Friday, August 9, 2013

Grandma K, Memorial

My paternal Grandmother was laid to rest today. I was not able to attend the funeral, so I wanted to take a minute to write about her.

Grandma was my last remaining Grandparent. She was 88 years old.

When you are a child, Grandparents are ageless. They are old, but unchanging. Its only later when you see pictures that you see their hair changing from dark to grey to white. As a child, Grandma K meant endless buckets of cookies. I especially remember the sweet chewy toffee cookies, or was it butter brickle? Grandma and Grandpa would arrive in their Suburban, with a third row "short" seat (lower to the ground) for us little ones to ride around with. We would unload their things into the guest room and the gallon ice cream buckets full of cookies to the kitchen. We would be eating them long after Grandma went home.

Grandma and Grandpa K had a beautiful lake house, which it felt like they bought just for us grand children. How many lazy summer days did I spend there? Probably less than my memory would lead me to believe, but those timeless repeating memories are best. I remember arriving after a long drive and the roller coaster hills, stepping into the hot Ohio heat, and then into the cool fresh air conditioning and into Grandma's arms for a hug. The garage had a very particular smell that I never found pleasant - hot rubber? But I would still happily go in there to find a soda or see my Grandpa "play" the player piano. We slept on a trundle bed, and since I was the younger sister, I always got the bottom bed, which remained on the floor. In the morning, we would creep upstairs for breakfast - either personal size cereal boxes where everyone got to pick their own kind (I always chose Raisin Brand), or if we were lucky, pancakes and the most delicious sausage. It is in that roomy stretched out kitchen that I learned to love my sausage with real maple syrup (and actually, to demand real maple syrup in general). Then we would go swimming - race down the hill to the lake and splash away the hours. Grandma never swam with us, but we always knew it was because she was upstairs working her magic in the kitchen. At some point she would ring the bell for lunch and we would all climb up up up the hill to eat fresh cut ham sandwiches, chips and cookies. Often the afternoon brought more swimming - or if not, playing with the electric organ, the pink tea set, board games, cards, or drawing with fruit-smelling markers. We would smell each marker and use it, then carefully put them back away in the sleeves, making sure none got lost. My favorite was black licorice, even though I preferred to color with the pink berry smelling one. Often cousins would join us and we bonded over silly games and lots of laughter. By dinner time, swimsuits were expected to be shed, bodies washed, hair combed. Feeling cozy and warm we would eat another wonderful family meal all together. Later in the evening - desert - usually ice cream or more of those wonderful cookies. Those were my days with Grandma and Grandpa Keener. Full of food, fun and love.

When I got older, in Middle School and High School, I spent different time with them. They took me to museums, and college campuses. They showed me things about their past, told me stories of my father sleeping in a drawer when he was a baby, of how little they had, and how they made due, of what their parents taught them, and how they grew up. I still loved seeing them, and my days with them were filled with food, knowledge, and love.

My Grandpa passed away in 2005, and that is when my Grandma's struggle with dementia (eventually Alzheimer's) began. I was off working in New Jersey that summer, and then back at college in the fall. I wasn't sure how often I would see my Grandma, or what she would be like when I did. Then, fortuitously, I ended up attending Ohio State University for Grad School, only an hours drive from my Grandma's house. Suddenly I was able to see her more often than ever - two to three times a week rather than two to three times a year. When I moved there in 2006, she was still relatively mentally engaged, with only occasional confusion. I drove her down to visit her sister and got to hear the two of them relive the past and eat some wonderful ham and brownies. I cooked desserts for her, she loved lemon. For one of her birthday's I made lemon cake with lemon filling and lemon frosting. I talked to her about her childhood memories, and her nursing stories. She would tell the old stories and laugh and laugh at some of the foolish things from her youth. As time passed, she declined. She became less engaged, less active, less present. I got used to repeating myself, telling her the same thing (that we were waiting for Aunt Karen to arrive, or that dinner was almost ready, or that DH had to work that day) five times in five minutes. And then she stopped asking even those questions. The confusion increased, and with it her frustration with not understanding what was going on. And it is perhaps in these final months I spent with her (before moving back to Minnesota in 2012) when she taught me one of the most important lessons. She had a mantra that she repeated anytime she got frustrated with her inability to grasp what was going on around her. My uncle nicknamed her Doris Day for it. The mantra was "whatever will be will be." She said it because it was something to hold onto, a sentence, a song, that always holds true and makes it OK to not quite know what is going on. I find myself using it sometimes as a mantra when the going in life gets rough.

My Grandma K was a great woman. She was a nurse, she raised my funny and loving father, my genius uncle, and my tender heart aunt. She baked cookies, and hams, and rang that dinner bell. She loved her husband, and her kids, and her grandchildren, and aged as gracefully as fate would allow. I am glad I had so long with her, and glad that her values and love will live on in her children, grandchildren, and great grandchildren.

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