Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Walking in her shoes: great-gramma Dot

When I was growing up, one of my brightest constants was my gramma Arden. It was at her house that the cousins gathered to play -- in the attic dressing up in our mothers' old dresses; in our grampa's garden picking freshly grown strawberries and peas, or the wild raspberries and blackberries that grew alongside; playing badminton in the backyard surrounded by lilacs and crab apple trees and grapes; making dolls from wild flowers and toothpicks; swinging high in the tree nearest the garage, always there was a new swing waiting for us when the other one wore down; or running wild through the cemetery across the field. These were some of the happiest days of my childhood.

(This is my cousin Alison in my mom's first wedding dress and me in, well, I'm not quite sure what. But I love the attitude. And look how Ali rocked those pumps!)

I now call my grandmother Great-Gramma Dot, because that's what my son called her when he was three; when we lost her in a way that seemed too sudden and without warning. To say that I was devastated is an understatement. After three years of mourning and months of grief counseling, I'm only now able to talk or write about her without crying. As a writer, one of the best ways I worked through my grief was to continue to write her letters in a journal. See, my gramma and I were best pen pals; with her absence came a loss of confession and redemption. I was able to tell her anything, trust my feelings with her, and know I would receive wisdom and love in return. Continuing to release those feelings to the universe, in my grief journal to my grandmother, was a saving grace for a woman who knows best how to communicate on paper. 

This morning, she was on my mind again, as she is most days. I walk my daughter to preschool because we have the luxury of living basically in its backyard.  Every morning, I slip into my gramma's battered old gardening clogs, say a quick hello to her, and then trek my way across the street and back. After thee years of throwing them on out of laziness for errands or to just run across the street to the school this year, I've plum worn them out.  

The funniest part about these shoes is that if you knew my gramma, you'd know that she probably got these on sale at Price Chopper or Wayne's drugstore, and she most definitely would never wear them anywhere except in her garden. She'd probably even think I was off my rocker for bringing these home with me after we sorted through and settled her home. Of all things. 

Yet, these remind me of the sunny, fun side of my gramma, and not the grief. These make me smile when I slide them on. They remind me of the poem she wrote about the cells of a person that remain behind in your home and on your things. It makes me feel closer to her thinking that maybe, just maybe, there may still be a few cells of hers left in these. Something tangible I can connect to every day. That's what you miss the most when some one's gone. 

The sound of their voice laughing, saying "Colleenie!", or telling a dirty joke. The feel of their arms as they wrap you in for a hug, and then hold on longer than you think, but are grateful they didn't let go first. The slightly powdery and floral smell that makes them unique, though you can never quite recreate it because it didn't come from a bottle. The soft, thin, delicateness of their hands, that you wish you'd held more while you had the chance. 

These shoes are not my gramma; I know that if I let them go, I am not letting her go. But I've loved being able to walk in her shoes, even if for just a little while. That's the greatest gift you can give back to someone, to live in the grace of the wisdom that they've taught you. I don't succeed everyday, but I'm trying. When these shoes run out, the bigger shoes -- the life lessons, the morals, the love -- will live on for me to walk in, to share, and to hold dearest of all. 


  1. This post of yours reduced me to tears...

    I think your gramma means a lot to you just as my gramps means a lot to me.

    There are many funny things I remember about him...like how he always gave me coffee when I was a kid because I liked it...and then when Mom came home and smelled coffee on my breath, gramps would deny, deny, deny. We conspired together. He was so awesome.

    He also used to make me peanut butter toast every afternoon while I watched sesame street with him...fond memories, they are.

    It's been a little over a decade since I lost him but I don't think I've ever really been able to process my loss because, you see, grampa and Mom raised me. My Dad was never family oriented...while he was around, he just didn't have that kind of character because he was raised differently.

    I learned family values from both my Mom and Grampa...and a great part of who I am today is because of their influence.

    After gramps died, it was incredibly hard going back to the old house...I remember walking into his bedroom. It was empty and my heart sank.

    The first thing I did was open his closet. His clothes hung neatly and they smelled like him. I buried my head inside and took a deep breath and cried. That was all that was left of him.

    I sat on his bed, where his body had made an imprint on the old foam mattress and I ran my hand upon it, somehow trying to find comfort...and I found none.

    After that, I headed over to the cemetery to visit him and I kept crying. All my relatives thought I was crazy but I don't think they really understand the gravity and impact his passing had on me.

    My grandpa has at least 50+ grand kids and the only 2 he took care of were me and my brother. He was the king of the household and yet when it came to us, he changed our diapers, bottle fed us and took us to kindergarten. Everyone says he loved us the most...

    At the time of his passing, I was the youngest grandchild and I could not travel to attend his funeral because I had exams. It was extremely difficult.

    And I think the most painful part for me was that he died because of a brain aneurysm...and I think it was painful...and I didn't even get the chance to say a proper goodbye to the man who raised me since birth until I was 14.

    But his memory will always remain in my heart, no matter what.

    1. Oh, Dylan. I can totally relate. And I am so sorry for the loss of him. But he is the amazing part of you that is a warrior and kind and funny. It's a cliche, but he does live on in you. Thank you for the courage to share your own story.

      When I got back from my gramma's funeral and the week we spent clearing out her house and getting it on the market (that's another story) I opened her suitcase that was still at my house (she died when she was down here visiting). I pulled out her sweater and I just inhaled her. Wrapped it around my face and felt the first comfort I had since she went into the hospital.

      A smell can bring you closer to a person than almost anything. It's a punch-you-in-the-gut-and-make-you-remember kind of sensation. I slept with that sweater for more than a week: I cried on it, inhaled its linger scent, and remembered my amazing gramma. Until the scent was gone--which just made me extremely sad, lonely, and angry that I couldn't smell her any more.

      I wish something could still hold a smell after three years. It's like getting a hug from them again. When the smell left the sweater, it felt like she had truly, fully slipped away and I just hadn't been ready for that.

      I think the counseling helped me let me walk through the grief finally and let go of some of the anger and helplessness I felt over losing her. But there is still not a single day that goes by that she is not on my mind or in my heart or in my actions.

      I guess all I can do now is be grateful beyond belief that she was in my life and that I got all those years with her in the first place. I wouldn't trade them for anything in the world.