“Sometimes you cry, even when someone you love has been gone a long time,”
~ Alice Sebold, The Lovely Bones
January 7th, 2010.
I’ll always remember every detail of that day. I was seventeen years old, reluctantly sitting in a craft store called Frill Seekers taking a sewing class. Six weeks previously I’d booked to do it, since I was taking Textiles and Design for my upcoming HSC. But when Grandma had taken a turn for the worse it took a lot of coaxing from my mother and grandfather to convince me I wasn’t a monster if I went to this two-hour session. “Grandma would want you to do it,” they said. And I knew I couldn’t argue with that logic, so here I was at the sewing machine and inexplicably enjoying myself.
I’d somehow managed to wrestle my uncontrollable hair into a ponytail. There was clearly no effort in the way I was dressed either. Black pants, lemon yellow tank top and my favourite blue hoodie. None of that was important. What mattered is that Grandma was in hospital, and we knew she wasn’t coming home this time.
It was around 1pm when Mum entered. I should have known then something was wrong. My older brother was meant to come pick me up. But for some reason, my mind didn’t register this. Instead I enthusiastically showed what I’d been working on, and then asked the major question I was dreading the answer to. “How’s Grandma?”
Mum looked at me evenly. “You need to come back to the hospital now, honey,”
“Why? Is she going?”
Mum’s voice lowered to barely above a whisper. “She’s gone,”
For a second, time froze and my world tilted. I couldn’t form any words. The only thing I could manage was. “OK. Can I go back to the hospital now?”
Somehow I managed to collect my things. Somehow I walked out of the store calmly. Somehow I made it back to the car before I started to sob wildly.
It’s hard to believe I’m writing this ten years later. Though the open wound of losing Grandma has healed, a tender scar remains in its place. I still miss her every single day. I still love her so deeply and wish she was still here with us. Grandma was the centre of the family in so many ways, and on this anniversary, I’d like to tell you a little bit about her.
My Grandma, Judy, was born January 21st, 1940, the second of five siblings. Grandma was determined. At the age of five she contracted polio before the Salk vaccine was invented. For the rest of her life she was disabled, and she faced bullying and prejudice because of this. But none of that stopped her. She left school at the age of 16 and worked at the Hornsby Advocate newspaper for a year, but her deepest passion was to become a nurse. She was told many times she’d never be able to because of her leg, but she proved everybody wrong by completing her training at St. Vincent’s Hospital in Sydney. She eventually became deputy matron at an aged care nursing home, until her retirement. She never lost the ability to make beds with perfect hospital corners.
In the late 1950s she met my grandfather, Clem, on a blind date at a local dance. They married in 1961 and had three children, starting with my mother.
As Mum was a single parent, Grandma and Grandpa stepped up to fill the gaps by taking us to school every day. My brother and I spent so much time with them while we were growing up, and we wouldn’t have had it any other way. Every week we’d go with them to do the grocery shopping, and they’d buy us a new Mr. Men book. We’d always go to Grandma’s favourite cafe, and she’d point out the people walking past, wondering what their story was. Inside her handbag was a jar of lollies (Natural Confectionary, Werther’s Originals, jersey caramels, marshmallows) which she handed out freely to all, including security at the airport.
Grandma loved people. She was friends with everyone, especially those that society ignored. At her local shopping centre, she was on first name terms with the trolley collectors, the cleaners, and people working in the shops she visited. She was big on finding the good in everyone, a quality that she impressed on her children, and her seven grandchildren. Grandma taught her children about American segregation and how wrong it was during the 60s, and being ahead of her time, also talked about how LGBTQ people were born that way, and should be accepted as they were. She sought out those who were different, and those who were alone. She wanted everyone to feel special.
Grandma was creative. She constantly knitted and crocheted. She hand-knitted toys and blankets for us grandchildren, which we all treasure to this day. She loved beautiful cards, stickers, flowers and music. She made incredibly creative birthday cakes. She bought me my first knitting set when I was about 7, and taught me how to use it. It took me a while to get the hang of it, but she was always on call to help me out with a tricky project.
But above all else, Grandma was loving. The most loving, gentle person I have ever known. She would start planning Christmas in August, spend hours searching for the perfect gift. When you opened your present from her, she’d stand there and tell you the story of how she found it. Every time someone had a birthday she’d go out of her way to make it special. Phone calls and letters were a staple of her daily life. Five of the seven grandchildren live in other states, but every week she would write them letters. She was surrounded by photos of her children and grandchildren at all times, and she never missed an opportunity to remind us how much she loved us. “I love you all the way around the moon and back,” she’d say. Family was everything to her, and she made sure we knew it right to the end.
Grandma died from severe Multiple Sclerosis two weeks before her 70th birthday. In the 3 years from diagnosis to then, she remained the same beautiful and loving woman we all adored. Her only concern was for Grandpa, her children, and her grandchildren. She wasn’t here for long enough, but we were beyond blessed to have her as long as we did.
Grandma, it’s been ten years. We miss you so much. You’ll always be part of the family. I know you’d be so upset if you knew how late we plan Christmas these days, but it’s never been the same without you. It never will be. You left a hole in our lives that can never be filled. But I know you’d be so very proud of what we’ve all gone on to do. I miss your gentleness, the way you sought to find the value in everything, and how your face would light up when talking about your family. Rest assured, even today when putting my laundry away, I can still hear you behind me saying, “That’s not folded properly, is it?”
I love you so much. I always will.
All my love,