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I’ve written this letter and worked with Mom to get it to you including all of the pictures. But you should know that I’ve also posted this on my blog. I suppose that you are going to find this strange. You are probably wondering why I didn’t just write a letter and send in in the mail. Well, let me explain. An “open letter” is this crazy thing that people do on the Internet where they write a letter to someone and then post it on the internet for other people to read.
I’m doing this because I have been meaning to write to you for, well, ages. As I was formulating this letter in my head over the course of the last week (part of my process), I realized that it was feeling more like a blog post. Posting this letter online allows our mutual friends and family to reminisce alongside me, and gives me a chance to more publicly honor you, your life, and your legacy.
At the risk of being overly morbid:
This is the eulogy I would give at your funeral. You just get to actually be alive to hear it.
I know that this time is very hard for you. As family gathers around, makes plans to visit, or sends messages from afar – you know it’s happening because these are your final goodbyes. I cannot imagine how heartbreaking this is for you. It is not my intention to cause you more grief or pain.
But I would rather say goodbye too soon then never get a chance and have it be too late. So here goes…
I owe you an apology – or better yet, an explanation – as to why I haven’t called you that much over the past few years. I could say that it’s that my boys are noisy and phone calls can be challenging. That would be true. I could also say that it’s that sometimes I don’t know what to say. So much of my life (my hobbies, my relationships, my school, my job) take place using the Internet and that is just really hard for your “I-gave-up-on-email-after-three-years-of-calling-my-grandkids-for-help-every-day” brain to comprehend.
Remember that time I came to visit you and drove 30 minutes to meet an online friend in real life and you handed me your atlas so I wouldn’t get lost and were worried sick about me the whole time? I guess that’s when it really dawned on me that the technological gap between my generation and yours is unfathomable. Which can make it hard to communicate.
But the truest and real answer for why I haven’t called is simply that I didn’t want to remember you this way: sick, tired, weary, sad, overwhelmed at trying your best to prepare for the end that you don’t want to face.
Rather, I want to remember you the way I remember my grandma: perfect.
I’m going to take you on a little journey with me – a trip down memory lane if you will. I want you to know what it was like to be your granddaughter.
We exit the highway and turn left. Under the bridge with the cross on it. Past the farms. Turn left at the Big Boy. We knew when we saw the flagpole we had arrived.
My hand is on the brown brushed handle of the screen door between your garage and your kitchen. If I’m not careful (which I’m normally not, because – as you love to tell me – I’m always in a hurry), the door will slam shut and I will get fussed at. That’s okay – between me and my three brothers, we are all gonna get fussed at about that screen door for the remainder of the next three days at your house. It doesn’t matter that we are kids and that door has a spring that basically forces it to slam shut. Your house, your rules. Also, it just wouldn’t be grandma’s house if she weren’t on our case about that door.
The linoleum is a brown and tan pattern and the kitchen smells like green peppers, onions, and grandpa’s aftershave. I know Mom hates how you put onions in everything, but I personally love it.
Shortly after, we gather around the table to eat the copious amounts of food you have prepared. I sit on the stool that Grandpa made for us grandkids, and you make sure I have a drink in the cup shaped like an ice cream cone. We join hands, bow our heads, and Grandpa begins to pray:
“Our most gracious Lord God, we’re truly thankful…”
After dinner, it’s bath time in your special bathroom with the heater in the wall. I love that heater because I’m always so cold when I get out of the tub. We also get boats in the bath – a treat we don’t ever get at home.
My parents make me go to “bed” earlier than I want. I’m set up either in the living room on the green couch made up with sheets – or in your room in your bed. If I’m in the living room, I can still hear talking and the TV from the other room. If I’m in your room, it’s the ticking of the clock on your dresser that keeps me awake. Either way, I can’t sleep.
I’m sure I drove everyone nuts as I would come out of bed, down the hall, past the nightlight and the small black table with the rotary phone. Always wondering what I was missing… okay, now I get where Ezra gets it.
In the morning, you and I are almost always the first ones awake.
If it’s warm, we head out to the porch and sit on your porch swing. We play Othello, talk, and listen to the mourning doves coo. For the rest of my life, I never hear mourning doves without thinking of you.
Once the rest of the house is awake, it’s time for sugary cereal goodness. None of that yucky oatmeal and puffed rice that Mom gives us. Nope. It’s Sugar Smacks, Apple Jacks, Captain Crunch, and Corn Pops. You call me Katie or Dianne half the time, but that’s okay, because I believe I’m your favorite granddaughter.
If it’s Sunday, we get ready for church. I hear you singing “Blessed Assurance” while you make your bed impeccably.
“This is my story…this is my song…praising my Savior all the day long…”
If it’s not a Sunday, it’s cartoons for us kids. Our parents let us binge on TV – another rare treat since we don’t have a TV at home. I don’t remember what we watch, but I do remember all the commercials – like for Puppy Surprise, Barbies, and Polly Pocket.
They finally make us turn the TV off and send our butts outside. Or we stay in and play with games and toys. In the top of a closet you have special dolls that I get to play with. Or Light Brite. Or Sorry. Or you and I play the memory game that you keep in an old purple greeting card box. I almost always beat you. You say, “Oh phooey!” and I giggle.
There’s also always the random things you keep in the baker’s box – like the kaleidoscope, Viewmaster, hacky sacks, slinky, and a random set of dumbbells.
Speaking of the baker’s box…now it’s mine and Little Brother loves to climb inside of it.
In your living room and dining room is all the fragile stuff: the glass case with the Norman Rockwell doll I wouldn’t get til I was a grownup, the tea cart, and the piano. Always slightly out of tune but also always used. When I’m little, I listen to you play. As I grow, it’s you listening to me play.
As I’ve mulled over the contents of this letter for the last few weeks, so many memories have come to my mind:
All the times I climbed into your van – the spotless tan seats and the seatbelts rigged up with binder clips because you don’t like how tight they are across your chest. The lemon drops in the center console.
That time I won the 5th grade spelling bee – and as a reward you, Mom, and I stayed overnight in a hotel in Amish country.
The year mom asked what I wanted to do for my 11th birthday and I gave her a full itinerary and menu of what I wanted: a trip to grandma’s house, spaghetti, ice cream cake. That was the year I got to stay up late on my birthday – watching Tara Lipinski win the gold medal in women’s figure skating at the 1998 Olympics.
The time Mom and Dad went away for the weekend and we got to stay with you. On our way to meet back up with them, you took us into the store to buy toys. I got blue pom-poms with white leather handles.
The time we went to the Golden Lamb and I came home with a miniature golden lamb figurine. I still have it in my memory box.
You were there for the big moments and the little ones alike. When you moved closer when I was in junior high, it made it that much easier for you to be there when it mattered.
Recitals and school plays, you were often there.
Not every birthday, but so many you were there.
Nearly every Christmas, you were there.
The day I graduated high school, you were there.
The day I got married, you were there.
After that, geographical distance made it a lot harder. But you were still there. Like the time I came to visit and Ezra spiked a high fever – you went with me to the ER.
So I guess that’s why I haven’t called. Because I want to remember you like this:
I wish that my boys could have gotten to know my grandma better. But I am glad that you got to meet them both and enjoy them – at least a little bit.
I knew the last time I saw you that it would probably be the last time I saw you. I made peace with that then. That doesn’t mean I’m not still sad when calls are being made to hospice and Mom tells me it’s “weeks to months” now.
You will be the first person I’ve ever really lost to heaven. I don’t know how I will deal with it.
I am not going to pretend to know how hard it is to face death. But what I do know is that you have led a full, rich, rewarding, and wonderful life. A life full of love and family. Of kids and grands and great grands. A life of service. You always were the epitome of the gift of hospitality.
Your relationship with Grandpa that started the day he grabbed your 12-year-old hand under the church pew is not just enviable – it is truly a legacy. Perfect? No. (Is any marriage?) But 62 years of marriage is no small thing either.
I know that every day you were physically capable, you got down on your knees and prayed for me. And I know that when you couldn’t kneel anymore you still prayed.
I don’t know if my life has turned out the way you have hoped and prayed. I hardly ever make my bed, I never dust, I almost always put my elbows on the table, I leave cupboard doors hanging open, I still spill things and let doors slam because I’m in a hurry, we only go to church on Sunday mornings, and I’m not a huge fan of having people over because it requires me to cook and clean.
But I can assure you that I will see you again in heaven. I can assure you that “not all who wander are lost.” I can assure you that your prayers are probably part of the reason I laid down next to LB tonight and he asked me to yet again sing “Jesus loves little chul-dren.”
I can assure you that the legacy of faith that you passed onto my mom who passed it on to me will pass on to my children as well.
I can assure you that I love you. I can assure you that you will be deeply missed. I can assure you that I will treasure the memories I have of you in my heart forever. I can assure you that I couldn’t be more proud, honored, and thankful to be your granddaughter.
This letter / post really only scratches the surface of what I could say…should say. But I hope that it offers you hope and comfort in your final days.