My grandma and grandpa are the most significant people in my life, after my mum. I know most people have special relationships with their grandparents but it always seemed to me that Grams and Gramps were so free with their love and support of me and every tiny, little thing I did or wanted to do, that I also got to experience their support as primary caretakers, as well as the unlimited patience and kindness that only grandparents have with their grandchildren. It felt like my Grams was born to be a grandma. That’s not to take away from the many other things she was, but she just knew how to do it. She had softness in all the right places, and fierce protection in all the other ones. I don’t remember her ever scolding or disciplining us, but we somehow knew never to cross her, not because we were afraid of her, but because we knew it would just be the wrong thing to do. I think she taught us how to respect her by simply respecting us. If you respect a person’s essence, they will respect yours. It’s really that simple. Grams understood that simplicity and I think the real truth of that, is that she understood it innately – not cognitively. She didn’t reason those things out. She just loved.
As a team, my grandparents gave me the greatest gifts. They both provided and nurtured in their own way. Gramps bought me a piano when he saw a spark in me, and Grams facilitated the environment so that I could be free to explore, learn and most of all, enjoy it. I would not be the person I am today without my music and unequivocally, I owe this to my grandparents. When I wanted to make my own clothes, Gramps bought me a sewing machine, and Grams taught me how to use it. Gramps gave us hard truths because he wanted to make sure we were ready for the world and Grams softened the edges so we would know that no matter how hard things could be, she would be there.
I watched Alzheimer’s ravage my grandma. From the early stages after my Gramps passed away 16 years ago when it would send her into anger and frustration; to the mid-stages when she would forget who, what, when, how, where, and forget the things she really loved and really hated; to all the in-between stages, which were sometimes full of cheeky moments, and sometimes really difficult when as a family we’d have to make tough decisions; to the very end when it was impossible to tell whether her essence was indeed, still within her. But it was when she forgot my grandpa that I knew the final stage had begun. As people we don’t like to face things that are cruel and ugly – or else we‘re morbidly fascinated by them. What happened to my Grams at the end was cruel and ugly, and I know we don’t like to think about it. BUT. What Grams lived in her life – respecting the essence of others, no matter what the situation – taught us how to look at that cruelty and ugliness and taught us not just to assume that goodness was there, but to recognise it, in the face of life’s most merciless tricks. And so that’s what we did, because Grams showed us how. We knew how to be free with our love for her.
I know it sounds like I’m being overly idealistic. Family is always complicated. But for me, with my grandparents, IT NEVER WAS. I never had to wonder if they were proud of me, I never had to wonder if they would be there. I never had to fear that they would hold any of my mistakes against me and they never made me feel guilty for anything. That’s saying something because “family obligation” never occured to me with my grandparents. I cared for them and loved them because I cared for them and loved them. They cared for me and loved me because they cared for me and loved me. There were no other strings.
Even though we just said goodbye to my Grams a few days ago, it’s been a long time since I’ve heard her voice or her laugh, or looked into her eyes and seen her there. Still, when she finally died, the thought that she was really, really gone shook me to my core. I repeated the platitudes – she’s never really gone, she’s always in our hearts – and I’m not saying I don’t believe those things, but I think I’m only now realising what it means that my Grams is gone. My significant person has left and I will never again hold her or joke with her or sing to her or cry to her. The little girl in me is longing for my Grammy. But I also know that I carry her in me and that I know how to love because she showed me how. And I know how to look for the good in others because she showed me how. And I know who I am because she showed me that being me is all I ever need to be. I could never thank her enough and I will spend my life trying to honour her.