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