My grandma died on March 28. She was almost 92. I got word a few hours before my flight was supposed to leave. Even though I knew it was a possibility, the call still came as a surprise.
Normally, I fall asleep before the plane takes off. This time, I didn’t–couldn’t–sleep a wink. Instead, I watched five movies on my personal video player, ate fists full of jelly beans and wiped tears away with the sleeve of my hoodie.
When I arrived, I was startled to see that the wake was being held in my grandparents’ living room. I was instructed to say “hello” to my grandma who looked beautiful, peaceful and even happy.
The week was filled with visits from family and friends, colleagues and students–people from all walks of life who knew my grandma, loved and appreciated her, and wanted to pay their respects. I heard so many stories about Grandma, some that I knew by heart and others that I’d never heard before.
Grandma wasn’t just a grandmother. She was a mother, a wife, a sister, a friend. She was a principal, a teacher, a choral group leader, a women’s league president, a girl scout leader. She was a sponsor, a donor, a volunteer, a caregiver. She was truly special.
The grief hit(s) in waves. I broke down sobbing three days into my visit. I don’t know how the tears started but once they did, I couldn’t stop.
My mom asked me to write a eulogy, but I couldn’t. I felt like I’d already paid tribute through a biography I wrote for the funeral program, and I knew I would fall apart if I tried to say anything in front of hundreds of people. Mom joked that Grandma expected me to write something, but I knew that wasn’t true. I’d already said all I could.
Grandma and I wrote letters most of my adult life. I’d even written a note to send with Mom when she went a few days ahead of me. I’m sure Grandma knew I loved her up until the end.
A few days before she died, we spoke on the phone. I was told that she was in a bit of pain at that point, and she would often cry because she was so uncomfortable. When she handed the phone back to my Uncle after our quick chat, though, he said Grandma was smiling.
That’s how I’ll always remember my grandma. Smiling. Sweetly, after another dear and heartfelt exchange.