It’s been radio-silent over here for far too long, but lately I haven’t had time, let alone the mental faculty, to express in words or in such a public forum what I’ve been thinking, feeling and experiencing. You see, on Tuesday, I spent my last afternoon with my Grandma Lo.
Lo passed away last week at the golden age of 91 and a half due to complications from cancer. In her long and beautiful time on earth, she was a ray of sunshine in the lives of everyone whose paths she crossed…mine included. Grandma Lois was my favorite. I don’t say that lightly, or with hyperbole. She genuinely was one of the most wonderful people I’ve ever encountered, and I prize every minute I spent with her.
I think grandmothers are special…especially when you luck out and get a really good one. Lo was the quintessential “girl” grandma. She loved dolls, dress-up, and all things feminine, and I vividly remember thinking she was one of the prettiest, classiest women I’ve ever seen. She loved to shop and dressed beautifully…always accessorized perfectly, always fragrant with perfume and immaculately made-up. Her weekly trips to the beauty shop for hair and nails laid the foundation for my own obsession with my colorist and manicurist, and I prize my heirloom amethyst-and-diamond ring, passed down from her, above all other jewelry I own (my Notre Dame ring miiiiight be tied).
In the past several years, having moved back to the Twin Cities after graduation, I count myself immeasurably lucky to have built a true adult relationship with Lois. I found her fascinating and often chose to spend time with her…popping over on random Sunday afternoons for a glass of wine and lengthy chat session, dropping off farmers’ market flowers or a candle or the remnants of my latest baking adventures. She’d listen intently to my work drama, my castle-on-a-cloud dreams of love and marriage, and, later, my heartbreak and hope for recovery. Through it all, she also shared the most riveting stories of her own girlhood and young adulthood. Lois married my grandpa Leo at the tender age of 21, a stunningly beautiful World War II bride.
Soon after that, Leo deployed to the Pacific during the war, where he experienced active combat while Lois lived with her parents back home. Upon his return, around the birth of their first child, my uncle David, they moved to California, where Lo and Leo lived the glamorous life of a Naval ensign on base. I lived for her stories of fabulous nights out, of dinner and dancing with friends, of fur coats and fabulous hats. Just look at how gorgeous they were! Talk about old-school beauty…they look straight out of “The Notebook” or something.
Those afternoons only grew in magic and warmth as we started the tradition of “Sunday Funday.” Not quite on the level that many of my peers did it, but still…we’d gather Gram’s favorite girls every Sunday afternoon and drink cocktails and gossip for hours. For me, few things could rival the sense of community and closeness and longevity that came with gathering three (sometimes four!) generations at my Grandma Lo’s home…strong, witty, passionate women who all loved and understood the importance of family ties. I’ll always cherish those memories.
As I found myself single and back home last summer, Lo was one of my biggest supporters. She included me in so many fantastic family outings with my parents and godparents, laughing off my hesitation with a cheerful “Oh, pish!” and dubbing me “her date” for each of our nights of theaters and cocktails and dinners. For me, fresh off the whiplash of a bad breakup and feeling more than a little lost and lonely, Lois’s love was like a security blanket. She constantly affirmed that I was lovable…brilliant and beautiful in her eyes like nobody else’s…and that was a balm to my wounded spirit and broken heart.
It’s fitting that I spent my last time with Lo on a calm afternoon, a few days before she passed away. She was still the same sparkle-eyed gram I love so much…laughing at dumb jokes, engaging in the spirited repartee our family has all mastered. I’ll be grateful forever that I’ll remember her that way… smiling, telling me how much she loved me, and throwing out the trademark “Oh, pish!” that had become our personal inside joke and totem over the last few years. Driving home, I was tear-blinded, but still smiling at the memories of the day…the very incarnation of her favorite catchphrase: “If I wasn’t laughing, I’d be crying.”
This Tuesday was our family’s last afternoon with Lo, as we laid her to rest in driving rain and chilly mist. My hands trembled uncontrollably as I served the Communion wine, and I genuinely drenched a Kleenex with tears and sniffled through the eulogies my cousin Sara and I delivered. Still, however, and appropriately, the day held as much laughter as it did tears. We admired the old photos I’ll cherish forever, giggling at her animated facial expressions and chuckling as we each shared our favorite anecdotes. At the after-party to the after-party (that’s right, we do it up for funerals in my family), we gathered in the bar of the St. Paul Grill, Lo’s favorite restaurant.
Taking up the entire length of the bar, gathered around a long table, martinis in hand, we toasted Lo and laughed together, and all I could do was look around and think how much she would have loved to be a part of it all. And I know that, for me, she’ll always be a part of it…there on all my favorite afternoons, laughing in spirit, supporting me in my failures, celebrating my successes, and encircling me with the unconditional love only she could provide.