Random Thoughts: The High Points

Last Thursday to Saturday seemed like a week. But my grandmother’s arrangements and funeral did really go as well as could be expected. I felt very peaceful at the end of it all (and exhausted). I hope my mom feels things went well, too.

I did say a few words at the service. After I got back to my seat, Flora made her way over. “I liked your information about GG,” she whispered.

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Grappling with the idea of death is tough when you’re a 3-year-old. We had an open casket for GG, and just one day of viewing. I took Kate and Flora to the afternoon viewing (only for an hour) and they attended the funeral as well.

Kate kept trying to point out that GG wasn’t dead. “Look,” she would dramatically whisper at the home. “She’s right there!” I found myself repeatedly explaining the difference between sleeping and death. It’s times like this that true faith and a belief in an afterlife sure come in handy.

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Sunday night, we had a double date with my in-laws. Although dinner at Tambellini’s downtown was a complete bust, afterward we went to see The Phantom of the Opera.

It was amazing. I don’t have anything in the way of theatrical critiquing chops so you’ll have to look elsewhere for reviews. I just know it was something I’ve wanted to see staged since I first heard the music. I had chills the entire show from the voices alone.

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I could not have been happier that yesterday was a holiday. Flora is coughing, and I seem to be fighting a cold (my throat was killing me yesterday — I seriously considered gargling whiskey just to numb it), so we needed a good day of sitting around doing nothing big. Dan ran around; I made lentil soup. It worked out well!

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On a final note, today was Kate’s first day of preschool. (Photo soon.) She was delighted, and she had no hesitations about putting her things away and getting down to business (which seemed to be playing with Rocket from Little Einsteins). I’m not sure she even noticed Dan and me leaving the room.

Random Thoughts: Funeral Edition

My parents have asked me to say a few words at Grandma’s funeral in a couple of days. They are basing their request on some of the blog posts I have written here, including yesterday’s. I am touched and nervous and honored — and I have agreed to say a few words.

I am a much better writer than I am a public speaker, but I think I’ll do all right. For her, I will do all right.

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I wanted to thank every single person on Twitter who extended their condolences and offered prayers and hugs. When I mentioned eulogizing Grandma, many of you stepped up with a lot of encouragement. Thank you, thank you, and thank you. I’m so glad to be part of a community that not only celebrates with (and laughs at) its members, but one that will extend itself to hold us up. Thanks, again.

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I mentioned on Twitter that I was afraid of crying in front of my children when speaking about Grandma. I don’t mean just regular old crying. I think it’s perfectly okay to cry in front of my kids, especially over the death of someone whom I love. I meant that I was afraid of sobbing so hard I couldn’t speak kind of crying. I don’t know that I will do that. I am very sad, of course, and I expect that seeing my mom and being at the funeral home will cause me some tears. And I’m okay with that.

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Telling the girls that G.G. had died, which we did last night, went much better than I expected. Neither one cried; Flora had a lot of questions about when we, her parents, might die (that’s fun!), but other than that, it went smoothly.

Which isn’t to say that I don’t expect a lot of tears, questions, and/or fears over the next couple of days — and beyond. When confronted with death, kids think about it a lot, and always seem to want to address it at the most interesting times.

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On a final not death-related note: Lost in the shuffle in the past couple of days is the fact that yesterday was Dan & my wedding anniversary. Nine years ago yesterday, we were married. I couldn’t do any of this without him, and I’ll be counting on him even more over the next couple of days. But I wouldn’t want anyone else by my side, and I sure as hell wouldn’t want to do it alone. Thanks, babe. I love you, as always for always.

Olympia

My grandmother died yesterday.

After Dan got home, he said, “I miss her already.”

My feeling is a little different. I’ve been missing my grandmother for years now. I feel like now I can begin to grieve. I wrote about it in this post two years ago:

In contrast, I have been losing Gigi for a number of years now. Her memory started fading probably 10 years ago. Five years ago, it started fleeing. And then about two years ago, she took a fall and fractured her pelvis, and her memory loss was, abruptly, memory lost.

When we visit, she says she remembers who we are, but I have my doubts. These visits are pleasant because my grandmother, despite her complete absence of presence, is cheerful. She isn’t angry, or depressed, or crabby. She just smiles and hmms and nods as we tell her our stories, remark on the weather, or talk about food. She doesn’t seem to be in any pain or discomfort. She is in good health, although my mother reports she is steadily weakening. Unlike Nanny, Gigi isn’t struggling. What would she struggle against?

If I had one wish before Gigi dies, it would be, for one day, to spend it with the grandmother I remember from, say, fifteen or twenty years ago. That woman, my children, and a tape recorder, for 24 hours. I would like Monkey to have something more than the vague woman she has met. Bun may not have any memories of Gigi at all.

Which leaves it up to me, I guess. To remember for all of us.

Olympia was a first generation American. Her parents’ love story is right out of an Italian romance novel — the older man spotting the teenage beauty in the piazza; his travel to America to “make his fortune”; sending for his love and her family. They had children; they lost a daughter in an accident when she was only 6 years old. My grandmother used to tell us how much that hurt her mother. The parents died within a year of each other.

My grandmother grew up in Little Italy in Erie, Pennsylvania. She was a hat check girl at the Italian Club, and later, worked in the Marx Toy factory. My grandfather, Frank, worked there too. I wonder sometimes how he caught my grandmother. She was a classic Italian beauty — small in stature, with dark eyes and hair, a smile that seemed to hold secrets. Not that my grandfather was not a handsome man. I just used to watch them bicker sometimes and wonder.

The story I learned later was that the house in which they lived — the one that wasn’t in Little Italy — was bought by my grandmother after her second son was born. Olympia and Frank had a boy, then a girl (my mother) and then, nine years later, another boy.

With an infant, two school-aged children, herself, her mother-in-law, and her husband all under one roof, my grandma decided it was time to move. Her MIL wasn’t going to budge from Little Italy, and it looked like my grandfather wasn’t going to either. He didn’t think they needed to move and he didn’t look at houses. But my grandmother was a working woman, too, and she had some money put away. So she found the house. My grandma gave my grandpa an ultimatum. She and the kids were moving; he could come with ’em if he wanted. My mom always said that until they moved there, her parents never fought with each other.

It was a great house for grandkids. My grandfather had a garden and there was a huge plum tree in the backyard. They had toys from Marx — a Big Wheel, a two-seated pedaled scooter. The basement and the attic were treasure troves. I remember Sundays of speeding around the driveway with my cousins; exploring upstairs and downstairs (even though we weren’t supposed to be in the attic); of dinners of lasagna and raviolis. I remember my dad eyeing his jelly glass of dago red suspiciously, and the men — my dad, his father-in-law and two brothers-in-law — sitting silently in the living room watching football.

I don’t think my dad ever had more than one glass of that wine each week.

My grandmother was a widow for more than 30 years. Frank died of his second heart attack, in the doctor’s office. She used to joke with my sister and me: “The first time you marry for love; the second for money.” We used to ask her when she was going to find a rich boyfriend.

She never did. She considered herself married…. well, I can’t say until the day she died. I don’t know what was locked inside my grandma’s head in the end.

We had just been in Erie in July, and had celebrated her 92nd birthday on the lawn of her long-term care home. I’m glad, so glad, we had the time with her we had. She may have faded from the lively Italian grandma I knew, but I like to think that somewhere in her heart, she still knew us all and loved us all. That she still remembered. Everything.