All weekend I have been meaning to write this post have been having a hard time finding the courage to do so. On Wednesday of this past week, I opened up a Macy's add and was overwhelmed by the smell from a perfume add for White Diamonds. Tears welled up in my eyes and it took all my strength to fight back the tears and keep a stiff upper lip. I stashed the perfume add in my top drawer in my bathroom and several times have picked it up and inhaled deeply. That was the fragrance my grandma wore every day. My Grandma Marjorie passed away last year unexpectedly the day after Thanksgiving. I can still hear her voice, remember the smell of her perfume and still catch myself meaning to call or write.
When I was twenty, I dropped out of Wenatchee Valley College and moved out of my parents’ house. All my friends had moved away to college, I was floundering around with some not so desirable townies and was honestly bored and lost. Although I had lost weight (65 pounds since high school) grown my hair out and totally changed my image, I couldn't shake who I had been and who people knew me as. My friend Nicole had recently moved to Tennessee and kept telling me how she felt like she could finally breathe. It was a Wednesday night, the week before Thanksgiving in 2002. I was sitting around waiting for a guy from my astronomy class to call. Nicole had just told me what a relief it was to be away from Wenatchee. I sat on the couch and pondered. There was a coffee shop in Cannon Beach, OR where my grandma lived that was always hiring. She was 86 years old and I always heard my dad and his siblings talking about how they wished she didn't live alone. Without thinking too hard I called my grandma. I nervously asked if it would be okay if I came to live with her for a while. She was thrilled with the idea. We decided after the first of the year would be a good time. That would give me time to wrap up loose ends at home and have the holidays with my family and she could get the upstairs of her house ready for me. After much convincing my parents got on board with the idea and I moved in with Grandma on January 15.
I arrived at her house, freshly heartbroken by the guy from the astronomy class. I started working full time five days after I moved in at a clothing store in Cannon Beach. Grandma and I started slowly learning to live together. She was very routinized in her day to day life and was not used to sharing the house with someone 66 years her junior. She laughed hysterically about my love for tanning at the time. Grandma was from the depression era and believed in hard work, and not wasting anything. Including time. If I was not out of bed by 9 in the morning she would come knock on my door and ask if I was okay. If I was still in my pajamas and sipping coffee at 10 am she would start prodding, asking if I was going to do something with my day, telling me what she needed from the market and she needed prescription picked up. Not wanting to be a bother I would oblige right away. Soon, I started waking up early and having my day planned. I started organizing my bathroom upstairs and my dresser and closet the way she did. Grandma was organized, but not uptight. She took good care of what she had and was frugal. She was the most stoic woman I have ever met in my life and also one of the strongest. She lost one husband to suicide and another to alcoholism. She got another chance at love but he died a year and half before I came to live with her. Together, our hearts mended, she gave me the jump start I needed to become a successful adult and I gave her company. Every night I was there we sat at the kitchen table watching the evening news. Grandma followed the new and politics with an incredible appetite. Never have I been more well versed in current events than when I lived with her. To this day, every election night I plant myself in front of the TV and follow it to the bitter end. Grandma was a huge proponent of education and convinced me to take a few classes at the community college in Astoria. She also encouraged me to apply to a university and was there when I got accepted to Eastern. Grandma attended UCLA when she was 16 and was thought to be sort of a freak since she decided to pursue her education before getting married. Every time it came up she reminded me how lucky I was to be able to attend college and have so many choices available to me.
I moved out of Grandma's house to attend Eastern in the fall of 2003. I left her house with immeasurably more confidence than when I moved in. I carried it with me all through my time at Eastern and most of the time today. I returned the following summer and Grandma and I picked up right where we left off. I would tell her in detail about my college shenanigans and she would not bat an eye and match each of my tales with one of her own from her early days and it always amazed me how similar they were. The following summer, I was starting to put down roots with David and Grandma was starting to age. She was less patient and needed a lot more help. She had a date set to move into assisted living. I left early that summer because I was renting a house with Dave and didn't like paying rent for a place I wasn't living in. Dave flew down and he and I drove back to Spokane the day after I turned 23. As Dave was outside packing up my car, she told me she really liked him, he had her approval. That meant the world to me.
After I moved back to Spokane, my life started to move in a opposite direction. I dove headfirst into working as much as I could, interning and school. Dave and I got engaged and I became more involved in the life him and I were starting. I would send Grandma a quick card when I thought about it and called the night I got engaged. I missed the family reunion in 2006, right before she moved into assisted living because I had to work. Gradually, communication became less and less. I would talk to Grandma on holidays and we would send each other occasional cards. She flew up to Spokane for my wedding and I was so busy racing around I only got to spend half as much time with her as I wanted. Dave and I made a trip down to Cannon Beach the summer after we got married and got to see her apartment at her new assisted living home. I called her to tell her I was pregnant, sent her a copy of the sonogram and called the night Riley was born. When Riley was nine months old I saw Grandma at the family reunion. She looked more frail and moved much slower than I remembered. She was still so beautiful. She loved Riley and I sat next to her and talked to her as much as possible, but Riley still required a lot of attention and she was very tired and took frequent naps. I hugged her goodbye thinking I would see her the following summer or sometime around the holidays.
Last Thanksgiving was horrible. My sister was in jail for violating her probation, my parents were weary from all the drama from my sisters most recent incident, Riley was crabby and under the weather the whole time and Dave and I both had to work the following day. My parents were babysitting Riley the Friday after Thanksgiving. When they arrived in the morning, I was frantic to get out the door. I couldn't be late to work. My mom told me she wanted to talk to me. Grandma was very sick and was airlifted to the hospital in Portland. She had a bowel obstruction and she was refusing surgery. There was a very slim, if any chance she would recover. I couldn't process the news. I told my parents Grandma was a fighter and it would be okay. After all, she was a fighter, and as strong and scrappy as they come. I went to work and couldn't shake the thought that this was serious. No one at work seemed at all concerned when I brought it up so I kept my head down and kept working. When I got home my parents handed over Riley and let me know they were driving to Portland. Grandma was passing away. I immediately started crying and didn't stop. Dave left work early on Black Friday. I held Riley close to me and tried explaining to him that Grandma was going to meet Jesus, but mommy is going to miss her. My mom called later to let me know that they made it, and Grandma had passed away. She told me about all the family that came to visit and say their goodbyes and all I could think about is how I should have been there. I kept saying I hoped she knew how much I loved her. How much she meant to me. I sat sobbing out loud on the bathroom floor. Riley came in a wrapped his arms around my neck. David helped me into bed and poured me a glass of straight gin. I sipped and thought about what Grandma would do. I just couldn't shake that she would tell me tears wouldn't bring her back. And that I needed to be strong and take care of my family. That night Dave, Riley and I held on to each other and slept on and off throughout the night. The rest of the weekend I stayed in a fog. At work, I had to do my best to press on even though my heart wasn't in it.
A year has passed and I still can't shake the guilt that I didn't call and write more. It only would have taken me a few minutes. I took one of the people who mean the most to me for granted and that's a horrible feeling. People tell me that she knew how much I loved and appreciated her but still find myself doubting. She used to always say "I'll see you when I see you" at the end of conversations. So Grandma, I'll see you when I see you, and the first thing I will do is tell you how much you mean to me and how much I love you and apologize for my lack of communication. Then we can watch some news together. Until then, I'll keep your picture up, keep the perfume sample, and keep myself busy and productive. I love you Grandma!