On Wednesday I got the call that Grandma Gen had died.
And as I sit here more than 48 hours later, I am sure it hasn’t sunken in. Not really.
Even as I look out the windows at the changing leaves, and I am brought back to last October, as Dad was getting sicker, quickly, I can not really process.
I sometimes feel like so much goes on so fast that sometimes the brain just has to protect the heart for a while.
I have an odd connection to numbers, so it struck me that Dad had died on a Wednesday too. 46 weeks ago. And as we approach what was sure to be some challenging anniversaries, my family will gather this weekend to remember again, a life well-lived.
Wednesday was my cousin Christie’s birthday. 23 years old. I so hope that she found her cake. Because Grandma would have never let a party pass without some cake.
Wednesday was my cousin Kim’s birthday too. 30 years old. One to be filled with joy.
I know girls. I really do know. A piece of my heart died forever on that November day, my 18th birthday when we lost Angel Meghan. And last year, on my 40th, Dad and I went to the VA for a really tough appointment. And then to get the legal papers signed. And as he signed he said, “It’s your birthday!” And I said, “There’s no one I’d rather spend it with Dad.” And there wasn’t. And I don’t regret any of it one bit. And in the end, that is what matters. No regrets.
So to my cousins whose birthdays will never quite feel the same I can tell you to focus on the connection. We all got a really strong angel in Grandma – but you girls… well you have something no one else has. I’d love to tell you “Happy Birthday” doesn’t still flip my stomach a bit, but I don’t much like to lie. What I can tell you is focus on the “happy” that was Grandma. Eat your cake. Always.
And Kim. The wedding will be December 6th. The shower is tomorrow. So compassionate. Not just to Grandma, but to everyone. Something unfair about the timing of it all. But, I can tell you I have a good feeling heaven will be tossing SHOWERS OF BLESSINGS your way.
It’s almost impossible to sum up my Grandma Gen to someone who has never met her.
Grandma was beautiful. Not only in a physical sense, but inside as well. One of the stories I never tired of hearing was the one of her and Pop’s first date. And because there is no way I could do it justice here, I will simply tell you she told it often, and rarely did a detail change. Decades after Pop’s passing, and 60 or so years since that date, her eyes showed the love in her heart. And even in her last weeks whenever we talked about Pop she would say, “God gave me such a GIFT when He gave me your grandfather.”
They were parents. Busy parents. Grandma was the Mom to nine children – 8 boys, and a girl. Most of us shudder at the thought of trying to raise 1, or 2, or 3 children. For Grandma there were never enough babies. Each one was a true gift from God. So for 20 years she had her own, from my Dad to my Uncle Gerry, and everyone in between. And then, just about three years after Gerry, my older sister Lisa was born. There was never a break. The house was always busy, and happy.
As a young child, the cousins just kept coming. There was always a baby to play with, and Grandma ALWAYS had a smile on her face. I believe between 1980 and 1990 – the core of the cousins, 13 if I have the numbers right- were born. Some just a few weeks apart. When all was said and done she boasted 27 grandchildren. There were busy Christmas Eves on Kingsley Avenue for a long time. There were swims in the pool, and dogs to guard the door instead of keys for the lock. There were trips to “Bud’s” for milk, and always a sweet treat. There were green mashed potatoes on St. Patrick’s Day that at the time just amazed me. The little things. So many, really, are the big things.
When I got to call Grandma and tell her that she was going to be a Great Grandma, she let out tears of joy. She was thrilled beyond words. 2003 was a good year – 2 grandchildren and 2 great-grandchildren. 9 more great-grandchildren have followed Meghan and Luke. And she never resisted an urge to tell friend and stranger alike about how proud she was, of all of us.
Maybe one of the most special things about Grandma was that everyone had their own “one of a kind” relationship with her. When you spoke to her you were the most important person in the world. And we were all perfect. In case the rest of the world missed the memo, or noticed a few faults along the way, you must have been mistaken. Each of her children, her grandchildren, and her great-grandchildren could do no wrong. And while in reality, we know we are all far from perfect, there is no denying that that kind of unconditional love felt awfully good.
Grandma had a firm, strong belief in God, Jesus, and she adored The Blessed Mother. She would often tell me, if you REALLY needed to get a prayer answered to pray to The Blessed Mother. She’s get word to Jesus, and He’d never deny His Mother.
Motherhood was her core. From her days playing with her baby dolls she prayed to be a mother. And boy were those prayers answered.
And through the years as the family grew, and changed, Grandma could be found smiling somewhere.
I can say with confidence, that for all the years I knew my Grandma she never acted with malice in her heart, and always had the best of all intentions in all she said and did. Somewhere along the line I became a middle aged grown up, and I’ve picked up a few things. That pure heart, that is what defines people. At the end of the day it is the knowledge that they did the best they could with what they had where they were at all times that really separates the pure in heart.
And as sure as Jesus said, “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God…” I have no doubt my Grandma was welcomed into Heaven-warmly.
Because even after the stroke that was to be the beginning of the end, she was the most polite, well-mannered patient you ever could have imagined. In the hospital, in the nursing home, to anyone who did anything for her, “Thank you.” “They’re so good to me.”
Even as she waited for visitors, she stared at the picture of her children on the steps at Dave and Margie’s wedding, and she spoke with pride about each of them, and how their hugs warmed her soul.
Sometimes when I was visiting her alone she would tell me about the places she had been. Of course these were voyages of the mind, but I listened, as we all did, with intent excitement. These last few weeks were interesting, because you truly never knew who had been in before you, or who came after you, but we all had our times to listen and chat.
She and my brother used “FaceTime” so he could chat with her from Texas, and she sure knew it was him, somehow coming through my phone. Shane may very well be the first Thompson male to have his facial hair approved of by Grandma. He booked the first dance with Grandma at Kim’s wedding. And without fail as the call would disconnect, she’d say, “Shane, I love that kid!”
And there were days my Dad must have visited with her when she was lonely, and her brothers, and some others who gave her comfort, because we heard all about them too.
Even as her mind took her farther from reality, she smiled. She regaled us with tales of how we were all going to gather for family dinner. She told me one day she was buying 2 houses to there would be enough space for all of us. She would talk about the family being close, and how my cousins from Washington were coming with their families too! (We can dream!)
So this weekend we will gather together again. This time for the first gathering without our matriarch.
And we will spend Saturday showering Kim and Nando with blessings for their upcoming wedding. Because Grandma, who believed so much in weddings, and marriage, and love would have had it no other way.
Then Sunday we will get together in Harmon Funeral Home again. And in Irish fashion we will have a loud celebratory wake for a woman who lived a full, happy life. And we will look at pictures and tell stories, and we will laugh and smile. Together.
On Monday we will travel, and bring her back to Pop. 21 years later they will be reunited again, a love story never ended, simply interrupted.
Then the real work begins. It’s our job now. We need to stay focused. We need to stay connected. We need to stay together.
For so many of my cousins Grandma Gen was their last grandparent. I have a guilty amount of good-fortune, and celebrate three grandparents still. But. the significance and the importance is not lost on me.
In the end it is really only about one thing.
In our loss, we must remember their freedom. In our loss, we must remember the gifts they left behind. In our loss, we must remember they are never truly gone if we keep them alive in our words, thoughts and actions.
I miss my Dad. I miss my Grandma.
Their physical bodies are gone. Their energy, their spirit, their love remain.
Grandma Gen we’ll do our best to stay “on the right path,” as you so often said. And at every dessert table there will be an extra piece of cake or a “dollie” shared for you.
Enjoy Pop, and Daddy, and Angel Meghan, and Bo, and all the rest of those you love so much. No worries. When the time is right we’ll all be together again.
Until then, it’s remembering – the Irish way.
Rest in Peace Grandma Gen!