My Grammie passed away on Monday. There will be no funeral and so no chance to stand up and talk about her. If given the opportunity, this is what I would say…
Anne Richards is my grandmother…my dad’s mom. She was my favorite person who ever lived. I knew her for 40 years and I loved every minute I spent with her. What I am about to tell you is what I knew of her, what I remember and I can’t guarantee that others would remember it the same way, but all that matters is that this is how I remember it. How I will always remember it.
During my entire childhood, Grammie was a caregiver. I remember riding along with her to the house of whomever she was taking care of. The list was long – Joe Fretcher, Aunt Erm, Aunt Buela, Grace Davis. My Aunt Erm once told Grammie “some people were born to serve”. Then there was my Pop-pop. Grammie’s husband, my father’s father. She took care of no one else more than she took care of him. She spent 50 years doting on him, making sure he had what he needed. For years Grammie put her needs on the back burner and took care of us all.
Grammie and Pop-pop lived across the street from us and I spent a lot of time at their house. Every holiday and birthday was spent with them. Any big announcement involved a walk across the street to tell them. When I stayed home sick from school, Grammie took care of me. The channel 6 news was always on at lunchtime and there was always a glass of grapefruit juice for Pop-pop and a jar of peanut butter with a spoon on the end table.
There was no place I felt safer than with Grammie. She would rub my back while I fell asleep. She was always teaching me things…important things about life. When I wanted to constantly be with my friends she would make me stay home and say that it was important to know how to entertain yourself. On school days she would braid my hair and make sure I made it to the bus on time. Each summer, I would spend all my days with her. We would plan a project for the summer – knitting, crochet, needlepoint, arts and crafts of all sorts.
We would take trips to the bank in Pitman, have fried bologna sandwiches for lunch and there were always butterscotch crumpets in the freezer. She took me to get my driver’s license on my 17th birthday and gave me many rules of the road on the way there. When we were out to dinner, we would see women dressed “inappropriately” and Grammie would say things like “look at her, THAT is why you should always wear underpants”.
She taught me to wipe from the front, don’t go outside with wet hair, sit quietly in church, bite your tongue when you want to lash out and run to greet those you love. When I would come home from college or come to visit, she would always run out the door to hug me when I pulled in the driveway.
17 years ago my Pop-Pop passed away. For the first time Grammie didn’t have anyone to take care of. She and Pop-Pop had spent winters in Florida for as long as I could remember. First for a month at a time, then for several months. After Pop-pop died, Grammie bought a place in Florida and moved there permanently. No more New Jersey for her. She gave us all bottles of New Jersey dirt so that we would remember where we came from. She left the place that was her home for 70 years and she never looked back. This is where her real story began.
In the past few weeks Grammie was heard saying that these last 17 years have been the best years of her life and I believe this to be true. I watched my Grammie come into her own. For the first time in her life she did what she wanted to do and explained it to no one. When she went out with gentleman she always paid her own way because to quote her "she didn't want there to be any misunderstanding or expectations".
My whole life I remember Grammie being fascinated with Easter Island. She had pictures and books all over the house. She had always said that it made her homesick, something about that place made her feel like she had been there before, but she hadn’t. Over the last 17 years she became more interested in the metaphysical world. She read so many books, led study groups and belonged to different clubs. She talked more and more about the next dimension, the 5th dimension specifically. She wanted to learn enough so that she would go there when she died. She felt that her spirit had originated in Easter Island and that somehow it would go back there some day. She was a free thinker and she had been stifled all these years. Now she was able to really delve into all these things that would have been so taboo back in our little New Jersey town, in our little New Jersey church.
It may seem odd to hear it this way from me, but to listen to her was mesmerizing. She believed in so many different things and she was a very interesting conversationalist. She would always say “Tracy, there is just so much to learn….never stop learning”
Grammie was a collector. She had several phases of collecting in her life. Had she not been so focused in the items she collected, she would have been a horder. Instead, she scoured antique malls for her treasures, first the antique glass goblets that are now proudly displayed in my home then the yellow teapots that cover her home and the rose & rooster flatware that she had to have special shelving built for. She loved these things and it gave her a tremendous joy to search near and far for that one special item that was missing from her collection. I remember how much she enjoyed telling us about each of her finds.
My Grammie was a very strong woman. For so many years she took care of others because it was the right thing to do. Many women in my time would have run away, divorced, left home to find themselves. Grammie knew that her actions would have irreparable affects on those around her and so she stayed and buried those pieces of herself that couldn’t be tolerated in the life she was living. She planted those seeds and in her later years, those seeds blossomed into the fullest life one could possibly have. Grammie experienced this second part of her life to completion. She got every ounce of living out of this world.
We all thought she would live to be 100. We couldn’t imagine someone so vibrant ever slipping away. The last couple years, when I would go to visit, we always talked about death. Grammie would say that after she died, she would be moving on to the next adventure and that we shouldn’t cry because it was all part of life.
In February of this year, on my 40th birthday, Grammie had a heart attack. We thought it was the end for her. She recovered, which is to say that she didn’t die. We knew she didn’t have much time left and she was ready to go. She often said that she was excited to die, excited to see what comes next, to get to the 5th dimension, the place she had spent so long learning about. She was excited to leave her earthly vessel and allow her spirit to find its next journey.
Back in October, she took a turn for the worse. I called her to remind her that I would be coming to visit in November. Every year in November, I would travel to Florida and work in a town just 20 minutes from her. I would always spend a couple days with Grammie. This was the highlight of my year. During that call she told me that it was her time and she was ready to go, her body was giving out. I asked her to hold on until November. I wanted to see her before she headed off to that journey. When hung up she said "I'll see you in November" and I knew she meant it.
Last week, my aunt (who lives next to my Grammie) got sick and so my dad made the trip to Florida to take care of Grammie who was in need of round the clock care. She was fading, her body giving out. All the family had been to see her. I was the last one.
When I arrived, Grammie was in bed and not able to get up. I laid down in bed with her and put my arms around her. She held my hand and we talked about the things going on in my life. When it was time to leave she sat up in bed, held my head and kissed me. I knew then that we were saying goodbye. I had to work the weekend and planned to be back to her house on Tuesday. I said “I will see you Tuesday” and she didn’t reply. She knew that she would not see me on Tuesday.And the truth is that I knew too.
The following Monday when I saw my dad’s number on my caller ID, I knew that she was gone. In that moment and for every moment since, the world has felt both emptier and more full. The physical world will never be the same and I will forever feel the void of her absence. The spiritual world is more alive than ever. I feel her presence in every sunset, I see it in every leaf blowing on the breeze. I taste it in every breath I breathe and I know that she is everywhere. In everything. And she will be forever.
I have a thousand memories of her, a thousand funny or sad stories. Every time I talked with her she told me something she hadn’t told me before. She was love and peace and life and hope and honesty and truth. As she grew older, she became more herself. She was unapologetic for her quirks and steadfast in her beliefs. I admire everything about her. The way she approached life and ultimately death gives me comfort, makes me less afraid of what is in store for me. I know now that I can face anything that comes my way in this life and I believe that there is an adventure on the other side.
I told Grammie that I would cry when she died, how could I not? She is off on this grand adventure and we are here to carry on without her. People will sometimes ask questions like “if you could have a dinner with anyone, living or dead, who would it be?”…my answer has always been and will always be “My Grammie”. The one thing I regret that is I can’t talk with her about where she is now. I can’t sit in her yellow living room with her and listen to her tell me in great detail, with a glimmer in her eye, a distant look and a longing in her voice, about what she has now learned.
There were only a few things of hers that I wanted to have after Grammie died. She did a great job of dividing her valuables up long before she passed away. If she wanted us to have it, we either already have it or there is a note stating that we should get it. She gave me her goblet collection about 10 years ago. She has mailed me things over the last couple years - mostly books about the goblet collection. The things that carry the most value are often not the things that could be sold for the most money. Grammie had a simple amethyst ring. She got it when I was in the fourth grade. I remember it vividly. She had bought it for herself. The one and only thing I ever remember her doing or buying for herself back then. I remember her being so adament about that...about buying it for HERSELF. Even as a child, I knew that it must be special. I remember it on her hand and I remember thinking that one day I wanted it. The most beautiful thing about that ring is that she wore it on her finger for so many years and it was special to her.
I also wanted a simple yellow coffee mug. It probably cost $8 and she drank her coffee out of it in the mornings. Worth nothing except that it belonged to her, that it was part of her daily ritual. And a book...one of her many books. I looked for one that seemed well worn, that had lots of notes and markings in it. I like the idea of reading what she read, seeing what she wrote.
I miss her tremendously and wonder where the last 40 years have gone. One thing I know for sure is that I have always known that my time with her was extraordinary. I always knew that she was special and because she loved me, I felt special. That feeling will never go away and for that I am forever grateful to my Grammie. I hope her next adventure is even more amazing than she expected.