My grandmother loved cardinals. She loved crocheting, reading, hunting and gardening. She loved Christmas – and always had to have a blue spruce tree with blue lights – never multicolored or plain white.
She hated the color yellow.
I remember she always had a crossword puzzle out of the local newspaper on the table the early summer mornings that I spent with her when mom and dad were at work. So, to say that I was close to my grandmother, or as I knew her, Grammy, is an understatement.
I remember the day that I heard she was dying. I was walking out of class at CCV in Rutland and headed toward the bus station when my mother called me and told me they were waiting for me in the parking lot.
I went out and met them, and we started driving through the streets of the city.
Then, dad told me. He’s never been a man to beat around the bush. What he spoke next, I don’t think I’ll forget.
“Your grandmother’s dying. Could be days, could be hours. We don’t know.”
The truth of the matter was Grammy had been on dialysis for a couple of years. Dialysis helps take over the function of the kidneys when the kidneys start to go and it’s not safe to do a kidney transplant.
Grammy was in her early 80s when she started dialysis.
And yet, knowing her age and knowing she was on dialysis, I was blissfully blind to the fact that she was near death. Grammy had lived through the depression, the second world war. She had outlived my grandfather by 32 years.
So, when I received the news, it hit me like a load of bricks.
And I cried.
The only place I didn’t cry was in the hospital room. I wasn’t going to let her see me upset, though she never woke during my visit.
That week, as the family was making plans for her funeral and her viewing, they were planning it around my class schedule. Despite my grief, I still went to my classes. Grammy would have wanted it that way.
In an ironic twist, a classmate of mine in my effective speaking class was giving a speech on funerals the day that her funeral was. I had informed the professor what was going on, and I was told that topic would come up.
I tried to stay in the room. I made it about 15 seconds before I went out into the hall to cry and stayed there the entire class.
At the funeral, I managed to hold it together. The day matched my mood well – overcast, threatening rain and windy. But I held it together until the time came to place the carnation on the casket. It brought about this sense of permanence, which is what I think I hate about the tradition. My Aunt Nancy, who died two years later from cancer, patted my back, and Dad pulled me into a hug.
“Do you want to go to the car?” he asked me.
I said yes.
You know, I can honestly say my entire college career has been because Grammy wanted me to go to get my secondary education. It’s what keeps me going. I’ve received my associate’s degree since then, and I’m well on my way to gaining my bachelor’s.
Grammy never got the opportunity to read my articles for The Spartan or the Lakes Region Free Press. But as I write them, I like to think she’d enjoy reading them. I’m told by my parents how proud she’d be of me. I know she would be.
I’m not sure how much stock others hold in the idea of an afterlife. I don’t necessarily believe it to be as concrete as heaven, hell, purgatory. But I do believe in the idea of an afterlife.
And every so often, I’ll see a cardinal outside the window and know it’s Grammy checking in on me.
And I smile.