I regularly would make the drive from WI to Chicago to have dinner with my Grandmother during my Senior year of college- the year I got my drivers license. I'd finish my last class of the day then make the exciting trip thru Chicagos notorious traffic to arrive just in time to go up to the dining room with her. She often would ask me about having children and she would glow when talking about her friends Great-grandchildren. I'd remind her I needed to graduate college first and then meet someone worthy of marrying. My Grandmother was college educated. I don't think that she went to college for the purpose of finding a husband as although she met my Grandfather in school she completed her education, married- and off to war he went.
After I finished college I took an adventure to the East in part to distance myself from an unhealthy relationship that I would have slipped back into. It also was to show those who doubted me that I was self sufficient and could make it on my own. My plan was to work for 2ish years then head back to the mid-west. My Grandmother missed my visits because she would complain to my cousins that I no longer visited her. Each time they would explain to her I moved out East- to which she was never satisfied because she never remembered.
Within three months of moving here I met DH. It terrified me because I knew he was the type worthy of marrying. On and off our relationship started because every time we were on again - I knew it might be forever.
My wedding three years after I moved out East was another milestone in my life but also one in which I realized further my Grandmothers decline. DH met my Grandmother that first summer we were together when I took a trip home- and she was kind to him but didn't seem to connect me, with him, and why this man was in her apartment. Our visit was quiet. When we planned our wedding I didn't want anything big at all because without my Grandmother present there would have been something missing. I knew she couldn't make a trip even from Chicago to Wisconsin so we planned our wedding for right here at "home." My father took pictures to show my Grandmother and showed her the video- to which from my understanding made her happy but again- she lacked the connection of meaning. I'm glad I wasn't there to see her watch it.
Each visit I made to see her she faded farther and farther away. Conversations were shorter and shorter. Glimpses of my Grandmother were there momentarily but the woman who met you at the door with a big hug and a kiss on each cheek was gone. She talked about wanting Great Grandchildren but rather then asking us about her plans for them it was as if she no longer knew where Great-Grandchildren came from.
My Grandmother eventually wasn't able to physically care for herself any longer and was moved to a nursing home in Wisconsin. She had made the transition just prior to our announcement that we were waiting to adopt. The news made her happy but it wasn't the conversation I would have envisioned during my senior year of college. One special connection my Grandmother had to our Baby Girl was the night Baby Girl was born despite a busy day in which I just felt too exhausted to do anything I called my aunt who assisted my Grandmother with answering my call. I read to her the story "Two Kinds of Love." She didn't say much but almost responded in my memory as a coo or a content sigh. A week later our Baby Girl was in our arms.
The first trip we took with Baby Girl was to Wisconsin to meet my parents, sister, and Grandmother. The first time we took Baby Girl to see my Grandmother it was DH, Baby Girl and I. My Grandmother was loosing her ability to communicate. When we arrived I explained to her who we all were and her response was not welcoming. It broke my heart but the OT in me knew it wasn't personal so I decided to try again later in the day. We visited again in the later afternoon with my parents and sister. She at first again didn't seem to want to connect with my daughter. I dont recall specifically anymore if Baby Girl needed to be changed or she had spit up but for some reason I undressed Baby Girl. Again I don't recall the specifics of why but before putting her clothes back on I placed my Baby Girls naked body in her arms and the two melted into each other. It was exactly how I always envisioned my Grandmother with my child. I captured the most perfect picture of this moment- my Grandmothers blue eyes gazing down and my daughters piercing blue eyes contently looking at the camera. I documented this visit briefly on my old blog.
We took a visit to see my Grandmother last August. She had again slipped father away. I could no longer orient her to our relationship. Her moans, yawns, and cries scared my daughter. My daughter warmed up some gently singing row row row your boat as she pushed my grandmothers wheelchair back and forth. Each visit for a long time seemed like it was going to be my last. I cherish the "extra" visits and good-byes I got to have with my Grandmother.
On May 15 2014 at 90 years old my Grandmother passed away quietly with two of her twelve children by her side. The week prior to her passing was hard as my Grandmother had held on for so long slipping away from us slowly to a person we hardly recognized. She no longer knew anyone on this earth as her only memories were of people and places long gone. She had been read her last rights by the priest more then once and I prayed that this really was it. She no longer remembered she wanted Great-Grandchildren; she no longer could speak her children or grandchildrens names; and she no longer sought to be at peace with my Grandfather as she no longer recalled she ever had been married. So with strange sadness her passing brought me peace.
I''m going to miss her. My Grandmother was never a snuggly, cookie baking grandmother. She did love icecream and did teach me how to make blonde brownies. She took us on the EL in Chicago to see the Sears tower, the botanical gardens, and to see the windows at Macy's during Christmas. Her favorite movie was Fantasia and sometimes I think she liked Sesame Street more than we did. She would read to us and take us to church. She taught me secret to caring for African Violets and keeping them blooming which to this day is both of our favorite flowers.
My Grandmother was the last of Baby Girls Great- Grandparents and since she is adopted that means she had 16. My Grandmother was also the only one she ever met. My Grandmothers death was my daughters first experience with death. Prior to going to Chicago I talked to her about how people including mom were going to be sad. I explained to her that I wasn't going to get to see my grandmother anymore. To which Baby Girl became concerned that she also wouldn't get to see her Grandmothers again. When we went to the viewing Baby Girl asked why my Grandmother was sleeping. Dealing with sadness while also caring for a toddler adds an interesting dimension to this process. I explained to her that she wasn't sleeping but rather she had died. She wasn't breathing anymore and her heart had stopped beating because she was very old and had lived a long life. Baby Girl didn't respond, seemed content with the answer, and really thought about it. Later she asked to go back and this time she had a pretzel in her hand. She offered my Grandmother her pretzel to which I explained that she no longer was able to eat because I reminded her that she had died. She then told my Grandmother "Goodbye." My Grandmother for the first time in years and a healthy glow to her face, and looked comfortable and at peace in her casket. I wish my daughter and my Grandmother had a chance to know each other better because I think they would have gotten a kick out of each other. I'm going to miss her even more when Baby 2 comes especially if Baby 2 is a girl since we are going to use part of my Grandmothers name as Baby 2's name. Above all though I know that it was time and I'm so fortunate to have had the time I had with her.
The Grandchildren were given an opportunity to take an item or two from her costume jewelry. I didn't see anything that struck me as memorable when I looked over it all and decided not to take anything. On a second pass late in the evening after everyone else had taken their trinkets I found two things: a small music box that she kept on her make up table and her loose powder compact. The music box was broken but I opened the compact and smelled her again. Tonight I opened that compact again and it smelled SO good! I lost my Grandma slowly and now her physical self is gone but one whiff of her compact and I know that I'll never forget her.