To Gramma, With Love


Gramma wasn’t particularly cozy.

She didn’t snuggle and she never spoke softly. She shouted and she read lips. She would hug and kiss you and then ask about school and work and tell you to eat a snack or something.

She was intimidating. And I respected the hell out of her.

She died this morning and I found out at 9 a.m.

At 10 p.m. my brain stopped hiding from the pain and I haven’t stopped crying.

Grief can be a real asshole.

I’ve been missing Gramma for a couple years now.

It got hard to visit when she stopped remembering who we were. It got hard to chat with her when she stopped being able to read lips. It got hard when she wasn’t the intimidating woman I knew and loved. When she got fragile and forgetful. When she was soft and cozy. That got hard.

Nine years ago I came home from spending a year in New Orleans doing hurricane relief. Gramma had a binder of my email newsletters that she printed out and saved for me.

“You’ll want to look back at these when you’re old like me someday.”

She tugged on the funny platinum blonde streak I put in my hair and told me she was proud of me. She told me to keep seeing the world and to take my time before I settle down.

Gramma is the only person in my life who never asked me if I wanted a boyfriend or a husband or kids. She always asked to see pictures from the places I had been. She asked about college classes and art projects and where I was living and where I wanted to go next.

I think I want to be just like her when I grow up. 

Almost five years ago I was tasked with taking her grocery shopping while my sister was busy. I had recently fractured my pelvis and was walking with a cane. Grams was shuffling with a cane too. We were a funny pair. She tried to fix her hair in the car mirror before looking over at my freshly shaved head and laughing.

“I guess an old lady like me doesn’t need to care about her hair,” she said.

“It looks great,” I told her.

“You’re a liar,” she quipped.

I think I know where I inherited my snark from.

She bought a lot of cheese that day. She just couldn’t decide which kind to choose, so she bought a bunch.

After a quick turn through the Safeway we sat down at the Starbucks for coffee. I was still barely a coffee drinker, but I just got the same thing as Gramma and sat down with her to chat, our canes perched on the shopping cart together.

She must have been reflecting across her whole life because she looked me right in the face and said, “I don’t think Greg knew how to take care of his family. He had a hard time with that.”

She was talking about my dad.

I didn’t know what to say.

She told me all kinds of stories I had never heard before. Stories about my dad and his brothers and sisters as kids. About herself and my grandfather who died before I was born. She was rambling away and I couldn’t store all the details because I was still a little fuzzy from pain medication and caffeine.

It was a sunny day in May.

It’s how I always want to remember her. A little extra snarky. A little extra honest. A little fussy about her hair. And for just an hour I had her all to myself. me and gramma2


  1. sandyhay says

    I remember the day my Nana died in 1976. and I remember thinking about the many times we sat at her kitchen table and ate peach ice cream or spit watermelon seeds out the back door and how she helped me understand my dad. I still think about those times . I remember the last time i was in that kitchen, she was on all fours and my youngest son Aaron, age 8 months, was riding on her back like a horse. These memories and lots of tear sometimes still, help me understand the woman and grandma I’ve become. And with these memories we are both thankful.

  2. Bethany Olsen says

    Somehow I missed this when you first posted last year. It’s beautiful and I love it, and this made me cry: “I’ve been missing my Gramma for a couple years now.” I so get that, and I’m sorry you lost such a special, snarky lady. Lots of love to you.

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