Friday, 11 May 2012

A Tribute to my Grandmother on Mother's Day

As Mother's Day approaches I'm reminded of the wonderful, influential female figures I have in my life, including my own mother.

Lately though, I have been thinking a lot about my maternal grandmother. She passed away when I was 8 years old due to complications from cancer. She was 72. Even though I was young, I understood the magnitude of this loss. I understood that I lost my grandmother, a playmate, a dancing partner, and a friend. My mother, at 33, lost her own mom, her confidante and her best friend. My father lost a surrogate mother, and a friend. We were all lost without her and not sure how to go about life after her death.

Even now, over 20 years later, my heart still aches for my grandma. I wish that I had more time to bask in her light and witness her unconditional love for others. I yearn for one more day to put The Pointer Sisters on in her tape deck and dance in her living room with her. One more girls’ lunch out, driving in her boat of a car.

My grandma and I made the best team. Before I learned to walk, my grandma was getting a bit too old to carry me up the stairs to bed, so I learned to crawl up with her climbing the stairs behind me, using the rail to support her stiff body and brittle bones. When I was older and my grandmother had a harder time getting around, I would make her coffee. Instant coffee, with just the right amount of Coffee-Mate. And of course we would play games. I would get out my Fisher-Price telephone, the one that had the google eyes that rolled around when you pulled it, and we would watch The Shopping Channel together. If we saw an item we liked, one of us would "call" into the show and the other would take the order. We put in many "orders" for pretty dolls, jewellery, and cordless vacuums.

From what I learned from my mom, grandma was quite an inspirational woman. Even when my grandma was out of her comfort zone, she rose to the occasion and made the best of the situation. For example, my grandma didn't like camping very much. Still, she got her three kids ready and she, along with her husband would spend the whole summer camping. And the camp sites, weren't your modern day "hi-tech" sites with electricity, running water and wi-fi. Nope. These camp sites were reserved for Man and Mother Nature only. Regardless of the number of mosquito bites my grandma endured, she still had a smile on her face in pictures with her wide-brimmed hat sitting near the shade keeping a watchful eye on her family as they frolicked and played in the water.

When her husband passed away well before his time, my grandma decided that she needed to learn how to drive a car so that she could get a job to support herself and her two children who were still at home. At this time, my grandma was no spring chicken. She would have been in her 50's. Can you imagine what it would have been like in the 1970's for an older woman learning to drive a big boat of a car without power steering and without automatic transmission? But she did it. She did it while still grieving for her husband. She did it while raising a 15-year-old (my mom) and a 10-year-old. She lived life with strength and grace that I can only aspire to possess.

My grandma worked as a receptionist in a medical office until she was in her late 60’s, until the cancer made her not able to work. Still I remember her working at the doctor’s office.  She would be trading recipes and offering sage advice to patients while they were waiting for their appointment. I would get to come back to her office and write messages for her on index cards and then she would send me with some money to get some Reese’s Pieces at the corner store.

Grandma was a stay-at-home mom, who always hugged her husband when he got home from work and then made sure his work clothes were clean for the next day. Little did she know that these acts of affection and devotion would eventually take her life. My grandpa worked as a welder and back in the day often used asbestos in his work. He died in 1970 of asbestos-related lung cancer. It’s quite likely that asbestos fibers transferred from grandpa’s work clothes to my grandma’s clothes and contributed to the cancer that ate away at her body years later.

When I think of my grandma, I think of her smile, her Chanel No. 5 perfume and the love she had for life. I remember her by planting tiger lilies in my garden and always getting gladiolas to arrange in the house when they are in bloom. I see her now as a gentle soul who had a quiet strength. I don’t see her as someone who was frail, or sick, or cancer ridden.

I see the joyous light that poured out of her and I hope that she continues to share that with me through my heart.

I was reminded of my grandma most recently when I was reading Write for the Fight: A Collection of Seasonal Essays co-authored by Tess Hardwick and Tracey Hansen. A mosaic of authors answered four seemingly simple questions: What do you miss about being 5 years old? What would you tell your 20-year-old self? What, at this point in your life, do you want, wish and dream of for your life going forward? What would you want said about you on your 80th birthday?

Like all other books, I read this one in my bathtub. I found myself wrapped up in everyone’s stories, following their life lessons, laughing with the authors’ follies, and sharing in their their sadness. It is not often that I catch myself laughing and crying out loud while reading a book, but I did lots of it while reading this book!

The proceeds from this book go toward breast cancer research, but the book itself is not about cancer. Yet, in a way it is about cancer. The book is a celebration of all life’s seasons: the young and inhibited to the older and more reflective and everything else in between. 

After reading the book I reflected on the questions posed. I remembered being 5 and playing baseball in the house with my grandmother. Of dancing in front of the TV to American Bandstand. Even though she died when I was eight, memories of my grandmother - of her kindness, her laughter and her generosity of spirit - resonate with me to this day. All it took was a little reminder from all of the talented authors who contributed to Write for the Fight.

Write for the Fight by Tess Hardwick and Tracey Hansen is available for purchase through Barnes & Noble and Amazon. They have both hard copy and ebook versions available. All proceeds go toward breast cancer research.

1 comment:

  1. Very heart-warming post, Christina! It reminds us to cherish every moment we have with our loved ones.