I deliberated for a long while about whether to publish this post. I've actually started to publish it three times before this and cancelled it at the last minute. It's a long and really personal post and it may be a bit on the intense side. If you want to skip it, I completely understand. For those of you coming here for vegan recipes or travel tips, I assure you, I'll be back at it tomorrow. I just feel like I owe it to my grandmother.
My grandmother taught me how to cook, how to stand up for what I believe in, and how to love all beings. If it weren't for her, Keepin' It Kind may not even exist today. Those of you who have followed this blog for awhile may remember that I've spoken about her quite a bit (especially here, here, and here).
I began writing this letter to my grandmother on December 9th, 2013, two days after she passed away. It started as a way for me to cope since she is who I would turn to talk to during rough times. Now I'm posting sections of the letter (the actual letter is nearly 10 pages long) as a tribute to this incredibly wonderful woman who shaped me into who I am today.
I made it all the way until I got home from the gym this morning before I began balling my eyes out again.
Yesterday, the day after I got the news, I woke up and my first thought was “No! No! No! No! No!” I cried for about twenty minutes before I was able to get out of bed. I took Sam for a walk after that and as soon as we got to the beach, we saw a little white dog that reminded me of Annie. Which of course reminded me of you and the way she would sleep in your lap. I couldn’t stop the tears from coming and because I didn’t want anyone to see the tears streaming down my face, I marched out onto the sand and collapsed in the sand. And I sobbed. Poor Samantha didn’t know what to do so she just buried her head into my shoulder.
For the last 6 or 7 years, I’ve not been that interested in decorating for Christmas. We’ll put a wreath up but since we’re never home for the holidays, it just always feels like kind of a waste. But last night, I made Chris and the twins go with me to buy Christmas tree ornaments because I know how much you loved Christmas decorations. You used to go to those year-round Christmas boutiques and buy new ones every year. Your house always felt magical when it was decked out for Christmas. So this year, we’re putting up a tree and decorating it for you.
Speaking of Christmas- in a mad frenzy to find pictures of you (I needed to see you again) I found one from Christmas in 1994. It’s you with all ten of your grandkids. Both Stephanie and I are wearing overalls (It was what you did in 1994, I guess), Bridgette’s eyes are closed, I look pissed off, Brandonn and Stephanie appear to be fighting and Josh is the only one posing for the camera. Clayton was alive and Sarah was still a little baby. I love this picture and I am so grateful that we all had this time with you. That we were able to know you.
About a year after Clayton died, during one of our many phone conversations, I told you that Clayton was often in my dreams. Sometimes he was still just a little boy, around 5 or 6, and sometimes he was about the same age he was when he died. You told me that you dreamt about him too sometimes. You told me that even though he was so young when he died, you truly felt that he lived life to the fullest. He never wasted one moment of his 20 years on Earth. He was always racing motorbikes or camping or spending time with his girlfriend, his friends, his family. He packed in a lot of living in a very short amount of time. I truly feel that you did the same. Your 75 years were packed with so much love. You gave love so generously to all who knew you. You sometimes seemed to glow with love. You radiated love. And you packed a lot of living into those 75 short years.
You've always amazed me. I can't believe you had the unfathomable childhood that you did and became one of the strongest humans I know. I can't believe you got married at 14 and had 5 kids by the time you were 20. I love that you and grandpa built the house you live in now.
I keep wanting to call you and tell you these things. I want to tell you all the things I remember and how much you impacted my life and how much you mean to me. I keep thinking about your joyous, cheerful voice. I keep thinking about your laugh. I keep replaying all of our phone conversations from the last several months. How when I told you that Chris and I had a slice of raw, vegan cake from Millennium Restaurant in San Francisco, you said “Well, you’ve got to be kidding me! They just serve you a cake without cooking it? Is it just a bowl of batter?” I described it to you and we agreed that when you felt better, we would go have lunch there. Before we left for Europe, I told you that you and Grandpa gave me my love for travel. If it wasn’t for that trip to the East Coast you took Stephanie and I on and how much you and Grandpa always stressed to us how important travel was, I probably wouldn’t be as adventurous as I am. You told me you were glad- you and Grandpa had hoped that us grandkids would learn to love traveling and exploring on our own. Our last really long conversation, before your health took a rapid decline, I told you about my book deal. You screamed at the top of your lungs and you put grandpa on the phone so I could tell him too. You said you were going to keep a signed copy on your coffee table and you kept exclaiming how you just knew one of your grandkids would be an author. We had a couple more phone calls after that but your health had begun deteriorating and you were heavily medicated and not feeling up to talking for long. I wish I could call you one more time.
In mid-November, while you were in the hospital after that operation, you had a seizure. You had already gotten a little delirious before that, probably due to being cooped up in the hospital for almost a month, but the seizure made it a little harder for you to communicate. Bridgette told me you were not doing well so I bought tickets to fly up to San Francisco the next morning. I would have to fly home the same day because I had so much work to do for the book (the first chapter was due the following week). My flight was delayed and by the time I rented a car and got to the hospital it was already about 1pm. I was only able to spend about 5 hours with you before I had to drive back to the airport to catch my flight home, but I am so grateful for that day, even though it haunts me daily. Bridgette had told me that you weren’t quite yourself but I wasn’t prepared when I walked in the room. You were asleep, but you didn’t look like my grandma. Hot tears immediately started spilling down my face and I was suddenly burning up. I took off my coat but still I was sweating. I had to put my hair up because it had begun to stick to my neck. Then you woke up. You just stared at me. A nurse brought a chair in for me and we sat, holding hands for the rest of the afternoon. We didn’t speak much, we just stared at each other and I did my best to smile and not cry. Occasionally, you would ask me to get your wheel chair and take you to the store or you would beg me to get you out of there, that you were going to go crazy if you stayed there. You had one more operation left and the doctors couldn’t release you when you were refusing to eat or drink. At one point, you just said “You are so beautiful. So beautiful,” and I smiled and held back the tears. So we sat there and held hands. Until it was time for me to go. I began to cry and you grabbed the bottom of my shirt and begged me not to go. You said “I hope I was always there for you. “ I began to sob. I bent down and hugged you, burying my face into your hair. I don’t know if you heard me but I said “More than you know.” I told you I loved you so much and I think I may have accidently called you "mom" at that point. You patted my hair. I cleaned up my face and as I headed for the door, you said “You are so important to me.” Of course, I began to cry again and I went back and gave you one more hug. I told you that you were important to me too. Those were your last words to me.
You’ll never know how important you are to me.
Two days later, you had another seizure that completely took your ability to speak. The doctors said you were in a “seizure fog” and that you should eventually pull out of it. But you didn’t. I did go back to see you as soon as I could. I spent Thanksgiving evening by your side, holding your hand. I don’t know if you knew I was there. Every few minutes, you would begin moaning and yelling. I just held your hand and kept telling you everything was going to be okay. I told you to be strong. I told you to hang in there. I told you I loved you. You would squeeze my hand so hard it hurt sometimes. During your yelling fits, you wouldn’t let go and you would pound my hand into the blankets. And we did the same thing for the next two days. At one point, on Friday night, you opened your eyes and looked at me though I don’t know if you saw me. When it was time to head back home, I hugged you and buried my face in your hair again. You seemed to relax just a bit- your shoulders seemed to release some tension, though it may have just been a coincidence. I used my finger to try to relax the tension in your brow and then I kissed your forehead. That was the last time I saw you.
The doctors had mentioned something about “failure to thrive” and that you were not going to improve. Grandpa hated seeing you in so much agony and he didn’t want you to pass away in the hospital so he set up hospice and brought you home. I was going to come up on Monday or Tuesday but life had other plans. You passed away Saturday morning with grandpa sleeping in the chair next to you. I’m sorry I didn’t come up on Friday. I didn’t think it would happen so fast. I truly felt like you and I had more time together.
So now, I just keep talking to you in my head. I keep doing “Remember when’s” like “remember when we saw all of those huge rats on the beach in Connecticut?” and “remember when my brother got his head stuck in between the railings on the upstairs balcony and we had to get him un-stuck?” and “remember when you took Stephanie, Bridgette, and I to San Francisco to see all of the Christmas window decorations and the tree in Union Square?”
It was just a year and a half ago that you and Grandpa renewed your vows. It was your 60th anniversary and we had a little ceremony and celebration in Aunt Roxy and Uncle Dave’s backyard. Josh officiated the ceremony and he asked me to do a reading during the ceremony. He had me read the following excerpt from The Velveteen Rabbit:
"What is REAL?" asked the Rabbit one day, when they were lying side by side near the nursery fender, before Nana came to tidy the room. "Does it mean having things that buzz inside you and a stick-out handle?"
"Real isn't how you are made," said the Skin Horse. "It's a thing that happens to you. When a child loves you for a long, long time, not just to play with, but REALLY loves you, then you become Real."
"Does it hurt?" asked the Rabbit.
"Sometimes," said the Skin Horse, for he was always truthful. "When you are Real you don't mind being hurt."
"Does it happen all at once, like being wound up," he asked, "or bit by bit?"
"It doesn't happen all at once," said the Skin Horse. "You become. It takes a long time. That's why it doesn't happen often to people who break easily, or have sharp edges, or who have to be carefully kept. Generally, by the time you are Real, most of your hair has been loved off, and your eyes drop out and you get loose in the joints and very shabby. But these things don't matter at all, because once you are Real you can't be ugly, except to people who don't understand."
It seemed so appropriate at the time, but now it seems even more so. Grandma, you are so loved. So real. And the strongest, most beautiful woman I know. You’re who I’ve always wanted to be like when I grow up.
That was such a wonderful day. You and grandpa finally had your “1st Dance.” I feel so blessed to have been able to witness it. Chris and I were looking through the pictures from that day and I didn't even cry. I had the biggest smile on my face seeing how happy you and Grandpa were that day. You were glowing.
I try to go about my day like normal though everything feels so foreign. I’m not used to a world without you in it and I don’t want to get used to it. I’m always a little clumsy, but it’s like I’ve forgotten how to use my hands or walk without tripping. I forget what I’m doing as I’m doing it. I made Maxwell laugh so hard the other day because the night before I'd poured myself a glass of water but moments later, I couldn't find it. The next morning, I found it in the microwave, still cold. I'd just put it in there and walked away. I don't know what has happened to my mind.
I feel awkward talking to people sometimes. I lose track of what I'm saying mid-sentence and can't think of things to talk about. You and all of the emotions that your death have caused to bubble up are at the forefront of my mind and putting a fog over anything else I may want to discuss.
Last night, Chris and I got excited when we realized that the new season of Downton Abbey starts next month. Then I remembered how much you loved Downton Abbey. I remembered how we would call each other and gossip about it and how shocked we both were at the end of season 3. “I can’t believe I have to wait until next year to see the new one,” you said. I’m so sad that you aren’t here to watch it and even more sad that we won’t be able to talk about it together.
Today, I finally felt emotionally ready to pull out the quilted wall hanging you made for me. You gave it to me for Christmas in 2008, a time when I really didn’t know what I was doing with my life. It was also three years before I went vegan. On the back of the quilt, you wrote: “To my darling Kristy, my blue-eyed, blonde humanitarian. She loves the world and all of its creatures and I love her.” It feels like you knew who I was and who I was going to be all along. On the front of the quilt, there is a white dove, flowers, and a heart. In the heart, the words “Grandma loves you” are sewn. I keep running my fingers over every letter, trying to feel where your fingers once touched.
I keep trying to think of one most favorite memory of you but there are thousands of little glimpses of memories and it’s overwhelming to me. The way you looked as you peeled potatoes over the kitchen sink. The way you taught me how to do flips in the pool. I still think of you every single time I do a flip while swimming. The way it felt to hug you, how soft your body was underneath my arms. The way you crossed your feet when you sat in the recliner. The way you pushed the cart at the grocery store. The way you sat at the kitchen table after you'd spent all day cooking- the look of relief and relaxation and joy to be with your family. The way you laughed at Brandonn's jokes. The way your hands would tremble when you were trying not to cry. The way you and grandpa would play-fight and the way you two looked when you hugged.
Your memorial service was just a few days ago. It was so nice. You would've really liked it. Uncle Dave delivered a brief eulogy and then the rest of your family stood up and spoke about you. We told stories and talked about how special you were and how you affected our lives. You have touched so many people's lives. It was amazing to hear everyone talk. Grandpa tried to talk but all he could say was "I just loved her so much," before he started crying. Everyone left, except for your family, and Aunt Roxy read the letter that you'd written for us. You said you wished that you hadn't spent so much time worrying and spent more time hugging each of us. It's funny that you saw yourself that way because all of us thought you were prefect. I have, however, found myself saying this to myself when I start getting too stressed about a recipe I'm testing or trying to be somewhere on time. There are more important things.
A couple years ago, you told me that you and Grandpa had purchased your tombstone and paid for all of your funeral expenses in advance. You told me that you were having that poem I wrote for you when I was 14, the one you kept in a frame on your nightstand, engraved on the back of your tombstone. I remember immediately pushing it to the back of my mind because I didn't want to think of a time that you wouldn't be here. I waited until after the service to go look and see it and sure enough, it was there. It was like I found a little gift that you had left for me, a little sign that you and I will always be connected.
I spent a lot of time with the family that weekend and it felt really good. Thank you for creating such a wonderful group of people- I'm so thankful to have them all in my life. We decided that we're going to go camping together this summer up at Sand Flats, where we always went when we were younger. The place with the creek with the rock out in the middle that was so important that we all climb while we were there. We're all going to go as a family in honor of you. I think you would've really loved that.
This last month has been a total blur. I try to keep busy and keep moving and I'll be doing okay, but then it comes over me like a flood. And I have to just breathe. I know people lose their grandmothers all the time. It happens. It's part of life. But geeze, this is rough. I have to remember to just breathe.
I can't even begin to thank you for everything you've taught me. All the love you've shown me. The friendship you've given me. How much you've shaped who I am. How much you've changed my life.There are no words. No words at all.