The Night My Grandmother Left Us

by Stephanie Jankowski
Originally Published: 
loss of a grandparent
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My paternal grandmother and I weren’t particularly close. Situation and proximity saw to that; she enjoyed a much more fulfilling relationship with my cousins. As a child, that was hard to swallow. She rarely spelled my name correctly on birthday cards, and the one time a broken heart caused me to let my guard down, leading me to cry in front of her, she took a long drag on her cigarette and, from across the room, very calmly asked, “Well, what did you do to deserve it?”

She didn’t delight in my successes like the grandparents in Hallmark movies do; she was there on my wedding day, but not really present. In retrospect, the fact that she forgot to wear her teeth is kind of hilarious, but at the time I remember feeling the sting of her nonchalance right along with the scratchy lace from my veil.

I don’t know why those are the memories that have stuck with me, but they are.

When she fell ill late last week and my Dad let us know this was it, I tried to summon happier memories. They weren’t of her and me, but of the time she spent with people I love. My dad says she never missed one of his football games, and aunts and friends have shared stories about her homemade pies and ravioli soup. She was a straight-shooter, a no bullshit kind of lady, and I certainly identify with that.

Last night, I had a dream of firsts and lasts. In the dream, my grandmother came to my house, a place she had never been before, and wrapped me up in her arms, a place I had never been before. We were standing in the kitchen, my back to the window above the sink. Though I couldn’t see it for myself, I felt the morning sun streaming through, warming the floor where it hit, casting light in an otherwise dark room. The hug, realistic in its awkwardness, was punctuated with Grandma’s smile and distracted glances out the window. She waved once, but didn’t say a word, and she didn’t have to. I knew that on the other side, my grandfather was waiting for her, beeping his beloved Chrysler’s horn.

This morning, my fat thumbs were poised and ready to text my dad about the dream. Before I could finish my message, though, his came through: “Grandma gone. Left us about 1 a.m.”

I don’t know why she chose me. Maybe because I write; maybe because people read. Maybe so I could tell my family that she is finally, unmistakably happy and at rest. Maybe because with the heavy finality of the changing of the guard, she wanted us all to share in her peace. Maybe because I’ve been quietly wrestling with my faith. Maybe because after all those years of putting the F where the PH goes in “Stephanie,” she wanted me to be able to hold on to something good.

It’s good, Gram. It’s all good.

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