I saw my grandmother today – probably for the last time.
I grew up knowing three of my grandparents: Grandma and Tata (mom’s side) and Mommer (dad’s side). My grandfather on my dad’s side passed away when I was very young, so I have no memory of him to speak of.
Mommer was a grand southern lady. She passed away when I was in my early twenties. She was a strong woman and was there for me during the rough times of my parents splitting up during my teens. She was also the source of the most extravagant Christmas gifts I can remember from my childhood.
Among other things, she got me that epic Matchbox Voltron one year. It was, as I stated, epic.
My Polish grandparents went by Grandma and Tata. Tata is a Polish for “father” and myself, my aunts, and cousins all referred to him that way. He was a stern but caring man. My memories of him are split between his often oddball sense of humor and his leather belt when I invariably did something wrong.
He passed away less than ten years ago.
When I dwell on the memories of Grandma, my last remaining grandparent, I have nothing of impressions of love. Mommer was stern, understanding, and southern. Tata was strict, caring, and very Polish.
Grandma, though, was nothing but a being of pure love and caring. I have no memories of her ever being angry. Never mad. Never truly upset. She was just… love. The first time she met Shannon, her first thoughts were that she (Shannon) needed to eat more because she was so thin and immediately started making pierogi and kielbasa. This was authentic stuff – not frozen in the local grocery store. Shannon, being polite, ate it to make Grandma happy even though it wasn’t the type of food she’d normally eat.
Later that night (we were spending the night in their spare room in New Jersey) Shannon snuck into the guest bathroom and, as quietly as she could, threw up the dinner. Her body wasn’t accustomed to pure, honest to God, authentic GREASY kielbasa. She was crying, and I asked her if she was okay.
She told me that she wasn’t crying being she was sick. She was crying because she didn’t want my grandmother to know that she threw up the dinner she had made for her because she was so genuinely excited to make it for us.
That was the impression Grandma gave: love. She wanted you to know you were loved and loved showing it.
I keep transitioning between present and past tense with her because I got a message from my Aunt Donna yesterday that Grandma’s health has taken a dramatic turn for the worse and they are moving her to hospice. I immediately stopped the world and made arrangements to drive down today to see her.
With my mom in tow, I drove south about a hundred miles and saw Grandma in the hospital. She was sleeping soundly, but her breathing was labored and strained. According to my aunt, she went to sleep after some overwhelming health struggles (complicated by a recent stroke) yesterday afternoon and she hasn’t woken up since.
The doctor’s have all agreed that with her failing health, lungs, and other issues she will very, very likely not wake up.
So today I said goodbye to Grandma: my grandparent who survived prison camps in World War II, came to America, and raised five daughters. She was an amazing woman and I told her I loved her and wished her a peaceful rest. I’m proud that I decided to live my life by certain guidelines years ago, and one of the most import was to make sure I tell my older family members how much I love them when I see them. Thus, with peace of mind, I can remember that the last thing I said to my Grandma when she was still speaking were the words “I love you”.
From time to time, Shannon and I would randomly drop in on Grandma at her nursing home in South Florida. One time, less than a year ago, I even took a “selfie” with her for fun. It’s a photo of what is now an even more impactful memory.
I’m not sure how much longer she’s for this world; A day? A week? Who knows. In any case, I’m glad I took the time today to say my goodbyes while she is still with us.
As Mr. Vonnegut would say: so it goes.