Recently, my husband and I took our 5 month old to Oklahoma to meet his great-grandmothers, aunt, uncle, and a myriad of other family members. I was super nervous about flying with him, but he’s a rock star and is the poster baby for flying with babies, if that poster shows smiles, sleeping and crazy fun plastic cups. He was a champ.
Being an Alaska baby, he’s never encountered heat like we experienced while there. One day, the car’s thermometer read 117. As it turns out, he’s not a fan of being hot. On the flip side, he adores swimming and is a total water baby.
I was overly excited to have him meet my sister, whom he loves. He didn’t even spit up on her! He also met my cousins, my aunts and uncle (one aunt is unmarried, this isn’t some sort of Big Love arrangement or anything). He proved himself a Mama’s boy by wanting me a lot, but I’m okay with that. I love my snugly boy.
I’ve always been incredibly close with my Grams, my dad’s mom. She taught me how to bake, which y’all know I cherish and love to do. We’ve always shared a love of books, and traded and chatted about them frequently. When I was waiting to learn the gender of my baby, she kept saying how sweet little boys are. With my dad’s death just four months before our baby’s gender was revealed, I knew she was hoping for a great-grandson. She adored my sister, cousins and myself– her four granddaughters. That was no secret. I knew regardless of the gender, she’d love this baby, too. But boy was she excited to hear that my baby was a boy. He is, after all, the first boy on my side of the family in 50 years. So to say I had been looking forward to her meeting my little bear would be an understatement.
After battling ovarian cancer for two years, I knew she would look different. On the Thursday we arrived, Independence Day, she met my sweet little boy. She pinched his fat little legs, a family joke, and he held onto her now bony finger. Despite being warned in advance, I was unprepared to see her so frail. I set little bear on her lap, but she couldn’t hold him herself.
Two day later, she was in the hospital. J cautioned me to say everything I needed to say, but I still held out hope that she would recover. I followed his advice, going to the hospital and chatting about little bear’s swimming adventures, the heat, and other meaningless things while her eyelids grew heavy with fatigue. She fell asleep while my sister was in with her. I returned to her room, held her hand, and cried while telling her how much I love and treasure her, and our relationship. J and little bear were waiting for me in the hall, and I was so thankful for their hugs when I emerged, tear-stained and stuffy nosed.
Our flight was scheduled for the following evening. On Sunday morning, we were informed she had passed away. Delta waived the change fee for our flights, charging us only the difference between the tickets.
In the past two years, my heart has broken three times. Once when my dad died, once when Charlie died, and again when Grams died. She didn’t want any speeches at her funeral, so this is what I didn’t get to say:
Grams was the type of person who would say life is too short, so eat dessert first. Of course, she’d only say that because she loved chocolate so much. We shared a sweet tooth, a love for baking, and an unstoppable fondness for books. I believe I get my depth of heart from her– she loved so deeply. She loved spending time with her granddaughters, family dinners, white Christmases and football. She loved all her babies, grand-babies and great-grand-babies.
She was, by far, the most considerate person I’ve met. We spoke several times a week, we emailed equally as often. She bragged about her roses, we joked about everything. At the end of my pregnancy, just a week before my due date, I got the worst cold of my life. Every cough and sneeze was agony. All I could do was lay on the couch, read and watch movies. Every single day, my phone rang with her on the other end. She didn’t ask that oh so annoying question of, “is there a baby yet?” She simply wanted to check in on me. At my wedding, when some guests made a mess, she helped clean it up before I even saw it. Her actions were dictated not by societal standards, but by her heart.
Before you go thinking she was a saint, you should know she always spoke her mind. She was a sailor’s wife and if she didn’t like something or thought something wasn’t right, she’d let you know in colorful terms. She was riotously funny, tactful, caring, and a little bit of everything that is good.
I know she’s in heaven, enjoying the company and delighting in the calorie-free food. But I also know she’ll never be truly gone. She lives in me, my sister, my cousins, my uncle, my son and his cousin. Every cupcake and pie I make will have some of her advice and knowledge in it. Every Christmastime snowflake that gently lands will be reminiscent of her. Every miracle touchdown will echo with her cheers.
Grams will forever live on in the loves she left behind. I, for one, intend to live life as she did: with love, joy, chocolate and honesty.