Death helps to put life in perspective

We buried my Grandma Kate on Saturday. My eyes misted more than a few times, but I didn’t full-scale cry the whole day. That means my ex-husband was wrong with his longtime prediction I would totally lose it upon her death because I was so close with her.

It’s not that I didn’t feel sad, or was trying to keep a stiff upper lip. I’ve openly blathered at multiple family funerals in recent years, once running completely out of Kleenex and having to substitute a funeral program and my sleeve while standing huddled in a cemetery.

The truth about my response to my grandmother’s death is that I’d mourned her potential passing a hundred times over the past several years. Not some weirdly morbid dress rehearsal, but a taking stock of what I needed to give and to get from our remaining time together.

Perhaps I cheated grief a bit when it came to Grandma Kate. I frontloaded my pain and imagined a time when she would be gone. It was the reverse of denial: Accepting in advance the inevitability of her death. For years I asked myself, “What can I learn from this wonderful woman that will help me continue without her,” then proceeded accordingly. The answers have made all the difference in my outlook.

Grandma Kate was personable with everyone she met. I suspect this came with working with the public first at her father’s hardware store in Burlington and then at the three grocery stores she owed with my grandfather. She would make a sincere inquiry as to how someone was doing and then actually listen to their answer. Good listeners make for good friendships and she had an abundance of them.

My grandmother served as a cornerstone for my life. While not overly demonstrative with her affection, she was clearly in my corner. She patiently taught me right from wrong and spanked me only once my whole childhood, for sliding down the banister of her house on Charlotte Street. I didn’t protest the punishment. I deserved it. There was an essential fairness about Grandma. If she said you had it coming, you did. No question about it. But I never saw her fly into a rage or say something she later regretted.

Grandma Kate taught me through the Hershey bars she kept stocked in her refrigerator that a lot in life is there for the asking, but you have to ask in order to receive. She also demonstrated how to make the most of limited resources. She canned, cooked from scratch, and cut old bank account reconciliation pages into scratch paper. In a world of uncertainty, Grandma was an oasis of consistency. And not just because she drove 40 mph everywhere.

I always knew where I stood with Grandma Kate, which can be said of few people. Her quiet candor defined authenticity for me. She knew herself and didn’t pretend to be anyone or anything else. You can’t buy that kind of example.

Grandma Kate flew in the face of the popular axiom, “only the good die young.” She was a very good person and lived to a very old age. In the end, her love remained unfailing even when her health didn’t. It still clings to everything, like the scent of her fabric softener.

When someone makes it to 96, there’s a tendency to imagine she just might live forever. I sometimes fall into the wishful thinking trap that although I have the right to keep evolving, everything and everyone else should remain the same to provide a solid foundation for me. It’s unsettling when friends divorce, neighbors move away, businesses close, landmark buildings get torn down, and cherished people die.

We’re told that whenever God closes a door, He opens a window. But sometimes mine seems stuck, painted shut with uncertainty, preventing the new opportunities from entering my life.

Not this time.

While Grandma Kate’s death means one fewer link to past generations and marks the passing of a family era, it doesn’t diminish what she meant to us and the many gifts she gave us.

As Grandma Kate kept on, so will we.


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