Today is my grandma’s 90th birthday. This milestone is bittersweet because while her physical body is still here on Earth, it feels like her soul has been gone for many years. She has dementia, and if I called she most likely wouldn’t even know who I was. The last time we spoke, I was trying to figure out a way to get back home to see her. She said that I had better hurry because she didn’t know how much longer she would be around. I had no idea how true this was – I sort of just assumed that she and my grandpa would always be there (like they always had been). I never took the trip due to life circumstances that were beyond my control. And if I sit in this space for too long, it’s easy to spiral into sadness – for what her life has become and also for the grief those of us who love her feel.
Instead, though, I’ve decided that today I will celebrate all of the wonderful memories that we’ve shared together. I believe that in one form or another, her soul is with mine. We are so much more than our physical bodies, and I have no doubt that she can hear me and see me and knows how much I love her. So we’ll celebrate together – we’ll have a soul party where she is the guest of honor.
When I was 11, we moved to the small South Dakota town where my grandparents lived so my mom could help my grandpa who had been diagnosed with cancer. I had grown up outside of Denver, and I had no idea how to relate to the other kids or fit in at school. Their way of life was completely foreign to me: I knew nothing about farming or small towns. My clothes were different. My experiences were different. I was different. While I did my best to adjust to this new life, it definitely wasn’t easy. And my grandparents’ home became a safe haven for me to retreat to – a place where I always knew that I would be loved unconditionally.
Going to their house every day after school for snacks and a game quickly became the routine. Their house was stocked with more food than I had ever seen: mini pizzas and push-up pops from the Schwan’s man; butterscotch cereal bars, Rice Krispie treats and homemade pie; a candy cupboard that was continually stocked to the brim with chocolate and licorice; and a fridge in the basement that was filled with pop of all kinds.
I would get myself a snack and then the three of us would sit at the kitchen table. After we talked about the day and caught up with each other, my grandma would always ask if I wanted to play a game (which I always did). The games rotated between Rummy, Triominos, and Racko – sometimes Scrabble. My grandpa would usually just watch or would eventually retreat into the livingroom to watch sports on TV. When the game was finished, I would walk back home, do my homework, and get ready for the next day.
We lived there for eight months until my grandpa’s health improved, and being able to spend each day with both of them is something that I will forever hold close to my heart. We moved just a couple of hours away, and so I was able to continue to see them often until I graduated from high school and moved across the country. (I even ran away to their house at 17 when my parents got divorced – it truly was a safe haven for me. I only stayed for the weekend, but it was so nice to know that their door was always open for me.) After moving away, we saw each other much less frequently but our connection remained. The last time I saw them was just after I graduated from college, and my grandpa drove to see me with his head looking sideways due to only being able to see peripherally and my grandma navigating – letting him know if he was about to hit anything. (Seriously!) We stayed in touch regularly by phone after that, and I’m happy to say that my grandpa lived for about 25 years after he was first diagnosed with cancer, which was such a blessing for all of us.
I was looking at my hands the other day and saw my grandma’s hands – the same lines and wrinkles beginning to form. We have shared so much throughout my life – so many memories. And now, I love knowing that each time I held her hand, a piece of her stayed with me. And each time I look at my hand, I see hers holding mine still. We are together – not in this physical world, but in a world that is eternal and a world that holds only love. The love that she showed me during our time together is just a blip of the love that we hold for each other. And I’m so grateful for that.
So today, I’m celebrating her life and her infinite love. And Dan and I will play a game of Racko tonight in her honor, too.
I love you, Grandma.
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