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Tuesday, January 12, 2010

In rememberance: My Grams

Evelyn, Jennifer, Marianne, Valerie 2004

I lost my Grams this week. (Tuesday) I had been waiting to post about it until I was sure the entire family was notified.

Since Grams heard the news of her brain cancer just two months ago she wanted to fight it. Despite the cancer's aggressive nature she was able to to live relatively symptom free, up until last week. Which was also about the time she decided she was ready to enter into her rest. It was just like her to make such a determined decision and have it happen quickly after that. God, in His mercy, allowed her to pass away with relative speed. I was relieved that she did not suffer long.

I cherish the time I was able to spend with Grams at Thanksgiving. I enjoyed an afternoon, after most of the family had left for home, to sit on the porch swing with her and talk with a few of my aunts and uncles. She was her usual tangy-sweet self. Full of wit, humor, and tenderness.

I rejoice that Grams enjoyed 85 years of strength and vibrancy, retaining her mental capacities until the end. Never was she bedridden. Never was she unable to do the things she enjoyed so much.

I've pondered over her life much this week. I recalled her great love for my Grandfather, Giovanni (everyone called him John), and how it burned strong long after his death. He died a year before I was born. My grams never remarried. She had had the best there ever was- all you had to do was ask her.

Some years ago, when Grams came to AZ for a visit, I asked her if she remembered my grandfather as a young man or an old man. She began to cry saying she remembered him as a dying man; the stinging pain of her loss still so fresh after all those years. Of course that started everyone at the dinner table crying (and made me feel like a complete idiot for asking such a thing.)

I'm glad to know that she has been reunited with my grandfather and that they are both enjoying the presence of Christ today.

My Grams once told me she would have kept right on having kids after the seven she and grandpa had already had. She had wanted twelve, she said. I was very surprised to hear such a thing. But, oh yes, she assured me it was true.

Grams told me whenever the kids would complain to her that they had too many brothers and sisters she would respond by asking, "Oh really? Then which one would you prefer I get rid if, huh? Should I get rid of Jeanne, or how about Paul? Wait, should I get rid of you?"

I laughed now think how when her children and their children gathered from near and far around the turkey this year you couldn't hear above the ruckus. Who would they have preferred to eliminate, indeed.

After my parents divorced, my mother, sister, and myself went to live with Grams. We spent a few years there. I have many memories of leaning up against her side watching Murder She Wrote, Wheel of Fortune and old time black and white movies. I remember her eating chocolate kisses and laughing that she was a chocoholic.

A few years ago, upon discussing one of Grams habits, my sis and I decided there was sheer wisdom in it. Grams was a fiery red head in her youth and continued to wear the same color lipstick which must have made her look like a bombshell to my grandad during the days they were dating. We determined that she really knew what she was doing with her ritual of never leaving the house without a layer of her favorite orangeish-pink lipstick. The rest of us could be falling apart but, somehow, with a layer of lipstick a we just felt better. (And, being fair like Grams, it really does improve our coloring.)

In all the old pictures Grams is such a beauty. Her wedding photo is my absolute favorite. She's so glamorous- like a real movie star. She wears a veil on the back of her heas with long red curls flowing out around it. Her satin gown is simple and beautiful with a sweetheart neck and long sleeves. A small prayer book with streamers and flowers is in her hands. Her handsome groom looks like Clark Gable with a more Roman nose. I used to study that picture often as it sat on the chest near the foot of the stairs; the same chest that would hold her Nativity scene during the holidays; the set she'd threaten me within an inch of my life if I dared to touch. "Heads will roll," was the warning.

When I was a girl Grams began setting off on adventures. She traveled all over the world. She went to Kenya, India, Israel to name a few. There is even a picture of her with Mother Theresa.

Whenever she came home she would tell me about her trips and encourage me not to get married too soon, to travel the world first.

When I called her at the tender age of 19 to tell her I was engaged to be married I was sure to inform her, "Now I can travel the world with my best friend, Grams!" As if somehow she would forget about how young I was.

I am humbled at how the Lord has taken me and Dustin on our own global adventures. I never could have dreamed up a better life. Grams was pleased too. She told me so at Thanksgiving.

My husband loved to remember the very first conversation he had with my Grams. She had literally just stepped of the plane. She was in town for our wedding and it was the first time she and Dustin had met. And, what was the burning question she just had to ask him face to face? "Are you a pacifist or an activist?"

Dustin knew immediately that there would be a lot hinging on his answer and wished he could respond with, "Which do you want me to be?"

These are just a few of the things which made my grandmother so special to me. I am thankful for the many fond memories I have of her and for the positive ways her presence has shaped my life.

Needless to say I spent a fair amount of time this week with the grievers of the Bible. I looked at Abraham and Issac when they lost Sarah. I studied the words used to express their emotions. I read David's psalms with renewed interest in his expression of grief.

I'm so interested in how God works through loss. What's the meaning of this death stuff anyway? Why do we still need it after Christ has come? What's the purpose in it for us?

I have a very specific memory from my girlhood of looking into Grams' china hutch admiring the various treasures there. I remember I asked her if one day, after she died of course, would she please give me some of the contents of that hutch.

She laughed and laughed at the idea, and at my audacity to ask such a thing.

Oh, out of the mouth of babes. What I wouldn't give now for her to live to be 185! Though I didn't have much opportunity in the last ten years of her life to spend much time with her, the world seems emptier with her passing.

And, yet, how happy I am to have her enter into perfection! Today I know she's resting in the arms of Jesus Christ.

My Grandmother has certainly left a legacy. As I've considered her life I realize how deeply she has touched me; how she helped contribute to my love for justice for the downtrodden, how her spunk carried down through the generations of women she led in our family, how her thoughtfulness created an intellectual family that can often be found discussing loudly (or arguing, whichever you prefer to call it) politics and religion.

As you read this it's likely I've already left for the funeral. It will be held in Kansas City where Grams spent the last years of her life. I'll gather there with all the others she helped shaped and mold into the people they are today. There we'll celebrate her life, and mourn our losses, together.

I can almost hear Grams saying, "Listen, kid, don't cry too much on my account."


Paul and Sydney said...

I am sorry to read about the death of your loved one. I know how special grandmothers can be. I will pray for you and your family as you are grieving her passing.

Sassy Granny ... said...

What a beautiful tribute, Jen! In death, as in life, your grandmother is honored by such precious remembrances.

Fiery redhead, huh? What a legacy!

My deepest condolences,

Stacey said...

Your Grams sounds like an amazing woman. What a blessing to have her in your life! So sorry for you loss but you have the joy of knowing you will see her again one day!

Susan J. Reinhardt said...

Hi Jen -

Your beautiful post made me feel like I met your grandma. It's obvious she made a huge impact on your life and the other members of your family.

May the Lord comfort you with the knowledge the parting is temporary.


Julie said...

What a beautiful, beautiful post my dear friend. I can imagine the sweet reunion she had with Christ and with the other love of her life.

And she's totally right - lipstick makes all the difference!