This week, I lost the great love of my life.
She was a 90-year old, complicated, opinionated, hilarious, glorious woman. She was my grandmother, Regina Theresa Black.
Her life was one marked like many others, by beauty, tragedy, struggle and triumph. She raised 4 children and idolized 8 grandchildren and 2 great-grandchildren. My Gram was a person who put her faith, family and friends first above all else. Her house was always warm with laughter, full with stories and scattered with nuns.
I had the good fortune to live with my grandmother twice at pivotal moments, for the first few years of my life and post-college as a confused and crazed semi-adult.
My early memories of her bring back visions of bath-time rituals where she would pour a pitcher over my head to avoid getting soap in my eyes (she never did) and seemingly endless supplies of brown-edged wafers, butterscotch candies and perfectly concocted batches of Tang.
Though she ate icecream as her daily calcium supplement, she somehow stayed healthy throughout her life. She lived to shop and her rituals included stops at Bradlees, Boscov’s and the Dollar Store, her holiest of retail shrines.
Everyone was always invited with Gram. She’d host MEGA holidays, especially Thanksgivings where family, friends and strangers would pile around her table, all treated as equals and all invited to whatever she had.
For many weekends in my childhood, my parents would drop my brother and I off at Gram’s house for cherished times spent with cousins, aunts and uncles. I would sob each time we would leave and cling to Gram like I’d never see her again.
Though my parents moved all over the United States throughout my adolescence, bouncing around coasts like an energetic pinball, she and my grandfather (Boompie) would visit our family wherever we went. The sobbing was worse after they’d drive away. I would cry until I looked an unhealthy shade of gray. I always wanted to stay with Gram.
Those tears are an eyedropper’s worth compared to the lake I cried this week. You prepare yourself for death throughout your entire existence but it never ceases to shock, burn and elucidate the bittersweet beast that is life.
I think back on the several months that I lived with Gram after college. She took me in and gave me a home again when I desperately needed love and guidance in my life. Each morning, she’d have a glass of orange juice and vitamins waiting for me (and usually a bowl of Quaker Oats or Raisin Bran, her breakfast staples). We’d watch The Hallmark Channel together (her pick) and chat about any and everything (veering away from politics, of course). Sometimes we’d chat into the wee hours of the morning and she’d give me a hug so wonderful and comforting, it could fix any problems or troubles imaginable.
Reflecting on those times, I wish I’d asked her more or shared more or been more present. What was her childhood like? How did she know that my grandfather was the man for her? What were her pie in the sky dreams when she was my age? I always wanted more of her — more time, more insights.
I can still smell her Jean Nate perfume and the AquaNet she’d coat herself with to keep her expertly sculpted hairdo in place. I can still hear her excited voice from years past announcing someone’s arrival or telling me something she read. She was the greatest roommate and friend a needy and insecure girl in her early 20’s could ask for and I hope she knew how much I appreciated her.
I see so much of Gram in myself. In my smile. The smile that lights up for the people we love. In my eyes. The chameleon-like hue that shows all of our hopes and fears. In my hair. Our dark brown, fickle hair fell the same way. In my hands. The hands that she hated because of their arthritic pains and crooked bones, I cherish. In her devotion to loved ones. She would get emotional when family left in the same way that I did with her and still do with loved ones.
Having her as my grandmother showed me so much about grace and decency. She taught me how to love and how to forgive.
My chest aches when I think that she’ll never meet my future husband or know my children. They’ll never be enveloped in her perfect love that I felt my entire life.
I was truly lucky to experience that love for 30 years. I never doubted it and always relied on it. It was pure and true, the sort of love that is irreplaceable.
I know in my heart that she found her peace. Everything she gave to the people in her life, the care and the knowledge, will continue and evolve.
The biggest lesson I took from Gram was the one I learned this week. Now is my turn to be the giver, to be a Gram to the people I care about. To envelop my family and friends in the kind of love my grandmother gave me. Her legacy will live on through that giving.
Gram, knowing you was a blessing and a gift. Thank you, I love you, and I’ll be seeing you.