Grief and Regret

It was a cloudy, misty day in Portland, typical for November. I sat in a Starbucks on NW 23rd grading papers and avoiding calling you like I promised Dad I would. You had a hard time hearing on the phone and I had a hard time accepting you weren’t going to live forever. I didn’t call.

The next day I learned you had had another stroke. One serious enough to put you in a nursing home. You would no longer be able to speak to me on the phone. You would no longer be yourself.

Sixteen days later you slipped away peacefully in the night to go be with the love of your life.

After ending the call with Dad I sat in my car outside of the gym covered in sweat and sobbing. Filled immediately with grief and regret.

There would never be another chance for me to express all the feelings that now fueled my grief. I regretted that my own selfishness and inability to handle my emotions caused me to miss my opportunity to tell you exactly what having you as my gram meant to my life and who I am as a woman.

I would never get to tell you thank you for all the tuna fish and apple sandwiches, and the way you halved oranges and peeled a little rim around the top so they could be eaten without stickiness. I’m convinced you used grandma magic to do it because I still can’t figure it out. I rarely make tuna and apples sandwiches because they will never taste the same as yours. More grandma magic.

Thank you for coming to pick me up that one time in eighth grade when I got my period and was so sick I had to lay on the floor of the principal’s office. I can’t remember what you said to me that day but I remember times when you were open and honest with me about your experiences with womanhood. I felt so grown up when you would share with me, and you helped me to understand there is no shame in our bodies.

I felt proud the time you told me how strong you thought I was as I cried to you at the kitchen table. When you told me you couldn’t imagine how you would have handled it if your parents had divorced. I was convinced I was a mess. You helped me feel less messy.

Thank you for being an impeccable example of a strong woman. I learned from you that women can work hard and sweat alongside men. That there’s no such thing as “man’s work”. That we can be funny and that our voice is just as valid as anyone else’s. That we have important things to say and we should be heard. That we can be good at math and baking. That we can like sports and be smart. That none of these things are trivialized if we wear lipstick or dresses or care about our appearance.

You were incredibly talented in such a practical way. Your sewing, cooking, gardening, crocheting, quilting were remarkable, but no one would have ever known had they not seen the final products of your talent. Your humility was boundless. I didn’t inherit many of your talents. I wish I had. And I certainly tried. Unbothered by my lack of domestic skill, you would remind me that my talents lie elsewhere, and I work every day to practice being humble. I am only good because of the goodness I come from. Because of the goodness that you were and that you cultivated in our family.

You always encouraged me to do and be my best, like you did all of your children and grandchildren. And the last thing I ever wanted to do was let you down.

I knew from an early age that going to college wasn’t optional for me. You spoke often of your only regret, not being able to finish college. I went for you as much as I went for me.

I’ve done a great deal in life because of your influence. I continue to draw from it.

Mostly I draw from your kindness. You were the kindest. It poured out of you and touched everyone in your life. It translated into overwhelming generosity and gratitude that you shared without limit or second thought. If you had, you gave and you gave without expectation. You radiated kindness in a way that could not go unnoticed. And it didn’t.

At your funeral, I lost count of how many people held my hand and simply said, “she was so kind”. And that is all I aspire to. From that day on my greatest life goal has been simple: live my life in such a way that when it is over people mourn the loss of my kindness. To live my life in such a way that is a reflection of you.

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