Goodbye, Gamma

Today my grandmother, “Gamma” to all of her grandkids and great-grandkids (19 of us in total, if I did my math correctly), passed away at 98 years old. I had a feeling that when I saw her at Christmas it would be our last time together and I think she did, too. She wasn’t one to show much affection through words and certainly not physically, but she held my hand and when I said, “I love you” with tears in my eyes, she said, “I do, too, Dear.”

I snapped a photo of her on that visit. She sits in her chair surrounded by our children and her dog. She was 98 in that photo but it could have been taken 30 years ago. For as long as I’ve been on the earth my Gamma has been a white-haired woman surrounded by young children and a Great Pyrenees dog. I never knew her as a young woman and yet her spirit was persistently young.

She was so many things to so many people.  A mother, a daughter, a wife, a sister, a Gamma, a teacher, a dear friend, an avid reader, a listener of NPR, a fierce Progressive, a big dog-lover (and a pitier of small dogs), a loyal family member, a keeper of traditions without being traditional, a pacifist, a writer of children’s books, a cyclist, a tennis player, a world traveler, a ginger bread house-maker, a generous, yet practical, gift-giver. She was a listener and a story-teller. She was profoundly resilient. She was strong and opinionated. She was modest and could be reserved. She would be horrified by my writing this.

She served her roast beef rare and her green beans unsalted. She saved the cardboard that came inside my grandfather’s shirts so that we could turn it into art projects. She kept special toys for us in her basement- wooden ones that came from some other time and probably some other country, too. She thought children should take risks and we seemed to take them all at her house (I learned to drive in her driveway).

She never wore jewelry or make up. She parted her beautiful white hair exactly down the middle and wore it in a low bun almost every day of her life. Once, when I slept over, much to my delight, I saw her long hair down for the first time as she got ready for bed. I felt like I was being let in on a secret.

In her last years she used the word, “ridiculous” a lot to describe her fading capabilities after a massive stroke made it difficult for her to speak.

And I tend to agree. A world without Gamma: ridiculous.

Last spring holding the youngest of her great-grandchildren.
Even though she struggled with language after her stroke, her ability to connect with children only seemed to grow stronger. Here she is playing peek-a-boo with Luke this past summer.
Christmas 2016.