As we sat around the makeshift card table, I looked at my brother, now with 2 children and a wife. He used to hate me but had driven 6 hours in the snow to meet us and to see Gram. My sister-who could look at her sweet young face and that gorgeous smile and even guess that she used to rip heads off dolls, had been to Iraq and seen horrors, was tough as nails on the outside but inside melted like butter during commercials like I do? I saw my Mother who had seen much and fought hard through her life. She’d always worn her anger like a badge, refusing to cry, even when I needed her to. Here she sat, as her mother, my Gram, sat in the room dying while teaching us a very complicated card game. We had come to see her one last time, but none of us knew it would be our last goodbye. No more cards in the mail on our birthdays, no more phone conversations. This was it. We asked her questions. My sister made jokes about her oxygen. My Mom marveled at how open she was. We learned about my grandpa who died when my Mom was just 15, leaving Gram a young, overwhelmed single mom of 6. We learned she’d been a draftsman. She joked with my Mom about sending her a dream to tell her what it was like with her Dad.
“It could’ve been like this for years,” she said, still craving her acceptance, her love and her advice as if she were a young girl just starting out and not almost 60 with five grown children and several grandchildren of her own.
Gram smiled and recited the rules of play as my brother wrote them down. A whole page of rules and she only stumbled on a few. ‘Hand and Foot’ was the name of the game and she was my partner. We played a round and that’s all it took to get the hang of it. Gram and I lost to my sister and Mom. But it was fun. The twins, turning 4 in just a few weeks played in the kitchen on the floor with my brother’s wife.
Saying goodbye that night, I tried to hold it together as I realized this was the last time I’d see my Grandma. She smiled at me and hugged me and had shown no sadness or emotion of any kind. But that was her way: stoic, strong to the end. We took turns hugging her as she sat in her recliner, oxygen tubes in her nose. I looked at her one last time as I walked out the door.
The next morning at the airport, after Mom and I had dropped my sister at her gate, returned the rental car, checked in for our separate flights, and of course got Starbucks, we talked. Something had changed during these past 2 days. We’d let our guards down, as Gram had. We talked about everything. I told her the struggles I’d been having with my own teenage daughter and my marriage and how my faith in God was the reason we were making it and I didn’t feel judged for it. We talked about the struggles we had when I was a teenager. For the first time I understood, really understood, she’d done the best she could and she loved me.
“Do you know why I took it all out in you?” I asked.
“Because I was an easy target? Mom replied.
“No,” I said, “because you were the only one I trusted and I expected you to take all my craziness and make it better.”
She just looked at me as if she hadn’t thought of that.
We talked for an hour and I didn’t want to leave and fly to different parts of the country. We talked about how to see more of each other.
“Maybe we’ll come to California for Thanksgiving,” she suggested.
“That’d be great,” I said.
We hugged goodbye and she had tears in her eyes. I tried to hold it together as I looked at her one last time before leaving for my gate. But this time I knew it would not be the last.
‘Maybe it could be like this for years,’ I thought.
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