfless person. She worried about us before she worried about herself. She’d do anything for the people she loved, almost to a fault. If you happened to mention that you needed a new pair of boots or whatever the case may be, the next day she’d show up at your house with a pair of boots she specifically went shopping for for you.
Christmas Day at her house is one of my favorite annual occasions. It was borderline ridiculous with presents piled all over the living room from her, as she just enjoyed spoiling us.
Anytime any of us would walk into my grandma’s house, her first questions were always, “Are you hungry? Do you want me to fix you something to eat?” She was a quintessential little old Italian cook, always pushing food on you and never taking no for an answer. Everyone knew better than to go to her house with an already full belly.
My grandma was a little kid at heart. She dressed up every Halloween and scared all of us by trick-or-treating at our houses with creepy masks on so that we didn’t recognize her at first. When I was younger, we were having a snowball fight, and she ran in the house with new ball of snow to chuck at one of us, slipped, and hurt her wrist. She was a Peter Pan with an always youthful persona, and when things like that happened, we all shook our heads and laughed at her… because that was just grandma.
My grandma when she was a little girl
My grandma was very politically savvy – a staunch Democrat who loved Bill Clinton without fault. She always had the news blasting in her house while she cooked, milled around doing things, or laid in her bed – always falling asleep and pretending that she had been awake when we walked in the room and woke her up by accident. She looked forward to working the election boards every time, and if I ever had a question about a political happening, she was my go-to source.
My grandparents on their anniversary last year
She had a way of making you feel special. Last year when she was in the hospital battling cancer and pneumonia, with a breathing tube down her throat unable to talk, she would jot down words to communicate with us. One time as I sat by her bedside, she woke up, looked at me, and pointed to the clipboard where she’d write.
She wrote down B-E-A….. and I responded, “Beautiful? What’s beautiful?”
And she pointed at me.
That was just how she was — always quick to compliment you, tell you she was proud of you, let you know that she thought you looked pretty or that she liked your outfit.
My older brother and me with my grandma before a wedding we were in
Speaking of talking, it was my grandma’s favorite thing to do. She was quite the chatty lady, always loving to gossip. During our phone chats, she let me in on all of the family secrets. As my cousin recently put it, she was a confidante that you could tell everything to…as long as you anticipated that everyone in the family would then know, as well as the boy at the local Acme, her mailman and the bank tellers down the street from her.
Getting ready for my wedding
Her other favorite things to do were go out to eat – ‘gallivanting’ as she always put it – and to see shows on Broadway. Every restaurant that I love in my hometown reminds me of her. Growing up, the women in my family would head into NYC to see so many shows, including seeing Annie way too many times because it was my sister’s favorite, and going to Les Miserables a handful of times because we all love it so much.
With my aunt, mom, and grandma in NYC after a Broadway show, circa 2008
She was stubborn and she was a fighter. In the end, cancer took all of her strength until she had almost nothing left to give. The last words my grandma ever spoke to me was over the phone on Easter, ending our conversation by saying “I love you baby.” By the time I flew into New Jersey, she had been intubated because she was too weak to breathe on her own. It was so difficult to not be able to do anything for her. My mom deemed the past few months a “slow motion free fall” in that we all saw her deteriorating and it was all happening so fast, yet there wasn’t much we could do. She was so terrified of dying and she wanted so desperately to live, and I wonder if she knew that she was losing the fight. None of us had the heart to say anything about it, so we just held her hand and told her we loved her those last days.
Celebrating her 74th birthday in 2008
The last gift I got from her was an Easter present: a bear with a scripted phrase starting with, “I love you forever,” chocolate covered almonds, and a magazine about Marilyn Monroe and the loves of her life. I was a Marilyn Monroe fan as a teenager, and have gotten countless Marilyn presents over the years from my grandma. T-shirts, Christmas ornaments, calendars, books… you name it, I have it. My grandma was an extremist, and if you ever were going to tell her that you liked someone or something, you better be sure that you’ll like it for a long time, as she never forgot a detail like that. We always joked that she either drove 30 miles over the speed limit, or 30 miles under it.
With my cousins, grandma, sister, and mom on my wedding day
My heart aches. I feel like I’m missing a piece of my soul. I know that it isn’t just me, that a lot of people in my family that she was close with have a feeling of emptiness without her here in this world with us.
I’m not sure what I believe happens after death, but I like to picture her somewhere beautiful, free and happy, watching over us and reveling in all of the beauty of the world. I just have to believe that her energy somehow lives on. I think that a little bit of her lives inside of everyone in my family, that we carry her with us.
At the rehearsal dinner for my brother’s wedding in 2009
And so gram, thank you for loving me, for all of the memories, all that you’ve done for me and for always being there. I’m going to try to carry on with life — to be excited and get ready to move into my new home this weekend, to love the people in my life like crazy, to keep working hard and pursuing my passions, to live a healthy and happy life — I think that’s what you would have wanted. But all the while, I’ll be missing you each and every day.