My grandmother (Grandma to me, Nana to my children) is 89 years young. She is one of nine and falls somewhere in the middle. She was raised on a farm in Suffield and was one of the first women admitted to Suffield Academy (my great-aunts were the other two). My grandmother has raised 5 children, 10 grandchildren, and 9 great-grandchildren. And yes, she has had her hand in raising us all. By the time I graduated high school she had buried her husband, two sons, and one grandchild, my father and sister among them. One to cancer, one to AIDS, and two to car accidents. This degree of trauma has done a great deal to fracture our family but yet through it all, my grandmother has remained a powerful and inspiring matriarch.
Up until a recent fall my grandmother was still a very active senior. She worked at the church thrift shop once a week, attended exercise classes, and was a member of the town senior social club. She reads about three books a week, talks to her sister (a published author still writing at age 95) daily, and attends church every Sunday. She was the head teacher of the nursery school at the church for 30 years until she retired. That retirement only lasted for a year and then she went back to teaching preschool in Windsor for 9 more years. When she officially retired, the mayor proclaimed the day in her name; she still has the proclamation framed. Years ago, when the graduating seniors at her town’s high school had to pick a commencement speaker they chose her. Of the graduating students, my grandmother had taught 1/2 of them in nursery school. Of those, 3/4 were going on to attend four-year colleges. She takes personal pride in that accomplishment and she should.
She sang at my wedding and is often requested to sing regularly in church, at weddings, and funerals. For years, she and her 90-something next door neighbor would sing weekly to “the old people” at MacLean Center in Simsbury. Whenever she is singing, everyone around her stops in their tracks. Honey often tries to find ways to get her to sing when they are together.
She loves me and my family. I will admit that of the grandkids, I think I might be her favorite and I’m okay with that. I think for her I am the last remaining touchstone to my father. That’s a task I don’t take lightly. When I was in high school we’d go on dates together about once a month to the movies and out to lunch. I cherish my adult relationship with her as I know most people are not so lucky. She sees my children for who they are and accepts them, just as she has accepted her children and grandchildren. The first time she met Honey she held his hand (which if you know anything about her you know it meant approval). She is a woman who enjoys swearing when she is happy; our goal was to get her to swear when we told her we were engaged. She stood in the doorway of her townhouse after our announcement and said, “Is there where I’m supposed to say ‘Holy Shit?'”
She has given me some of the best advice I’ve ever received. When I returned to my position following maternity leave I was transferred and was extremely upset. I talked to my grandma about it and she said, “Sometimes you have to crawl through change before you can stand up in it.” Recently Honey and I were struggling with a big decision and were looking for guidance. I called her. In one succinct sentence she told me everything we needed to know to make the decision. When I was struggling with breastfeeding decisions she confided in me that she hated breastfeeding all five of her children and applauded me for trying and said she’d support my decision to stop.
Given the way I’m writing this you may be wondering if Grandma is dead. Fear not — this incredible, amazing, life force of a woman is still with us. As I mentioned previously she had a bad fall about a month ago that left her in bad shape. She was physically in a tremendous amount of pain and emotionally she was beaten. I really didn’t think she was going to make it. The reality that she wouldn’t be guiding and supporting me forever really hit home. After a difficult phone conversation with her where she cried the entire time I broke down with Honey and thought perhaps our time together had come to an end. But thankfully for me, it hasn’t. She has since been transferred to a rehab facility and is doing much better. She’s still with us. But the stark reality is that she won’t be around forever. So, until that time comes, I’m going to make sure she knows how much we love her and spend as much time with her as we can. I’m sure there are a few more things she still has left to teach me.