A photo circa 2005, with only two out of three kids present. Wonder what the other one was up to.
I just wrote my grandmother’s obit.
It was the least I could do.
Also one of the hardest things, but what a privilege.
Back when I was in a newsroom, the tradition was most obits (unless it was some bigtime person) as well as weather stories were always handed down to the lowest reporter on the totem pole. Such a drag to write compared to chasing way more exciting cop stories. Now, more than 20 years later and with a ton more perspective, I appreciate the value of a well-written obit. Not so much the weather stories. Honestly, people, just look at the forecast. Do you need an entire story? But, summing up someone’s life is a major responsibility.
I remember one day, early on in my journalism carer, we’d gotten word that a coworker’s wife had died. We started pulling clips for a story. He actually wrote the obit himself and sent it in a few hours later. I marveled at the strength it must have taken to do such a thing, but I understand why he felt compelled to do it. You always want to make sure the synopsis of someone’s life does them justice, and even more so when it’s someone you love.
When we learned that my grandma, who lived in Missouri, had passed Sunday morning, I asked my dad if I should start working on an obit. He said the funeral home and the handful of relatives who were there had it covered.
A few hours later, he emailed what they’d done — my grandma’s life organized into four paragraphs that were mostly a jumble of jobs and dates and survivors.
“Would you fix this, please?” he asked.
My grandma was 93. She’d been in failing health for some time. Two years ago everyone started preparing for the worst when she went into a nursing home suffering from dementia. Sometimes I’d call and I wasn’t sure she remembered me. Other times, she was so sharp.
Last week, an ambulance took her from the hospital, after another setback, to a new nursing home that would provide palliative care and keep her comfortable. She jokingly
told family later that she “had her foot on the brake the whole time.” Classic Nannie. She was still in there.
Just a few days later, though, she quit.
She stopped eating, stopped drinking. She never looked out the big windows in her sunlit room that her brother specifically picked so she could enjoy the wild birds outside. The end was near. No one could know how close.
So life went on halfway across the country. I took my youngest kid to his basketball tournament in Phoenix over the weekend. That’s where I was — in a smelly gym — when I got word that things really weren’t looking good for Nannie. She’s not very responsive, my cousin warned. Still, I dialed. My cousin held her cell phone up to my grandma’s ear while I yelled, “I LOVE YOU!” I was crying and then giggling as I sat in the back seat of the van in a high school parking lot between basketball games because I could hear her on the other end of the line and the connection was so crystal clear, it was like she was sitting next to me. She was snoring. Loud and proud. That was the sound of someone most definitely at peace.
It’s a crazy time of year, right now, with the end of school approaching, and even crazier for us with No. 1 preparing to graduate from high school. So many transitions. And my grandma was facing the ultimate one.
Her last act on earth was befitting of someone who always, always put others before herself and never wanted to be a burden: She died this weekend. Early Sunday morning. In her sleep. It was good timing. Family can be here for graduation and have enough time to hurry back for her memorial.
One life readies to start a new adventure 18 years in the making while another life — 93 years long — ends.
I’m sad my kids never got to know the plucky grandma I grew up with. The one who hugged the breath right out of your body and made these amazing fried pies. Whenever she flew to Tucson, she always hand carried a white box tied with butcher’s twine on her lap. Inside, were those golden half moons stuffed with soft, gooey apricot filling. They were every bit as good as they sound.
She was humble and giving and knew how to laugh at herself. I remember once, she drove my brother and cousins and me to clomp around some Missouri landmark. When we got ready to head home, she glanced in the rearview mirror and was horrified to see a pink foam curler still in the front of her head, keeping the hair off her face.
She laughed so hard that no sound came out, her entire body shook. When she could finally speak, she asked me why I’d let her go out like that.
“Well, I thought you wanted it there,” I told her. That would be just the kind of practical thing she would do.
When she first started deteriorating a few years ago, I wrote a column for the paper about my grandma. My Nannie. So many people wrote and told me how much the piece touched them because they, too, had had a beloved grandma. We should all be so lucky. I definitely was.