Grandma passed away in 2005. It was so sudden, she wasn't even sick. It was so shocking, everyone thought she'd live to be well into her 90's like her mother, or at least out-live Grandpop, who was so ill. It was so heart-wrenching, none of us knew how to go on with our lives without her.
On today, her birthday, I cannot help but think back to 88 years ago this very moment, as my great-grandmother, tired from the pangs of labor, proudly held her new baby girl. I can imagine a wooden-floored, musky scented bedroom in a small house in Maryland. There's a nurse straightening up the room and then leaving quickly to give the parents a few moments to themselves with their newest daughter. I wonder if at that moment the thought crossed their minds about what an incredibly wonderful woman this little baby would grow up to be? Did they realize the impact that this little girl would have on the world? All of the lives that she would help bring into it, all of the people she would touch, and the values she would instill so many young people? They probably didn't know it at the time, but they probably know now better than I do, as they watch down from heaven.
Grandma was without a doubt, the most unselfish person I have ever known. During her life, she never did one thing for herself. Even if she was going shopping, it was for a special occasion such as a grandchild's wedding, a baptism, a church function. She knew all 26 of her grandchildren's birthdays, and would recite them to herself each night as she fell asleep. In addition to this, she knew the great-grandchildren's birthdays, and all of her nieces/nephews birthdays. Anniversaries were the same. There was always a card waiting in the mailbox from Grandma if you had a birthday. She spent every waking moment caring about how you were.
Grandma's last words whenever anyone would visit her at her house were always: "Come back and see me!" She adored visitors. What was a monotonous phrase at the time that I thought little about, I would now do anything to hear again.
Grandma had the most amazing house. It was beautiful. Everything was always clean, smelled nice, and decorated for the season. My mind is full of wonderful memories of playing with my cousins in the backyard, sipping iced tea with my aunts in the gazebo, and walking around the orchard with Grandpop. I would give anything to go back to those days. The days of the cousins getting sent to the basement to play...which always turned out to be a game of hide-and-seek in the dark. I want to smell whatever she's cooking in the kitchen. Hear the sound of her telephone. Smell those boxwood bushes. Taste the innocence of our youth.
Grandma was my godmother. She was also my Confirmation sponsor. She was a convert to the Catholic faith after she married Grandpop. She instilled the most important values into me.
When Grandma was 69, she lost her youngest son. I remember it being my 8th birthday and everyone was crying. My mom told me that I couldn't have a birthday party anymore, and that Uncle Mark had died. I didn't believe her because only old people died. But I believed her when I saw Grandma that day. She was sitting in her pink chair in the family room. Her hair and nails were neatly done. She did not say a word to anyone. She sat in her chair as straight as could be, and her eyes were staring blankly ahead. From that moment forward, I understood what it meant to have a piece of you die. Grandma was never the same after that. And because of that, no one was.
For Grandma's 83rd birthday, I flew home for the weekend and surprised her with flowers. She was so happy with the Autumn bouquet that had showed up at her door with grandchild #20 behind them. I remember her smiling so wide and immediately placing them on the coffee table in the family room. I made my visit quick I remember, I had errands to run. As I was leaving, Grandma got a phone call from one of my aunts, who was calling to wish her a happy birthday. As I shut the door behind me, I could hear Grandma bragging about the reds and oranges in her new arrangement. That's when I heard her proudly proclaim,
"Emily will never forget me!"
Those were the last words that I ever heard her speak.
And never have truer words been spoken.