Tuesday, February 10, 2015

The Most Important Book She Shared

Years and years ago, a several decades now, someone gave my grandmother a book that might seem a little kitschy. It was one of those "mother's life in her own words" kinds of books. A keepsake full of questions to be filled in for future generations. A collection of snapshots and remembrances about the widest possible array of things.

My grandmother passed away in 2002, just a few months after my grandfather died. They were one of those couples married for nearly 60 years, and for one to be gone meant the other would follow shortly behind. Even though they had their troubles through the years, and even though my grandmother was quick to roll her eyes at him, he took great care of her in their declining years. She had a degenerative disease called myasthenia gravis, which slowly robbed her of strength and muscle control. Walking became nearly impossible. Holding her eyes open was a chore.


While I had a deep, enduring bond with my grandfather, one I've written about before, I also had one with my grandmother, though maybe less obvious. While my mom worked 12 hours a day in Dallas, I stayed with my grandparents until I started school. My grandmother was a serious woman who could sneak in a sarcastic one-liner so fast it would knock you flat with laughter. Of my grandparents, she was the disciplinarian, quick to nip bad behavior in the bud with a lightning-fast flick of a fly swatter. No harm done, but it made an impression. She was also a busybody...always cooking, cleaning, tending, crocheting, gardening, or reading. I come from a long line of readers, even if my matriarchs typically appreciate non-fiction and biography more than fiction.

She struggled in the final months of her life...in and out of the hospital with respiratory distress because her muscles were weakening, breathing was becoming much harder. The night she died none of us were with her in the hospital. It was just another day. She had been blowing me kisses the day before, mouthing words and winking. After my mother left the hospital for the night, she passed away quietly, alone. That's the way she would've wanted it. No fuss. Just finality. I remember how stunningly beautiful she looked. As if her face was illuminated. No more pain and struggle.

As we were preparing her funeral services, we found her book of questions and the answers she provided. My private, don't-focus-on-me, grandmother actually took the time to answer questions about life growing up, her favorite flower, her scads of siblings, how she learned about sex. That last one was a hoot. Something to the effect of...
"Janie Franklin told me all about sex. I just couldn't believe she was telling me the truth and people actually did that." 
 There's not much to do in the days leading up to a funeral once the decisions are made. We spent lots of time sitting at the kitchen table talking with visitors, convening with family, and accepting all the food that came through the door from neighbors and long-time friends. That little book of questions made us laugh when we passed it around and poured over her responses. It made us smile and appreciate her all the more. We learned things we never knew...things she probably thought were unimportant but that made our hearts ache while we laughed.

I never really thought my grandmother would take the time to fill in that little book. I remembered her receiving it...a Christmas gift, I think...but I never saw it again. That's because she had stashed it away with a little bit of her personality and wonderfulness tucked inside for us to find...and to cherish. It is truly the greatest book she ever shared.

In the years since, I've gifted a similar book to my own mother in hopes that she will share things I've never learned. And I plan to do the same for my own family. There's no way to measure the opportunity to revisit someone we've lost and bask in their memories, to learn what remained unsaid.

If you're interested in seeing what kind of book I'm talking about, it was something like this. (Not an affiliate link or anything.)




25 comments:

  1. What a lovely post! And your grandmother was certainly beautiful. Such a wonderful gift to hear her words after she was gone. Thanks for sharing this with us!

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  2. What a fun idea. I am glad she filled out the book and I hope your mom does, too!

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  3. What a wonderful memory to have of your grandmother! And - she sounds like someone I would have liked - I love people who can throw in a totally unexpected, hilarious one liner! I'd love to know where to find this book - are the questions already included or is it more of a freeform journal type of thing?

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  4. Oh, that book sounds like such a treasure! I want one!

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  5. What a treasure! I wish my grandmother had done something like that.

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  6. I love this post, Andi. And I love that you have that to cherish. Grandmothers are so special. <3

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  7. This put such a smile on my face. You're so very lucky to have that book. :*)

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  8. I love this story--thank you so much for sharing! How wonderful it must have been to see that the book was filled when you found it. I never knew my mother's parents, and it would have been amazing to have something similar from them, just to have an idea of who they were. Same for the grandparents I did know, actually--you never know what stories you haven't heard!

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  9. This is so beautiful. A friend shared a poem from the New Yorker the other day that I think you'd like:

    Tell Us a Story, Grandma

    I wonder which ones I will remember:
    That I loved my boyfriend's best friend?
    That I rode the lonely train to Boston?
    That I could never hold myself together?
    Maybe I should just tell them
    Milk was $2.89 a gallon and bread was $3.29
    And an iPhone was $200
    In 2010, when I was 22.

    -Natalie Wise

    It really struck me because I was very close to my grandmother, and while I asked her tons of questions, I still wish I had asked her more.

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  10. This is so lovely, Andi! Your grandmother sounds like she was a trip. :)

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  11. I love everything about this post. Grandmothers! <3

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  12. My grandmother got one of those books too. She didn't get to finish it, unfortunately, but it is definitely a treasure. I'm so glad your grandmother took the time to do it!

    And now I see where you get those awesome eyebrows! What a couple of lookers!

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  13. What a beautiful story, Andi. Thanks for the nudge to find something like that for my grandmother and my parents. :)

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  14. What a beautiful post, Andi. That book must be such a treasure. Both of my grandmothers had passed away by the time I turned 11, but I would have loved to know more about them.

    My grandpa, who died when I was in high school, was a big recorder of things. He wrote and illustrated stories for me, kept in-depth travelogues, and wrote a family history that I finally read for the first time a year ago. And when I was really little, my family lived in Australia for a few years (Air Force!), and he kept and bound all the letters my mom sent him and my grandma during those three years. Being able to read those letters now is really special.

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  15. Wonderful, beautiful post, Andi. She sure sounds like a lovely and lively woman. It's always very nice to remember them and their personalities. I think that definitely treasured that little book, since she took her time to fill it up. It'd be something to remember forever for you.

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  16. Oh, this is awesome! I wonder if my grandparents have something similar stashed away? If so, we haven't discovered it yet!

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  17. What a treasure! Thanks for sharing this with us. Now I have to go find a tissue...

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  18. This is a beautiful post and those are some beautiful people. I can see you in both of them.

    Your grandmother sounds like a wonderful woman, and I am so glad you were able to find a way to reconnect with her even after her passing. We should all be so lucky to have such a strong connection and role model in our lives. Thank you for sharing!

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  19. Andi, this is so cool! I sooo wish I had something like this from my grandparents, most of whom died before I was old enough to remember them. But the grandmother I had until age 15...what I wouldn't give to ask her questions now. Treasure it!

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  20. What a lovely tribute to your grandmother. I think her personality comes through in that photo since I can just SEE her rolling her eyes or quirking one side of her mouth - wry! I can see you in both of your grandparents faces :)

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  21. Your grandmother was so beautiful! And I can definitely see a family resemblance. You look so much like her! What a wonderful gift to have that book and get a glimpse into her life and personality. Makes me miss my grandmother even more...

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  22. This is a great story, and beautifully told. Thank you for sharing it :)

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  23. Such a sweet story. My sister gave my parents books like that. Neither filled them in and now my dad never will. I wish he had. I always have so many questions. You look like your grandfather, who looks kind of like old Navy pics of my dad. Weird, huh?

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  24. This seriously made my cry. So beautifully written and what a gift! I should do the same for my boys.

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