When I left Wisconsin for Cincinnati in 2009, I, like the “Accidental Tourist,” had to grapple with what to take and what to leave behind. Although ready for an adventure, departing brought some painful decisions. It wasn’t leaving things. OK, leaving the house the boys and I had lived in for 20 years was hard, but more symbolically than realistically. (I
mean, really, it had been well worn under the antics of the teenage males who hung out there. A new house sounded refreshing.) It was more the issue of people, especially leaving my boys, my support network, my Mom who is getting older, and my former Great Grandma in-law. Of these, I worried most about Great Grandma who
turned 95 on June 23rd. Since her 80th birthday, she has struggled with a variety of health problems–all big things. Everytime I saw her and left her, I knew it could be the last time.
After three years of dialysis, three weeks of complications, and a memorable 95th birthday, she decided she’d had a good run and was ready to see what was next. The fact that she left us on Independence Day was a pretty sweet statement for those of us who knew her well.
The Time Traveler
In many ways, she was one of the most progressive people I’ve ever met and one of the most paradoxical. She could be very independent and forward in her thinking but never drove a car. She rarely travelled beyond the home turf, but always knew the latest news both locally and around the world. She was one of the few older people that I never recall hearing comment that the world had gone to hell in a handbag or about longing for the “good old days.” She was sweet and quick to feel another’s pain but amazingly resilient, even down right tough, when it came to standing behind what she believed in. I know other older people who, faced with similar challenges, found it easy to become crusty and a little cynical. Despite plenty of disappointments and hard, hard times, she never lost that sense of playful wonder. She could be surprised. I mean really surprised — like a little kid. And, I loved that about her.
I admired that she was sure enough and content enough with herself to be completely engaged wherever and with whomever she happened to be. She could dish out mischief and laughed hardest at her own foibles.
I will always treasure the little travels she’d make in which she’d take me with her back in time. I don’t recall her ever saying she wanted to go back or that those were better times. But her joy was apparent during those sessions when we’d share some of the peak moments of her life. They weren’t all good times and I appreciated that she painted for me the whole, real picture of her life. Her stories helped me know not only her but relatives I would never meet. She created an understanding of times I will never see.
One of a Kind
Often our calls would begin with me asking what was shakin’. “Not a damned thing,” she’d say but two sentences later we’d be chatting about her cousins’ reunion or a deal on a pretty new thing she got at Saver’s (resale shop) with Anita (her daughter). She might have a few words to share about the latest news both local and global. Inevitably, we would plan ahead my visits to Madison and our get togethers.
A Fitting Exit
Several years ago, she asked me to sing at her funeral. She even had it written in her will. Even given her health, it always seemed a long time away. Many of us speculated on how many lives she worked through over the years. But a lady until the end, she knew when it was time to go.
Hers was a model leave taking. She took her destiny in her hands and spent the last week in a long bon voyage party. We had time enough for being silly and smart–and laughing. And there were spontaneous, tears of surprise. In the midst of all the loving, all of a sudden you’d realize that we had finally come to the end.
Her coffin was white as was the hearse. We wore some black but mostly the colors she would have loved. Her send off brought people together and that helped some who needed comfort beyond her loss. Bernie, Anita, and I inherited her rings and posed with them for posterity before the four winds blew us apart and on our separate ways to California, Richland Center, and Cincinnati.
About 15 years ago, Grandma went with the boys and me in mid-October to pick out pumpkins. There was a big fall moon lighting the way home. “Harvest Moon is my favorite song,” she said. And, we sang it together. Over the years, I’ve had time to think about what I would sing at her service. Since that fall evening, I knew that I’d sing her away to Harvest Moon. Several things happened that made it impossible to sing that specific song at the service, but I returned to her grave about 10pm the night of her funeral and sang it under a big moon. She would have liked that. A lot.
Bon voyage, Grandma. I’m waiting for signs of what’s to come and much more.