Sunday, January 9, 2011

Happy Anniversary in Heaven, Grandma

My grandmother passed away a year ago this week. In a small farming town in southern Ontario, with both my mother and sister holding her hand.
I missed her passing by an hour-- my husband and I were airborne circling above Detroit. After we'd landed my sister found it hard to tell me the news over the phone, and I didn't think I'd be so devastated. My heart sank and my husband stopped the car,turned into a parking lot and let me cry.
The reason I didn't think I'd be so saddened was because my grandmother had lived to be 95 and in my life for 47 years-- more time than most grandchildren are fortunate enough to have. My friends kept reminding me of that before I got on the plane. And I was hoping that fact would somehow make the loss easier, but the truth of it was, my grandmother has been such a part of me, knowing she was gone left a gaping hole in my heart.
My sister said Grandma never let go of her hand at the end, that when she finally blew out her last breath, half an hour later, Grandma's fingers were still warm in my sister's palm, and that she left this world with her eyes wide open. Which was so like my grandmother.
When anyone hears what she experienced in her long life, their eyes either fill with tears or they grow wide and the conversation slows to a pause-- even a halt. But my grandmother rarely did either. She fought back.
Widowed at 26 when her husband's car collided with a hay truck along a wooden bridge in Yugoslavia, my grandmother took over the family farm and tavern, raising her six-month-old daughter, alone. It was the second World War, and soon after, she was sent to a concentration camp along with my mother and great-grandmother.
She kept her tribe alive, and many other women, too. When the Red Cross finally found them, they called it a miracle.
I'm the first generation who isn't a prisoner of war, my husband points out, but what I remember most is my grandmother's sense of humour, and her zest for life. How she would arrive on weekends at our house by bus, with a giant bag of cheesies nearly as tall as herself. She had weekends off, working as a live-in housekeeper. With her slim wages she refused to have more than two of anything-- two dresses, two purses, one pair of shoes for working, one for weekending. She saved her extra quarters to eventually buy a small house, no bigger than most people's living room's, and got up at dawn every morning to make cakes and goulashes and to tend to her garden. She never drove. Grandma thought cars were a waste of one's heard-earned money and that walking was the way to go anywhere. She walked to the cemetery every day. To visit friends, or those she didn't know. She watered their flowers, or swept the snow off their tombstones. She told me it was what you did in the old country. Pay your respects. She had her own funeral and cemetery plot bought and paid for many decades before it was needed. And when she was buried, it was snowing quite hard, like it was this weekend, one year later.
I'm not there to sweep off her tombstone. And I wish that I was. But I read that the sun came out today by mid afternoon. I'm hoping it found its way to her spot.


  1. Hi, Sandra! I'm dropping in from Writer's blog. Nice to meet you *waves*. I had thought to congratulate you on Little Joe. My formative years were spent on a Louisiana farm.

    However, your tribute to your grandmother stopped me in my tracks...I mean, WOW! My grandmother passed at 91. Like you, I was a married woman who knew the day had to come, but sobbed buckets when it happened. In all honestly, I thought Ma would go on forever.

    We went to Louisiana for the holidays. I visited her grave...a peaceful, rural cemetery that goes back to 1886...and I sat on the grass and sobbed buckets.

    Ma's still my anchor. Whenever I fall into a soup sandwich, I can hear her say, "Aw shucks, for a little thing you sure do have a lot of problems." And then I hear her soft chuckle and know I don't have a problem.

    Hub and I lived in Macedonia for two years. Your Baba comes from sturdy people with strong values. She will always be there for you!

  2. I sure enjoyed this post; it touched home as today would have been my parents 60th wedding anniversary if they both hadn't passed away.


  3. Kittie-- Thanks for sharing about your Ma.I'm glad you had the chance to spend some time with her at her grave recently. I used to feel strange crying so much for someone who lived such a long life, but the crying is for me. And regardless of the longevity, I thought too, that my grandmother would somehow go on forever. Though Grandpa in LITTLE JOE is a different gender and in a different surrounding, the character was inspired by my grandmother and the book, dedicated to her, so you're right they are always with you.
    And Robyn, I hope on what would have been the 60th wedding anniversary of your parents, that your day was filled with fond memories.

  4. Dear Sandra, I found your blog through Kittie and I wanted to tell you how I feel so touched by your story. It reminds me a lot of my grandma.
    I have tears in my eyes, feeling lots of love for those special women

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