Remember when my super awesome Grandma ran off with my title of “Smallest Dwelling Space in the Family”? In one down-sizing move, she moved into her own assisted living Fun Apartment complete with bingo and a meal plan. Well, she’s been cut down in the prime of her youth. At age 100, she passed away two weeks ago.
So, it is with a heavy heart that I write my second obituary ever. When your grandma is 100, you kind of assume that she must have some key to eternal life, because she keeps still being there. Five or six years ago, I used to get weepy when I said goodbye to her. But recently, her staying power seemed so great that I’d give her a hug and wave “See you at Christmas!” on our way out of town. Ah well.
People, let me tell you: having a 100 year old grandma was awesome. She was spunky, feisty, and utterly devoted to her long-awaited great grandchildren.
And for a good portion of those 100 years, she was remarkably lucid. In recent conversations when I thought perhaps she was confused, inevitably it was I who had lost the plot, not her. To be fair, how could I be expected to remember that my husband got a new job, just because Grandma did?
Another awesome thing about a 100 year old grandma: I got to go to a birthday party at her assisted living facility where there were a lot of guests who weren’t quite sure who they were celebrating. There was a bouquet of 100 roses and a very large cake. And wouldn’t you know it? Grandma, who had had her hair done at a salon that morning, was working the room, thanking everyone for coming and asking if they had enough cake.
But having a 100 year old grandma was also very hard. She became less herself each time I saw her. As her eyesight left, it took her favorite activities with it. She couldn’t read, watch classic movies on tv, or sew. Her vocabulary evaporated rapidly. Conversations with her were more retrograde than linear and she became increasingly confused. Toward the end, she was genuinely suffering in a body that no longer obeyed her and a brain that stopped trying to follow conversations around her.
But at her essence, Grandma was a pretty fantastic lady. She had very high standards. My sister and I saw this in her reactions to the various boyfriends we paraded in front of her. My college boyfriend was met with a sniff. Later she told me “You must think I just fell off the turnip truck.” I’m still not sure what she meant by that, actually. But whatever her meaning, that guy isn’t around anymore, so she must have been right. A boyfriend of my sister’s was very well-received until he mentioned he didn’t want to have any children. After that, he might as well have been an end table for all Grandma regarded him. When I brought the future Mr. Fun Apartment around, she brought out the good china for dinner and told him “We’re putting on the dog!” Grandma knew what she was about.
She was an inveterate letter writer. Wherever I lived, she sent a steady stream of envelopes to my mailbox. These envelopes were often stuffed with things she cut out of her newspaper–comics, articles, whatever struck her fancy. As her eyesight failed, the handwriting got worse and the newspaper clippings began to include panels from several different comics. I began to wonder when she would just post me the whole edition of the Grand Rapids Press inside an envelope and have done with it. But thanks to the strength of her pen, I have stacks and stacks of her letters to read through when I feel lonely for her. I even have most of the clippings.
She could be a very sweet lady, although not to everyone at every moment, especially toward the end. She also had a unrivaled ability to carry grudges long past their sell-by date. Mention her name to my dad, nearly forty years after my parents’ divorce, and he still looks somewhat uncomfortable.
Do you want to know the secret to her long life? Let me tell you: ice cream. I’m pretty sure she ate ice cream every day of her life. She had a bowl every night while she watched old movies on tv. At least, she did until she couldn’t figure out how to work her tv anymore. Then she just ate the ice cream.
(Maybe I’ll just pitch this health conscious, clean-eating business out the window.)
Two things I inherited from Grandma: a love of craft projects–especially secret projects–and her sewing machine. In her later years, she made enough quilts to cover an entire sleeping village. As her eyesight went, though, the quilting fell to my inexperienced hands (quilt count: 4, if you count one that Grandma made and I hand-quilted and passed off as my own to my nephew.) But during her last, title-snatching move, we found a quilt (Dresden Plates, I am reliably informed) she had started, but will never finish. It came to the Fun Apartment, so Grandma and I are still working together on a secret project.
I’m taking my time on it. I don’t really want it to end.