Grief is your receipt that proves you loved. That you paid the price. – Glennon Doyle, Love Warrior
This is a difficult post for me to write and likely for you to read, but writing is my therapy and this blog is my couch. You can either come in and grab a tissue or catch me at the next session. No hard feelings.
Wednesday morning, at 11:05, my Grandma Marge marched boldly into heaven.
She lived her life honestly and simply. Her possessions were few but all treasured. She walked this earth with red, fiery curls, long, killer legs and few apologies for her opinions. She was the definition of a matriarch, always guiding her tribe toward truth and the simplest, smartest answer. She spoke from her heart and accepted all who came through her door. She only asked that you “serve yourself”. My life was forever changed by her light and her love.
I never met my mom’s mom. I lost my dad’s mom when I was fairly young, so when Hank and I started dating and he told me he still had all of his grandparents, I was over the moon. And then I met her, Grandma Marge, and I went over the sun, too. She was so welcoming, so accepting so familiar. It healed a part of me I didn’t realize was so tender. She slipped right into that painful void and stoked a very specific joy for me.
I remember when Hank and I were engaged and everyone on the planet had an opinion about where and how we should get married. I felt overwhelmed and, admittedly, like I was being swallowed up by the ceremony of it all. Sensing my stress, Grandma held me back one day at a family gathering, looked me in my eyes and said, “You hold onto your convictions, doll.”
That was just something she would say. She had perfected the delivery of very sharp directives that somehow didn’t feel offensive, I think because she diluted the bite of the words in concern for your best interests. It felt like gospel … a wise woman’s suggestions, rather than a command to change direction. She was a sincere sounding board, an unfeigned confidant, and sometimes, a lighthouse. She lived on a lake with Hank’s Grandpa Butch, and before we had three kids, before everything changed for her and for us, we used to stay up late and have these long, revealing talks on the deck by the water. She always had a question or a story or a scrap of advice to punctuate the end of my sentences.
Five years ago, when we found out she was sick, it felt impossible. It felt like tomorrow’s worry. She would be the first person to beat it. She even said she would be. And she knew everything! There was no way this badass great grandmother could be stopped by some freak illness. She was bigger than that, stronger than that, invincible.
But last Friday I got the call I’d been dreading for more than a year. Grandma had taken a turn for the worse. We needed to come up that night. I was a sobbing, snotty, hysterical mess. Hank was calm, understanding. He didn’t push. He let me come to the decision on my own. And together, we drove 40 minutes to say goodbye to the woman we loved so much.
She was laying in her bed when we walked in. I hesitated for a minute and then felt a powerful pull toward her. I leaned down, put my head on her shoulder and sobbed in her ear.
“Don’t do that, honey. You’re so pretty when you smile,” she said.
“I just love you,” I cried.
“I know, honey, I love you, too. Now, you take care of those little girls, and my grandson and my daughter.”
“I will, I promise.”
“You two are going to make it,” she said, “but it won’t always be easy.”
I stood up to wipe my face and look at her in the eyes. We held hands so tight. Tighter than I’ve ever held hands with anyone with a grip that got away from me. It was this beautiful, tense, brutal energy, shared for what felt like a blink and an eternity at once.
“Thank you for being my grandma,” I strained.
“It was my pleasure. We wouldn’t have kept you around if we didn’t like ya.”
I hugged her again. The tightest embrace I could give her without breaking her fragile frame.
There’s a reason I’m sharing this …
This was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done. If you’ve read any of Glennon Doyle’s work or seen her speak live, you’ve heard her talk about leaning into pain. How the easy buttons are what we should be afraid of, not our feelings. But I love easy buttons when it comes to death. I’ve never been in a position where I was able to say goodbye, nor have I ever been a person who believed she could handle such a thing. I’ve never really looked that kind of loss in the eyes and worked through it in any kind of confrontational way. But, you guys, I’m so glad I did. It was a gift sweeter than I ever could have imagined.
I will never forget those honest, precious minutes with Grandma Marge. I will never forget that hug, her hand in my hand. I would have regretted it for the rest of my life if I hadn’t gone. It gave me comfort, cruel as the conditions were. But it hurt, too. It hurt in the way profound loss does; pounding head, lurching stomach, heavy, quick heartbeats. All of these things are the going price of one last hug, one last talk, one last memory of her eyes and her voice and her stories. I have always resisted that kind of hurt, but this time, I laid down with it, and that gives me some peace.
She held on through Father’s Day. She made it to and through her anniversary. She would do that. She would fight with everything she had to spare the people she loved. She would have fought like that forever if she could. But instead, the great beyond was blessed with one of the most amazing souls I’ve ever had the pleasure of knowing.
And now we’re trying to come alongside our babies and help them lean into their pain. They don’t want to go to the calling hours or the funeral. It frightens them, and I think that’s OK. Tonight we are having a Great Grandma Marge Party. We’re going to bake sweets, because Great Grandma loved dessert. And we’re going to talk about all of our favorite things she said and did and all the kindness she had in her heart.
We’re choosing not to remember Grandma Marge with oxygen on her face and a bed in her living room and a breathless desperation in her tone. I, personally, will remember things like this, instead, and smile. I’m told I’m prettier when I smile …
♥ She had the walkin’ farts. They’d just pop out when she waltzed around the kitchen and startle her and everyone in the room.
♥ She always started sentences with, “I got so tickled …” or “I had to laugh …”.
♥ She would stay up until 2 o’clock in the morning playing euchre and sipping coffee with powdered creamer. Then she’d sleep in her recliner to make sure she didn’t miss anything.
♥ One night, Grandma Marge and I were sitting up chatting while the boys went fishing, and I asked her what was the happiest day of her life. And she told me that one time, her and Butch (Hank’s grandpa) were driving in the country and he pulled over and made her a bouquet of flowers from a field. That was her happiest day.
♥ Spike’s middle name is Margery, after Grandma Marge, a fact which Grandma made known by always using her full name when she introduced her to strangers.
♥ As she gave away her treasures, one by one, and handed out her final instructions to her grandchildren over the weeks as she deteriorated, she cautioned each of them. “Take care of this, or I’ll come back and haunt ya!” or “Keep your nose clean. I mean it. Or I’ll come back and haunt ya!” Just awesome. .
♥ She had the best laugh.
♥ Nobody could give Hank’s Grandpa Butch shit like Grandma Marge could. And that man deserves to get some shit. He’s a pistol.
♥ When she was little, she shot a hole through the tip of her boot trying to climb a fence while holding a shotgun. Luckily, they were her brother’s shoes so they were extra big. The bullet missed her toe.
♥ She was the calm conductor of a huge, loud, tenacious family, and the result of her efforts is a masterful display of unyielding love, indestructible support and everlasting faith. It’s the house she built. It’s her legacy. It’s beautiful.