I still remember the feeling when I came home to Grandmas’ house after an evening out with friends. The kitchen was softly lit with an under-the-counter fluorescent bulb, displaying a neat and orderly the kitchen. I could hear the low murmur of the television in the next room and I knew Grandma and Grandpa were watching television and, if it was a Sunday night, it would be Bonanza. I loved living here, I felt like I had finally found my forever home.
Grandma was small in stature, with white hair and smooth unlined skin. She suffered from a heart condition that prevented her from walking further than the house next door. Her back was curved with a Dowager’s Hump that was so prevalent among older women at that time. My sister and I would jokingly tell her to straighten up and she would struggle to pull her shoulders back, but to no avail. As teenagers we just thought that is what happens to you when you get old. Grandma wore socks with sandals before it was fashionable. She also wore flowered housedresses and always an apron. Very little jewelry adorned her except her ring finger which was a threadbare wedding band. She had not removed her ring for fifty-one years, as she believed that for each minute your ring was off your finger a tear would fall from your eye. Grandma and mom did not get along and I did not understand why, as to me Grandma was a wonderful, loving, caring woman, whom I loved tremendously.
I went to live with my grandparents when I was fourteen years old. My life up to that point had been fraught with neglect, abuse, and abandonment, and the social system was running out of options as to where to put me. At this time Grandma was 70 years old and had always taken care of my uncle, who had some issues of his own. I wasn’t sure whether grandma would take me in when she was approached by the social worker, but she did without hesitation.
Grandma had a warm, loving nature and she cared deeply for all her family members. She taught me what true devotion for your family really meant. As I settled into the routine of having normal meals, a cozy home, and not having to listening to drunken people fighting all the time, I felt a peace within myself. I knew this was what I wanted for my own life. Grandma not only cared for me, my sister, and my uncle, she also cared for Grandpa. His memory was failing and she did her best to fill in the time gaps and reassure him that everything was fine.
Saturday morning began as any other, as we all pitched in and did our chores, but something was different with Grandma. Several times I noticed her sitting on the sofa, obviously out of breath, anxiously twirling her fingers on the empty sofa cushion beside her. At one point I asked if she was alright, “Yes, Barb, I’m fine, just a little tired this morning.” I was concerned, but then continued my cleaning. When we had finished our chores grandma was warming up soup and making grilled cheese sandwiches for us. I just assumed she was fine and my sister and I chatted during our lunch. After lunch my sister when out with her boyfriend while I met friends nearby. In the back of my mind I thought about grandma, but my thoughts were focused on my friends and having fun.
We all met at the neighborhood hang out and sat around drinking coke and laughing. Out of the corner of my eye I saw my neighbor walk through the door and head in my direction. “Can you come outside for a moment Barb?” I followed her out. “I’m sorry to have to tell you this, but your grandmother has passed away and I think you should come home to be with your grandfather.” I could feel my breath catch in my throat! It can’t be, they must be mistaken?oh no! Oh no! I sat silently in the car, feeling sick to my stomach and unable to talk.
As I walked through the door I saw Grandpa and Uncle Jack sitting at the kitchen table wiping tears away. Tears flooded my eyes as I hugged grandpa and he whispered in my ear, “How can we go on without her?” It was the saddest day of my life. How would I go on without grandma? Without the one who had saved me and given me my forever home? As in life, eventually we were all able to move on, however an irreplaceable hole was left in our lives.
Barbara Godin is a graduate of AU and writes the “Dear Barb” column. She lives in London, Ontario with her husband, two dogs, and one cat. She can be reached on twitter @BarbGod