Saying Goodbye to Gramma

5 Mar

I’m very lucky – I’ve only ever really been close to three people who have died. I think they all deserve to be written about, but I want to start with Gramma. And yes, that’s the way she wanted it spelled.

My paternal grandmother was a pretty cool lady. Obviously, I didn’t know her in her younger years, but from what I’ve heard she was always rather impressive.

When I was little, under the age of ten or so, I spent a lot of time with her and my grandpa. We ate fondue and watched Little Rascals and The Sound of Music while eating pistachio ice cream after my brother went to bed (every single time, it was one of those two movies) and fed the fish in the backyard.

As I got older, she got frailer. I stopped staying over. Instead, she and Grandpa would drive to our house and take my brothers and I to Denny’s. Gramma always ordered “Moons Over My Hammy.” Every time. We kids hated the smell of smoke but loved riding in the convertible and getting to order dessert.

In middle school, I spent a weekend with Gramma and my aunt. We wrote a moderately disrespectful alliterative paragraph about the “poor, pious, Polish, pope, John Paul.”

(I found it in my email! Here it is.)


The Polish pontiff is praised as he passes the Papal palace in the Popemobile as part of a procession.  The paparazzi place plates of pizza, pickles, pasta (with pesto and parmasan), as well as protein on their palates and prod the public (“The Pope is in peril!”) about the possible, probable, passing of the poor, pious, Polish pope with Parkinsons.  People pontificate as part of the proceedings at the party (they are on the program).  Prior to the possibility of the passing, the populace would pulverize and point out problems with the Pope.  Please, pray for the poor, pious Polish pope, John-Paul the prophet, for his Parkinsons’ is causing him quite a predicament.  He is in peril!  The prospect has come to pass as we poke fun at the pope.  The passing was peaceful and perfect for the popular, poor, pious, Polish pope.

P.S. The people pray for the pope to pass over Purgatory

My first year of college was the first year Gramma ever lived alone. She went straight from high school to marriage to raising children to remarriage, and then had a condo all to herself for the last year of her life, shared only with her cat. She loved it.

Right around my high school graduation, Gramma got a diagnosis of six months. I wrote her a letter after I moved into my dorm, because I knew there was a chance I would never see her again. I told her funny stories and that I hoped this wasn’t morbid, but I wanted a chance to tell her I loved her. She wrote back, saying it wasn’t morbid at all and telling me about what a snooty toddler I was.

She would get a six-month diagnosis two more times. I saw her at Christmas, and then again in August 2010.

My aunt and I drove out to her condo to spend the night. Gramma would die less than two weeks later, but I didn’t know that then, although I wouldn’t have been surprised to hear it.

Gramma was really good at dying. It’s a skill, and I think it’s a lot harder than being good at living. She wasn’t a religious woman, at least not when I knew her, and I don’t think she ever was when she was younger either. She believed that when she died, she would simply cease to exist. She wasn’t scared. She was okay with that. She had her do-not-resucitate form next to the door, and she was completely candid, encouraging me to ask her any questions I had. She was ready to die.

But not in a morbid way. She was happy to have the time she did to spend a little more time with the people she cared about.

I’m so glad I spent that last weekend with her. She would barely eat at that point, and she couldn’t leave the house. But we sat on the patio, looked at pictures, and talked. Gramma used medical marijuana at the very end – being around her high was one of the most memorable experiences of my life – which was really effective at numbing her pain, so she could talk for hours. Plus, she found everything hilarious.

She wouldn’t let us give her a funeral, so her kids talked her into a party. We didn’t have it until May, when people had mostly moved through their grief and were ready to laugh about her memory instead of cry. She told my aunt, who planned the event, that no one was allowed to cry, and that rule was (mostly) followed. The party was in a nice room, with food, a bar, Hawaiian food, a picture slideshow and all her friends. Now, when I think back on the event, I have to remind myself Gramma wasn’t there, because it was just so her.

I dont want to die for a very long time. But when I do, I want to do it like she did. I want to go out laughing, I want to be unafraid, I want people to tell stories that make me sound just a little bit silly. And I want to know, like I hope she did, that until the day every single person who ever met me has passed away too, I will be missed.


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