A Grandmother's Love.

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Death is weird, isn't it?  I mean. . .if you can step outside of the rush of intense feelings that come in the wake of a loved one's passing. . .the heaviness of the grief, despair, emptiness, even anger. . .it's just. . .weird.  One minute we're here, the next we're just. . .gone.  It's mysterious but miraculous.  

For an anxiously-minded person like myself, who, I hate to say, has spent much of her life wondering about death, worrying about it, anticipating it, terrified of it. . .I'm beginning to understand more and more how silly it is to worry about this.  Aside from the fact we know we'll all experience it at one point or another, we have no idea what it's like.  As one of my greatest teachers Claire Week's has said, "Sudden death gives no time for its contemplation, so why should we fear it?  It seems foolish to worry about something we would know nothing about."  Duh.  That being said, she continues, "If we are prepared to go along with nature as willingly as possible, she will make our death rather like our birth - while we will be the star performer, we will be unaware of the performance."  Yes.  

On odd nights when I'm startled awake by an intense dream or finding myself restless beneath the covers, I lie in bed quietly staring out the windows at the dark, my mind racing through all the imaginings a tired brain but awake body can create.  Worries and fears about my children, myself, my husband, the future, mistakes made in the past. . .I know this is nothing unique to me.  I have, however, chosen to do two things when this happens.  1.  I pray.  Simple enough.  But I pray for people I love, especially those who I know are struggling, in pain, or feeling lost.  Those I have hurt or who have hurt me.  AND #2.  I write eulogies.  I know.  Even more weird.  But it makes me smile to honor the lives of people I love the most, with words to reflect my perception of how amazing that person is.  And I started writing to honor my Grandmother's life over ten years ago.  It's been sitting in a file on my computer desktop and I've been adding to it or deleting from it privately, in hopes that one day, when she slipped quietly from this world to the next, I could pay sincere and honest homage to a woman who was so important to my upbringing and my sense of value in the world.  

Grandma Chica.  That’s what we called her.  As a small child, her name ‘Francesca,’ was too hard for her to pronounce and came out as ‘Chica.’  So that was her nickname for a period of time.  Word of this story got out when we were young and because it was also so easy for us kids to say, Grandma Chica she became.  Consequently, my Grandpa became Chica as well, because, well, he is married to her.  So they must BOTH be a ‘Chica.’  They were aptly named Grandma and Grandpa Chica until it lost its luster and we were old enough to call them by their first names, Ray and Fran.  But for two decades, it was off to Grandma and Grandpa Chica’s house we’d go almost every Sunday after church.  It was the one thing that got me through those seemingly long, torturous Catholic masses of my childhood.  We knew if we were really good during the myriad rituals of a Sunday service, we’d be rewarded with a short road trip west to Anoka to see Grandma and Grandpa Chica.  

Often times, my aunts, uncles and cousins galore would show up too and we’d make a day of it.  It was like Christmas every Sunday.  Ah, the memories we made in their home.  We were always greeted with warmth, unconditional love and the best homemade chocolate chip cookies and fresh baked bread you could ever have.
I’m Liz, by the way.  Fran’s second oldest grandchild, the FIRST granddaughter born on my mother's side.
I can only speak from MY perceptions and the personal relationship I had with her.  BUT I know each one of my cousins could attest to having a unique and special bond with her, no matter our age, beliefs, accomplishments or mistakes, or roost on the branches of our family tree.  She undoubtedly loved all of us equally, in her own special way and with her whole heart.

I can tell you what I’ve come to know and understand about her as our Grandmother.  I can honestly say, NO ONE could’ve filled the shoes (or slippers, for that matter) more beautifully.  
(This is my new favorite picture, Grandma with my cousin Marty.)

There was rarely a time she didn’t welcome your arrival to their kitchen, by cupping your face in her soft, warm hands and planting a big, red lipsticked kiss on your cheek.  Whether she greeted you in her robe and slippers or in an outfit she spent all week planning, she always had fresh lipstick on.  Some bright shade of fuchsia or red, colors not many women can pull off.  
I would have weekend-long sleepover’s at their house from as young as grade school up until high school because I loved being with her so much.  She was like a best girlfriend, despite being 61 years older and with more experience and wisdom than any girls my age could ever offer.  Rarely would she share any insights or suggestions on how to live my life, but she just LISTENED.  JUST.  LISTENED.  Better than anyone I know.  And gosh, sometime that’s all we need.  Someone to just HEAR us and be present with us.  I think it’s why I appreciated and saw the true gift it was just to sit with her.

We’d spend countless hours talking, or rather, me talking, her listening intently, while she quietly rocked in her chair.  And she never seemed to get bored with me.  She seemed GENUINELY interested in everything that was going on in my life and never uttered a word of disdain or judgment.  She just held space for me wherever I was at in life.  She just showed up to love me. 

And before I knew it, it’d be two in the morning.  Neither one of us having moved, my Grandpa long since gone to bed.  And the two of us sat, a coffee table lamp illuminating her face as she rocked and smiled, listening to the stories of my life.  She never admitted defeat to tiredness but simply swayed in that chair and listened until I’d say, “Ok.  Grandma.  I’m tired.  I can’t talk anymore.”  And she’d smile and say Good Night and we’d reconvene at breakfast.  And before I left, she’d always kiss me on the cheek, whisper “I love you” in my ear and sneak a five dollar bill in to my hand.

The woman didn’t forget a thing!  All my old boyfriends, junior high drama, my struggles in college, I don’t know where she kept it in her brain, but she could pull up stories and information from YEARS ago about people and places I could barely remember.  “What ever happened to so and so?”  she’d ask.  “How is she doing now?”  I’ve always been in awe of the health and longevity of her memory, but also her unbelievable ability to retain and recite everything she knew about not just my life, but everyone she met.  A true testament to how well she REALLY listened and cared about OUR lives over the years.

You needed to understand once your foot crossed the threshold of the back porch door in to the kitchen, you had to commit.  There was never a, “Oh, I’m just stopping in for a minute.”  Once you sat down at the little round table draped with a soft linen table cloth, you were now in HER territory and FOOD would be how she and Grandpa got you to stay and made you feel loved.

She never let you leave with an empty stomach or even HALF empty, for that matter.  She was always standing quietly off to the side or perched atop a stool in the corner of the kitchen, ready to jump at the first sign of an empty bowl or finished plate.  She and Grandpa together, worked tirelessly to provide a smorgasbord of anything you wanted when you stopped in for a visit. . .spaghetti, Chow Mein, a ham sandwich, pickled herring, whatever your heart desired.  Sometimes all of those things at once.  A hodge podge of her and Grandpas’ specialties to fill you up and then some, before you stepped foot back out in to the world.  Together, between Grandpa staying on top of the dishes piling up in the sink and Grandma stirring various pots on the stove, they were the ultimate hosts.  

And although you may have left feeling like you'd overdone it, you always had a belly bursting with good food and a full heart. 

I can’t share much with you about her and Grandpa’s SEVENTY years of marriage other than the few stories I’ve heard and my own observations.  My Grandfather is always telling us hilarious stories from his past or about my aunts and uncles as kids, which usually have him laughing so hard he’s in tears before he can even get it all out.  My Grandma would just look at him and say, “Oh, Ray, honestly.”  But she could never help giggling herself no matter how hard she tried to act unimpressed by him and his antics.  She always caved in to a muffled snicker and shake of her head in irritation.  But you could see the love and dedication to him in her eyes.  
I know that tells you very little about the love they shared, how they complemented each other so beautifully, their devotion to their family, but I know their love HAS and will continue to be an inspiration of what it means to weather life’s storm’s together, keep humor and laughter at the center and a strong faith as your guide.

(The above picture was funny because she was trying to whisper in to his ear to go grab cash to send me home with, as she often did, but he couldn't hear her, and she couldn't understand why he couldn't hear HER, and they just both ended up giggling and she finally said, "Oh, forget it, Ray."

I can’t tell you a whole lot about her as a mother.  From what I understand, she barely survived raising five children.  And from some of the stories I’ve heard about the five of them?  The woman deserves a medal.  She was on her own most days of the week as my Grandpa was on the road for work.  Left to her own devices to discipline and keep in line the lot of them.  I have no doubt that’s one of the reasons she kept a Rosary close at hand, devoting an hour daily to prayer.  Those five gave her a run for her money.  But I CAN say that the men and women I’ve come to know as my aunts and uncles, her children, are some of the most kind, loving and most hilarious individuals you’ll ever meet.  Doug, Kevin, Pam, Jane and Jennifer have the best parts of her and Grandpa, in all of them. 
I have a sense fear and anxiety held her back from doing some of the things she may have wanted to experience in this life, as those feelings do for many of us.  She wasn't a natural risk-taker.  Familiarity and comfort were her mainstays.  I know she rarely ventured far from home.  She never flew on a plane, traveled oversees, or dared to veer too far off the straight and narrow, but it’s okay.  It’s the way she preferred it.  Instead, she made it her life’s ministry, to support her family through daily prayer, her faith and keeping their home open to all of us, at any time, to find refuge, love and a hot meal.  And for that, we are so grateful.
As a grandmother, Grandma Chica was a quiet but powerful force and vessel of unconditional love.  Although her passing leaves an emptiness in all of us that knew and loved her, I know her greatest attributes as a wife, mother, sister and friend will continue to live on through each of us.  She was gracefully by our side in space and spirit on this earth and will CONTINUE to be from where she stands in the next realm.  She displayed beautifully how to REALLY love and LISTEN and dedicated her life to serving her family and anyone else that walked through the door.
I imagine as her physical body has passed and her undying spirit moves on, she’s been greeted by the Divine the same way she greeted us; two soft, gentle hands cupping her face, whispering in her ear the same way she did for me, for us, “I love you.  And, "Welcome Home.”