Thursday, November 12, 2009

Writer's Workshop: I Picked Up The Phone...

This week, for the first time ever, I am participating in Mama Kat's Writer's Workshop.  Each week she gives bloggers several different prompts to choose from and from there it's up to the writer.

The prompt I chose was,  

4.) I picked up the phone and I could not believe what I was hearing...

It was May of 1988 and my paternal grandmother had been suffering terribly with ovarian cancer for years. I had watched her erode from a robust, heavyset, spirited woman to a frail, shriveled, emaciated parody of herself. She was nothing but skin and bones except for her terribly bloated stomach.

I cannot describe the pain of being a 17-year-old girl, watching the sparkle of life actually dim from her eyes. Each time I saw her I knew I'd already lost another part of her spirit. She was unable to fight anymore, she didn't even want to.

I believe it was a Wednesday, May 26th, when Jimmy and I drove to the house to visit with her. She was not looking at all well and I had that gut feeling you sometimes get around a terminally ill person, when you know it's the last time you're going to see them alive.

When Grandma turned to Jimmy and told him to always take care of Justine, I knew it was the end. This was how she would say her goodbye.

Jimmy and I talked about it on the drive home. We both agreed that she would be gone within a few days. Part of me wanted to deny the knowledge, keep her with me as long as I could. Another part of me was urging her to let go, because she wasn't truly living anymore.

Two nights later, on the dawn of May 28th, the phone rang at 4:30 a.m. I picked up the phone and could not believe what I was hearing. But I could believe it. I did believe it, because I knew it was going to happen. I had been expecting it. But when I heard my aunt's voice sobbing, telling me Grandma had fallen in the bathroom and never woke up again, a piece of my soul withered and died, never to return again.

It was I, at 17 years old, that had to wake thee family to deliver the news. My aunt Barbara raced to our house and then her and I raced to the hospital to be with my other aunt, Grandma's daughter. Upon our arrival her and I asked to say our goodbyes to Grandma in private. To this day I'm still glad that I had the opportunity to say my final farewell before her body turned cold and stiff. She still looked like herself, just sleeping.  She was slightly cool to my gentle touch, her skin not as pliant as usual, but not yet chilled from death.

Twenty-one years later I still ache with missing her. She was one of the most influential people in my life. So many of my childhood memories are wrapped up in thoughts of Grandma.

Watching her stir sauce on the stove.

Eating grapefruit with sugar with her in the morning after I'd slept over.

Sleeping snuggled up with her, while Grandpa retired to the guest room for me.

Having musical fart extravaganzas before falling asleep.

Her reminders to wash my parsley very well each day.

Her admonition to never park next to a van, or else be snatched away.

Her making me sing You Light Up My Life over and over again.

Her 7 fishes Christmas Eve dinner.

Her scent; always lily of the valley

Holding on to her thumbs in the pool while she twirled in circles, singing, "D d d d d d d diet..."  (I never did find out why she sang about a diet.)

I went searching today and found a picture that is forever burned into my brain.  I hate this picture and I love this picture.

I love it because it's my old kitchen in NY and looking around the room brings back so many joyous memories.  (Hey Elizabeth, did you notice the plastic "popcorn" Santa on the wall?  I told you we had those!I love looking at the tins of Italian cookies and the demitasse cups; I love seeing that ugly old calendar hanging on the pantry door;  the disgusting wallpaper and formica cabinets and countertop; I love the fact that I look so much better than Jill in this picture.  In her defense, she was only 11.

I hate this picture because that is the look I mentioned earlier.  The look of anguish and despair in my grandmother's eyes.

This was our last Christmas with her, December of 1987.

I picked up the phone that day and didn't want to believe what I heard...

Pssst! If you love me, you might love my stupid sister more. Go visit her at Jill's Believe it or Not, and tell her I sent you!

46 "Sister" Lovin' Friends Said:

  • xinex

    How nice that you have this picture in your possession, Justine. I can imagine how much you miss her. She sounds wonderful...Christine

  • xinex

    How nice that you have this picture in your possession, Justine. I can imagine how much you miss her. She sounds wonderful...Christine

  • Jill

    I ache from inside out reading this. I remember the night before her leaving us that mommy and I went to see Aunt MaryEllen and Grandma sat in toe recliner screaming in her sleep as mommy lectured to Aunt M.
    Grandma told me to always know that she loved me. For me to always remember the times we shared and she kept calling out my name in her sleep. That night on the way home I told mommy all of grandma's actions and that next morning I was woken up the news of her passing. SHE KNEW! SHE knew it was her time. She told me while she was talking in her sleep, to let her go. I will never for the rest of my life forget that night! I was so frightened but as an adult I feel blessed to have shared that with her.

  • Stephanie

    Ovarian cancer is such a horrible, nasty thing. I hate it.

    Your grandma sounds like such a wonderful warm and loving lady. I'm glad you have so many wonderful memories of her to cherish.

    This was such a lovely tribute, Justine.

    I think your grandmother would be very proud of the lady you've become.

  • Farmers Wife

    Thanks for sharing...sometimes it is good to write things down like this though! Just visiting from mama kats.

  • santamaker

    Justine such a heart tugging story. So great you have comforting memories of her , sounds like she still lives in your heart.

  • Michele

    What a loving will always having wonderful memories mixed in with those that hurt too. I'm the same way with my sister...getting that call at 6 in the morning the day she died is probably the worst. I never in a million years thought she would die, I had just seen her the night before and she was healthy. God works in such ways that I don't understand. But now they are in a better place...and happy!


  • Amy

    Thanks for sharing Justine.. loosing someone we love is an ache that stays with us.... always. Thank goodness for fond memories to help us push away the sadness just a little.

  • Anonymous

    WOW-- that's some powerful writing Justine. You have a talent for us readers to "be there" with you. So sorry for the loss of your beloved Grandma.

  • Bird Shit and Baby Caca

    I am super sensitive. I am crying right now! ♥

  • Young Wife

    Stopping over from SITS. What a bittersweet post.

  • Lolli

    Those really are horrible phone calls to get. I can feel your pain. I understand how that pain can still be so alive so many years later. But thank goodness you have so many good memories with her. I am cracking up over the farting and the washing of the parsley. LOL!

  • Grand Pooba

    I hate cancer, I wish it would die and go to hell. My grandma died last year from cancer too, it sucks. I love that you wrote all your memories of her, that is the best thing to do to remember her. By your memories I can tell she was a great person! And somebody who would make me laugh too.

    And I love that picture! (And not only because you look better than Jill)

  • Cole

    I'm such an emotional person - that made me cry.

    What a fantastic post.

  • Nade

    Funny, I had forgotten how you use to sing, You Light Up My life, all the time. I remember now, and had to chuckle because I think that's how I learned all the words to that song. Also, The Sun Will Come Out Tomorrow. Your grandma was always raving about what a great voice you had. She was a great lady and cook. My favorite memory is when you were being your sassy self and she would say she was going to take Sinead home with her because she was such a nice girl:)

  • Elizabeth

    This is so well written, Justine. Anything written from the heart usually is, but the rhythm of your writing, and where you place emphasis are spot-on.
    And yes, I see the Santa!

  • Ginger

    That's a sweet picture of the three of you, and I love the way you wrote about your memories of your grandma. You really are a good writer.
    I never had any grandmas in my life. They died before I was born.
    I had a grandpa who lived across the country from me, so I never got to really know him. I never had a sister I feel a little left out. I guess that is why I am so close to my 4 kids.

  • bj

    Well, have me crying again...I'll have to write you later....

  • Tabby

    A truly moving entry Justine. Thank you for sharing that with us even though it brought bitter sweet memories. My grandparents are both gone and where an intricate part of my growing up also. Cherish all the memories you do have of her as they are precious.

  • Tootsie

    great post Justine. She sounds like a very special lady. I am sure she is looking down today proud of you and how nicely you wrote about her.

  • Mayhem and Moxie

    Such a powerful post, Justine. I am simply in awe. The picture that you included was incredibly moving too. There isn't much here that I can't relate to with members of my own family passing.

    Thanks for sharing this piece of you with the rest of us.

  • Stacy (the Random Cool Chick)

    Such a beautiful tribute to a wonderful grandmother, Justine! ((HUGZ!!))

    That picture is awesome - I need to have my mom send me some pictures of my grandparents - I was just talking about that with my sister on the phone today! :)

  • NurseChessie

    thanks for making me cry again. stirring the sauce.. remember the aprons? she had so many of them. enough for all of us to wear. my mom still has a few in her pantry. mostly it makes me cry cuz I know I missed out.. damn it girl. I'm still crying.

    love ya

  • NurseChessie

    oh yeah.. forgot to mention one other thing. you said about how she always smelled the same.. one of the things I got when she passed away was somekind of make up powder thing and for years after she died I could open it and smell her.. that smell you talked about.. the last time I was home I finally took it from my room.

  • Jason, as himself

    First let me say that I loved seeing you and Jill in the 80's. Classic!

    But, I am sorry to hear about how you lost your Grandma. Tough stuff.

    Beautifully written, Justine!

  • blueviolet

    Those are some very personal memories that you've chosen to share. I love that you have so many special details about her.

    Beautiful, Justine!

  • Confessions Of A Working Mom

    Hey there! I'm doing something on my blog, where I ask my followers to share some of their favorite bloggers... and one of them gave me your link!

    This post is so touching... and eerily similar to an experience I had when I was 12. My grandfather had been diagnosed with terminal cancer 6 months earlier when, on the morning of Oct. 8, 1994, the phone rang very early in the morning. I scampered out of bed to answer it (still being young enough to love answering the phone), only to hear my grandmother tell my mom, "He's gone, Lin. He's gone." I will never forget that moment as long as I live.


  • wendy

    Oh Justine, that was beautifully written. What a great person she must have been and it is good to remember her and all the FUN things.

    wash your parsley?????? dare I ask

    and it was wonderful that you actually got to visit with her one last time before she left.
    I know it was a phone call you never wanted to get -------

    and Yes, you look much better then Jill (tee,hee)

  • Mama Kat

    You paint the picture of those last days so well. I'm sorry to say I know exactly what that was like for you. I'm so glad you got to say your goodbyes...I bet she's really proud of you!

  • Kristen

    So bittersweet. I am glad you have amazing memories of her. It is so hard watching someone suffer like that.
    And you are so right about that look in her eyes.

  • Kristen

    And windowless vans still freak me out. All i think is Chester the Molester...

    I would love to hear more about these so called fart symphonies.

  • Life on Bonnie Lane

    What a sad story! I can relate to all of it, especially the part about not wanting them to die, but at the same time wanting them to let go so they don't continue to die little by little.

    Your grandma sounds like she was so funny though. "Wash your parsley every day"?!? I think that even if that part of my body was green, it still wouldn't look like parsley! lol


  • Happy To Be/ Gl♥ria

    GM Justine...Girl I'm all chocked up just reading this...What a great but sad post you have done here...I loved my Grammy also she was the best and I can still to this day I swear to God smell her scent...she used vanilla right from her kitchen cupboard...I kid you not she never had store bought perfume and when she did she would save it for special occasions...but when she died it still had never been opened...I can't remember her using an old turn key can opener and watching her hands trying to use it...So I bought her an electric one...really thought I would the best of all her grand kids for doing that...also when she died we found 11 electric can openers still new in boxes that us grand kids gave her...My grammy had 11 childrens, so many cousins I had and she told me I was the favorite one...But don't tell the others well for years I walked around with a smile on my face thinking I was the Favorite one..Until 10 years ago at my family reunion and I found out she told that to all her grand kids ha ha!! No wonder she all walked around with a smile on are face ha ha!! How special she made each of us feel growing up...Hope you have a great weekend my friend...Hugs and smiles Gl♥ria

  • bj

    O, Tiney, my friend..I have NEVER been beautiful in my whole, entire, long life...and I sure as heck am not at the age of almost 72 years old....but, I do thank you for saying it. If you were here, I'd give ya a big ole hug and then go buy you a bacon cheeseburger and diet coke!!! By the way, I need your mailing address, if you would.
    xo bj

  • Picket

    Oh girl...I am literally choking..and my heart is so heavy for you Justine..what a moving story....girl I wish you would write like this more have so much to share with the world..I love reading bits and pieces of your life from your is as if a part of you comes forth that you try to shield from the world but it is so much of your heart that it touches anyone who reads it...I am so sorry about your precious grandmother...she would be so proud of the beautiful loving woman you have become...this was beautiful touched me so.

  • Lynsey

    This was such a moving story. I am truly sorry for your loss, she sounded like an amazing person. {hugs}

  • artis1111

    Memories are just flashes of time that tug at our hearts with pictures of things we want to remember and things we want to forget. Tears come with both as we see time go by. LOL Kathy

  • Rachelle

    What a beautiful tribute to your Grandma Justine. She sounds like a terrific lady...I'm so sorry you had to lose her. Love the picture - hold on to your cherished memories.

  • Rhea

    I can't believe it's been so long since I've visited you. I'm so sorry about you losing your grandmother, and it does sound like you miss her still so much, even now.

    When did you change your blog name?! It's hilarious.

  • Shelia

    Oh, Justiney! I'm crying as I've read your beautifully written and heart felt story of your Dear Grandmother! I feel for you, Dear One. Now, Justiney, you really do have a gift - a gift of writing. Somehow you need to find a way to use this. You can write to us. You need to write these loving stories of your life and keep them to pass to your daughters one day. What a treasure this would be.

    Now, that I've dried my tiny eyes, come on back to my blog. I've given you the credit for making my blog button work! You're wonderful and I love ya, Darling. Thank you again for taking care of an olden one, who is old enough to be your mother!

    Yes, yes, you do look so beautiful!
    You are the sweetie,
    Shelia ;)

  • Teresa @ Grammy Girlfriend

    What a sweet tribute...and a great blog...I love your blog design.
    I have had so little time to do any blog reading and I have missed it...stop by my Christmas blog and leave a comment. The giveaway is a great Christmas CD to add to your collection.

  • DysFUNctional Mom

    What a beautiful post!

  • Geezees Geezees Custom Canvas Art

    Thank you for sharing...what a loving story.
    What a beautiful tribute to your grandmother...she's sounds like she was a wonderful person, you are very lucky!

  • Fragrant Liar

    I know just what you mean about hating and loving that picture. I feel ya!

    What a character she must have been!

  • Sara's Sweet Surprise

    This made me sooo misty. Your words brought a flood of tender memories of my mom and MIL.
    I wished I had a fraction of your writing talent. I sooo enjoy reading what you write. Thanks for sharing your grandma who's so dear to your heart
    The picture of you and Jill was a treat too!

    Sweet wishes,

  • Anonymous