Just before Valentine’s Day I got a call from my grandmother.
“I have had a very long and happy life,” she said, “but I’ve received some bad news.”
She told me she had cancer all through her GI tract. Fearing she had only days to live, I asked her how much time the doctors had given her. “Six months or so,” she replied. She expected to live through one more summer. Gram was comforted knowing that she would have the chance to say goodbye to her family and friends and “clean out her bureau drawers.”
My mom, sister and I all made plans to visit her the following week. She was in a little bit of pain and didn’t have her usual pep, but otherwise she was the same Gram we all knew. We talked about art, saints, and the history behind the collection of Lusterware pitchers she was sending home with me.
We sipped Manhattans and ate cake with buttercream. She passed on a bit of her brilliance in art to Mazen.
We spent extra time saying goodbye, just in case this was our last visit, but Larbs and I had plans to visit again in the next month or so.
A few weeks later she began to take morphine for the pain. Yet, she still seemed fine on the phone, her mind sharp as ever. She would ask me about Mazen, the bakery and blog and telling me all the family news she had gathered.
But rather suddenly, her pain worsened, her medicine was increased (something she had resisted) and we believe she just decided to let go.
Gram was one of the smartest people I have known. She had a memory like an encyclopedia and could tell you all about Ancient Rome, the saints, or her own family’s history, such as when she pulled out this photo of her relatives in their swimming costumes.
She adored cocktail hour and Old Fashioneds. She could make a perfect apple pie.
She and my grandfather loved to entertain and held grand parties at their house complete with the best steak I’ve ever had and homemade ice cream they bought in Pennsylvania. She always served shrimp, smoked salmon and good cheese at her parties. And of course, there was always a silver candy dish filled with chocolates.
She was an avid gardener and lover of animals – she and Pop once had 4 dogs and 6 cats at one time.
Gram was extraordinarily creative, teaching art classes to her friends into her 90s and always working on a piece of her own in her art room.
She was a brilliant painter with a propensity toward the whimsical and unexpected. The Holy Spirit is present in nearly all of her paintings. Her works include watercolors and brightly colored canvases, and they have been featured in art exhibits.
When we were younger she would organize treasure hunts. One summer each cousin was handed the end of a string. We had to follow the string along boxwood bushes and discovered little trinkets along the way. It was most of the most fun adventures I remember!
Gram was also an expert shopper and our visits always included a shopping trip. “Get some good stuff!” she would say as she picked out a blazer or button down for herself.
Gram was insistent that there be no funeral for her. So instead we’ll be gathering for a memorial later this year to sprinkle her ashes with Pop’s.
Losing your last grandparent is the end of an era. When Pop died, we still went to visit Gram in her apartment, surrounded by their things. We could still write her letters and called often. It’s so sad that those days have come to an end. I am reminded of her throughout my house by the things she passed on to me – her paintings, beautiful silver, family jewelry, garden pots, vintage stemware and my great-great-great-grandfather’s woodwork in the form of a beautiful box and small chest.
We will miss you Gram!
Thank you for being a wonderful grandmother.