Tuesday, April 9, 2013

I don't blame God

I’ve always been blessed to have wonderful role models in my life. One woman in particular has a permanent monument in my heart; she gave me many things over the course of our time together, not the least of which is my name.

My parents named me Katherine after my dad’s mom (who also is known as Kay, Tappie, or Gramma). My sisters, Christine and Elizabeth, were in school when I was born and both of my parents worked, so when they found out that I was joining the family, my parents asked my Gramma to watch me during the day, rather than putting me in daycare 45 hours a week.

From the time when I was 2 months old until I went to kindergarten, Gramma would come over every and make me scrambled eggs in the microwave (scrumptious!), and help me get dressed. We’d go upstairs and make the beds for everyone and then we’d watch TV and “rest our eyes”.

On Wednesdays, we went to Claudia’s to get her hair fixed. I have countless memories of sitting on her lap, snuggled into her chest, and (forgive me) playing her underarm skin that fascinated me because of how “it rolled.” In addition to going to the beauty salon, we ran weekly errands like going to the grocery store and the library, and sometimes we’d even go to the mall to get “French fries, ketchup and coke” for lunch. On our outings, we’d stop to talk to every single person we saw who had a baby. 

Mommy and Gramma had a relationship that every woman should dream of having with their mother-in-law. Gramma was sassy and sparkly and loving and she bonded with her daughters-in-law as if they were gifts that her sons had brought home, rather than man-thieves who stole them away from her. Mommy understood early on that a strong bond with Gramma was a gift of love, not a detraction of my love for her. I formed incredibly close bond with my mom and Gramma, and their love for me complimented each other.

Gramma and I were like peas and carrots. I was her Katie Bird, and she was my Gramma. She shared with me her love for young children, classic movies, cultural trivia, and true stars like Lucille Ball and Billie Holiday. She respected me as a person from day one, and by example, she taught me how to talk to adults and make friends. She shared with me her quiet but deep Catholic faith, and she encouraged and defended me on a daily basis.

I’ll never forget sitting on the couch with her on New Year’s Day in my sophomore year of high school. I told her that I wasn’t excited to go back to school the next day because I always got into tufts with this one boy. She turned to me, fire in her eyes, and raised her fist indignantly, shaking it threateningly and fervently said, “HE’S HARRASSING YOU?! Why I outta….”

Whenever I got my report card, she’d cheer with enthusiasm for grades that I thought were mediocre. At times when my own spirits were quite low, she’d share her hilarious point of view, and follow it up with, “You know what? I’ve never had any doubts about you.”

As we got older, naturally our dynamic shifted. We’d still hold hands as we walked across the street, but my hand would be the firm, steady one now. When I was learning to drive, it would be part of my job to take her to the grocery store or the doctor, as my sisters had been doing for years.

Gramma lived in Apt 242 in a complex for low-income seniors or other individuals who wanted to live independently, and it was my home away from home. I spent an inordinate amount of time there, making friends with other residents and determining the subtle changes between the sitting rooms on each floor.

I do not own the rights 
On December 1st, 2009 (my senior year in high school), a tenant on the 3rd floor lit a candle that never went out. The complex caught fire and though no one was hurt, she (and several others) lost all of her belongings and her home of 20 years.

Our community reached out, and we received donation after donation of clothes, giant purses (which were her favorite), gift cards and condolences. Unfortunately, that fire claimed a significant amount of her spirit, her spunk was greatly quelled and she made a habit of falling in the middle of the night.

After living with us for a few months, Gramma’s best friend, Virginia, came to Richmond to be closer to her and they moved into a new apartment complex. Then I went off to college to explore my life as a young adult, and found my home in the Church.

Gramma spent a lot of time in and out of the hospital in my First year, but she reclaimed small sparkly pieces of her spirit that had burned up the previous year. When our sweet Joan Marie didn’t wake up the Sunday before Thanksgiving, Gramma marched me up to her casket to pray at the Vigil. She prodded us to laugh following Emil Daddy’s funeral on Christmas Eve by joking with the nurses and asking, “Am I not your most adorable patient tonight?”

On April 6th, 2011, my mom called just before my 2 o’clock class. “Katie, I need to tell you something….” Gramma had been in treatment for injuries she’d sustained from falling, and my dad had noticed a change in her coloring. They brought in Dr. Lee, the same doctor who treated my grandfather in the end, and he confirmed that she was jaundiced due to renal failure. “She’s going into Hospice, Katie. I’m sorry, but this is the end.”

I walked across campus, trying to breathe as hot knots gathered in my throat and tears erupted from my eyes. I walked from the Lawn to the church, and met friends there. 

My friends, God bless them, sat with me as I cried and questioned, passing time until Christine could pick me up on the way home from her school. I could not for the life of me figure out how the world could continue to go on without Gramma. How could it be that her time was up? It wasn’t enough; I wasn’t ready. How is it that the whole world didn’t know they were about to lose such an amazing woman? How was I expected to continue school? For that matter, how could I get out of bed and breathe air in and out in a world without her?

Christine arrived, we drove back to Richmond and almost immediately made our way to her bedside. She was unbelievably physically altered, but she was there; she wasn’t gone yet.

Family means more than just the 5 of us.
As a family, we spent the better part of 3 days together, and we all said goodbye to her in our own ways. In perfect form, she muttered her last word, “holy,” as we prayed a Hail Mary circled around her. She died peacefully at 1:14am on April 10th, 2011. To this day, I'm surprised that God let the Sun rise that morning.

I didn’t have great answers to any of my own questions. For a while, the world continued without her but I didn’t. I drastically changed my course of study and became a part-time student. I seriously considered taking time off of school altogether.  Slowly though, the memories of her lessons and stories and time with me lit a few sparks inside of my heart.

Talk about that sense of humor
At times when I need to hear her voice, I go to church, and pray for her intercession. On days when I miss holding her hands, I carry one of her giant purses or wear her “hip grannie” rings and stroke its curvatures with my thumbs. Almost automatically, I've taken up humming nonsense notes to myself, just like she did, when I’m alone with my thoughts. Any credit for my sense of humor goes directly to her.

In life and in death she taught me that everything was going to be okay. I don’t blame God for wanting her in heaven; I’ve become grateful for the near 85 years He lent her to us on earth.

Still, even two years later, it is unspeakably hard to spend my day knowing that she isn’t living any more. But on those days when I seriously question myself and the potential for success and happiness, her voice resonates in my head like a powerful orchestra. She says, “You know what, Katie Bird? I’ve never had any doubts. Love you!”

I very much love you too, Gramma. Thank you so much for always taking care of me. I'll be seeing you.