Thursday, April 17, 2014

A Tribute to Gramma

Ten years ago--a few months before my first book was published and just days before the traumatic brain injury that would change my life--I wrote this about my grandparents:

My grandparents' marriage is ending. It's not totally unexpected. My 84-year-old grampa has been failing for several years. Mom called on Christmas Eve to tell me that hospice has been called to make Grampa comfortable. After many brushes with death, this time it's for real. Grampa's doctors—and all of us who know him—have been amazed by his perseverance. Every time we've been told to prepare for his passing, Grampa's heart somehow kept on ticking. Some has said it's my Gramma's iron will that has kept Grampa around so long. She's been known to say, "Leo, I'm not ready for you to go yet!"

My grampa and gramma have been together nearly seventy years. Seventy years! Can our generation even conceive of such commitment? Of course, they weren't all blissful years. My grandparents weathered war and trauma and heartbreak. Their marriage wasn't always a model of domestic peace and tranquillity. But in the end, what a beautiful love story! Anyone can love when their lover is lovable, but true love—really remarkable love—is when someone loves another with all they have, knowing that the object of their affection hasn't anything to give in return. In the seven years since my Grampa's heart started failing, my Gramma has become an incredible model of unconditional love to our family as she cared for him, cleaned up after him, laughed with him in his better moments, and yes, loved him.

A week ago, my gramma left this life. Like her husband before her, she surprised us time and time again with her ability to bounce back. Up until two years ago, she still lived on her own in her own house! When the end came, it came quickly, on her terms, after a week with all five of her daughters spent saying the things that needed to be said, remembering, laughing, and shedding tears.

I knew the end was coming and prayed that she would hold on until we were in town (twelve hours away) in two weeks. But she was ready and it's selfish to be sad when she had lived such a long, happy, healthy life.

What comforts me is that in her last days, she found comfort in the memory quilt I made for her last fall.

When she called to thank me seven months ago, she cried, "It's my whole life!" I had put minky on the back of the quilt because I thought it would be cozy during the cold Wisconsin winter after so many sunny years in Arizona. Instead, she asked for it to be displayed on the wall so she could show everyone who visited. 

When she was taken to the hospital for her final days, the quilt was taken down and wrapped around her so that those caring for her would know the vibrant woman that she was, not the frail woman in a hospital bed.

In a few days, our family will be driving to Arizona for Gramma's funeral. The last time I was in Arizona, she tried to teach me to crochet so I could make her famous scrubbies. 

After an hour, she snatched the crochet hook out of my hand and suggested that crocheting wasn't my thing! I was determined to find my own craftiness. (Hello, quilting!). Later in our visit, she was taken to the hospital, and I was able to spend several hours in her house alone. I had a feeling that it would be my last time there, so I took many, many photos of her home and her many, many pictures, most of which I had never seen before.

The last time I saw her, I had the images on my iPad and she was able to tell me the stories behind the photos. I noted the images that resonated most strongly with her, and used them on her quilt.

My gramma was many things: A game warden's wife in Northern Minnesota. Writer. Avon lady. She loved many things: nature, golfing, fishing, cards, crossword puzzles, lemon bars, leopard print, Betty Boop, and most of all, her family. She was the mother of five girls. Gramma to ten. Great-gramma to fifteen. Her most recent great-grandchild was born in January, and she was first to hold him. (Here's a sneak peak at the first baby quilt I finished this year).

Over the past few weeks my family's facebook pages have been filled with pictures that show my gramma's personality. A picture (or two) tells a thousand words, so here are a few thousand words about my feisty, red-headed gramma whom I love and miss very much. 

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  1. What a beautiful post to rejuvenate....It so touched my heart that I had tears all the way to that last picture and then I just smiled!!! As THAT is my very very favorite picture in the world. Just so much joy caught in that photo!! Thank you for reminding us all Jen, how precious and beautiful each chapter of our lives our worth!!

    1. Thank you for your post that got me thinking of my "face" quilts. I miss her so much. I didn't get to say goodbye, but I'm comforted by the thought that she had this quilt on her when she passed. About that last picture. I have it blown up and am working up my courage to make my first art quilt with it!


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