My grandmother’s birthday is today. She would have been 77.
I haven’t been able to write much since she died. I’m a different person now, I connect to the world differently, and I guess I’m trying to figure out what that means for me, for my creative process, for my art. I just know that, no matter what else, there’s one less person in the world from whom I had unconditional love, and for whom that is also true. It feels a little bit like a safety net has been whisked away. I think of all the time we had, and how it seems after anybody has passed away, it was never enough.
I take solace in the knowledge that she was happy and comfortable her last days. She was surrounded by love, and she didn’t want for anything.
I tried, though. The first day or two from the hospital, she was out of cigarettes, and I didn’t want to get her any. My thought was that if she smoked, I wouldn’t have as much time with her. Everything in her body was shutting down, and adding nicotine to that couldn’t have helped. So when she asked for cigarettes, I selfishly said no. But my gramma has been smoking at least a pack a day for as far back as I can remember. She was okay those first couple days, but that third morning with no cigarettes was a bridge too far.
“If you ain’t gonna get me some,” she said, “I’ll go find them myself.”
The entire time I was in Pittsburgh, my gramma didn’t move from the spot behind the kitchen counter where she held court for everybody who came to visit. Except when she wanted those cigarettes.
She got herself dressed, because Judy Ellen would never leave the house if she wasn’t presentable, wrapped herself up in a winter coat big enough for me, she looked like a kid trying on her parent’s clothes, and wheeled herself outside and down the hall of the apartment complex. When she came back several minutes later she was wheezing, but she had a smile on her face that said victory. She laughed, a brief, “Ha ha!” and waved the cigarettes at me. Then she went behind the kitchen counter, lit up a cigarette, told me to switch the TV to Blue Bloods (she always knew when it would be on), and made herself a coffee (fill the cup half way, two creams, one sugar).
After that, I went and bought her cigarettes. And I got her some of those sugar covered orange jelly candies to boot. She always wanted those candies, my diabetic grandmother. I’d ask how many and she’d say, “Just get me two or three.”
I asked her what she would have wanted for her birthday. She said immediately, “I don’t need anything since you’re here.” To which I responded, “But I am here, so what else?”
“Just some chocolate cake, then.”
So that’s what I’ll be doing tonight. Eating some chocolate cake and some sugar covered orange jelly candies.
Happy birthday, gramma. I miss you so much.