I always think of my grandmothers on Christmas eve morning. It was twenty-eight years ago tomorrow that my maternal grandmother passed. Just one year later, my other grandma left on Christmas eve.
(me, with my brother and my maternal grandma)
(Grandma Tischler and me)
This is an excerpt from my book, Receiving Birth. My chapter about grandma.
December 24, 1986 – Grandma
I stirred in my sleep. As my body rolled beneath the covers, my dreaming eyes saw my grandmother. She was standing there, tall and sturdy. Not the grandma, frail and small, exhausted inside her ninety-four-year-old shell that I had recently visited in the nursing home. She had the body of the grandma from my youth. Her dress was cotton with a small print, a belt made of the same material circle her waist, her nylon stocking legs and feet were inside the black pumps with the low heel.
“Susan, it is time for me to go,” she said. “I want you to know that I am going to be okay.” I don’t want you to worry or be sad, because I will be just fine. Susan, you will be fine, too.”
“No, Grandma, you can’t leave. I still need you! I want you to be at my wedding, I want you to hold my children!” I screamed.
I hear a phone ringing me to consciousness. I wake up, not sure at first where I am panic growing as a lump inside my throat. I sit up and see the phone, hear it ringing. Immediately I know. I start to cry as a moaning sound escapes my lungs. No, this cannot be happening. Four rings, then five. Then I hear my mother’s voice on the answering machine. I clasp my fingers over my mouth, my eyes wide, not moving, not breathing. Her voice is even and steady, all business.
“Susan, it’s your mother. Call me as soon as you get this message.” But I knew that I did not want to call. I already knew what she was going to
say. Could it be that if I never talked to my mother again, that I could freeze this moment, putting off the awful events of the past few days.
After all, it is Christmas Eve, my favorite day of the year. This is the day that holds the happiest memories of my life. On the edge of hysteria, I climb out of my bed. The cold, hardwood floor, which normally makes me stop and slide my feet into my slippers, goes unnoticed. In the bathroom, I splash water on my face, hoping that I am still asleep and this will return me to another time place. A time and place when Grandma and I are playing dominoes and joking about something we saw on the “Lawrence Welk” television show.
The cold water mixed with my tears made me realize things will never be the same again. My grandma, my friend, was gone. My sadness was overwhelming. As I walk back to my bedroom, the phone, its shrill bell, again was interrupting my life. This time I picked up the receiver.
“Hello,” I said in a voice barely a whisper.
“Susan, I called earlier, I have to tell you something about Grandma. The nursing home called this morning and said that Grandma died in her sleep,” Mom said. The room is spinning. My head feels like I am on a ride at an amusement park. I don’t think I can hear anymore.
Crying I said, “I know, I know.”
The last time I saw Grandma, she was small and bent. I was sitting next to her at the nursing home. She was blind and broken, but somewhere deep inside she made the connection when I told her that it was me. She shifted just slightly and said, through slurred speak, “I always loved your laugh.
When I left there that day, I told myself that I would never, never ever set foot in a nursing home facility again. I didn’t care what I had to do, but I was NOT walking those bleak, sterile halls again. I could not stand to see the patients, once young and healthy adults, now strapped to chairs waiting to leave the planet.
That evening, our entire family, except Grandma, attended the Christmas Eve mass. As I sat with my nephew, Kenny, on my lap, I could not control my years. They ran from my eyes like an open tap. The church was filled with poinsettias and white candlelight. The stable now held the Christ child, with open arms, in the center. A group of children wearing white gloves lifted large brass bells creating the carol, Silent Night, as their proud parents watched.
With two grandmothers dying on Christmas, two years in a row, it was too much for all of us to handle and far too many tears.
It has been more than twenty years since I sat that evening in the church. Each Christmas, my children watch knowingly as the choir begins to sing Silent Night. Within seconds, the tears are again flowing down my cheeks, tears for a grandma gone, but memories not forgotten.
A lot has changed since 1986. I am able to go into a nursing home now. I have also suffered more loss. One thing is the same. My memories. Today I will think about those who have left before me. Times I spent with my grandmothers, my dad and my son. I love that no matter what happens to me in life, I will always have those memories.
Enjoy your Christmas eve. Make memories.