My grandma was hilarious. She was feisty, quick-witted, selfless, and slightly vulgar. She passed away on Pentecost Sunday last year and I miss her all the time. How great it would have been for my kids to get to know and love her as I did.
Her real name was Marguerite but she hated it, so instead she went by Rita; I called her Margaret or Gram most of my life. She helped raise me by keeping me during the day while my parents went to work. We were always really close; she moved in with us once my sister was born. We would talk all the time, while she was driving me to school and picking me up, over breakfast, whenever I needed her. Her fiery passion for life was exhibited most in how she loved us, her granddaughters.
It’s funny how you remember random little things about a person after they are gone. I can see her sitting at the dinner table in her usual spot; I can imagine the soft fragile hands and the perfect smile and the quick laugh. At less than 5 feet tall, we always teased her for being “vertically challenged”. I remember how she always was making sure we were fed (like all grandmothers are charged with), and she was quite particular about a lot of things. She always put on a little makeup, and her hygiene was impeccable. When she passed away at 97, she had all of her teeth.
Margaret loved hummingbirds; her bedroom at our old house had little tokens everywhere. She really appreciated all beauty, especially in nature. Later in life she would sit at her spot in the breakfast area and look out at the deer and squirrels. She was so supportive of my sister’s and I talents in the arts: mine in music, and my sister’s in painting and choir. As I grew older, she continued to be supportive of me, this time as a new mother nervously navigating the waters as I tried breastfeeding and other challenges.
I can still see her handwriting in my mind, perfect beautiful cursive. It hurt to see that handwriting slowly deteriorate over the years. She always signed her cards “Love, Gram.”
When I am really missing her, I pull out one of her old recipes – crepes, vegetable beef soup, other comfort food. Cooking these things, smelling those smells and sharing homemade flavors, is like therapy for me.
I feel like I do not know where to start when it comes to teaching my children about grief; I am blessed in that I have not had to say goodbye to very many people in my life whom I was close to. And in Margaret’s case, I said goodbye gradually, over time, as dementia slowly but steadily dragged her away from us. In some ways it feels like I lost her long before she passed away. Selfishly, that made it easier for me to grieve her after she had died. But anybody who has lost a loved one with Alzheimer’s or dementia knows how heartbreaking it can be.
Margaret did get to know Kiddo quite well, even though her dementia had started before he was born. She was still in the phase where she realized she was becoming forgetful, and other than occasionally getting agitated or frustrated with herself, she remembered us. She always spoke kindly to him, and she loved watching him. She was amazed at how quickly he was growing, and how much he could do and say!
The last time I saw her, I went to visit her in the care center where we had recently moved her. I went alone. We had visited her there once or twice before, and I think the place and some of the other residents scared my son a little bit.
I remember her and her room very clearly: she was in bed, propped up. She was always cold so I got her an extra blanket, and I wanted to do something kind for her so I was rubbing lotion into her stiff swollen hands. I had recently found out that I was pregnant again, but I was very scared that the pregnancy would be ectopic. At this point, I know that she did not remember me although I did seem familiar to her. Perhaps it made me open up to her even more, confessing my fears about this baby, in the hopes that I would say something magic and I would see that light behind her eyes again.
Kiddo was too young to remember her, but I wonder what I will say when he asks who the woman in the photos is. The quick answer is that she is his great-grandmother. But that fails to teach him about all of the endearing things that I miss so much.
My daughter was not born until well after Margaret had passed away, but she will carry her with her always. My daughter’s middle name is Koehnle, Margaret’s maiden name. Sometimes my baby’s expression or laugh will remind me of Margaret, and I feel a little pang in my heart. But then I remember that I have a lifetime to teach her and her brother about their feisty great-grandmother, and I take comfort knowing that Margaret will never truly leave us.
I miss you lady, and love you always.