One of my most vivid memories from childhood is Christmas Eve at Grandma Wondrash’s house. Not one Christmas Eve in particular, but a conglomerate of all the Christmas Eve’s I spent there put together. Because, even though I grew and the adults aged and the years changed, so much about each year was always exactly the same. The cookies Grandma baked and kept in the freezer for each family to take home. The apron she wore. The way she decorated the tree. The meal she cooked for us all. The size of the bounty under the tree.
Once, during the year before she died, I was at a busy coffee shop when she called me. I stepped outside and we talked about her cancer. I asked her if she had a faith that she could hold onto. She said “Oh yes. I’m in God’s hands now.”
During our last Christmas Eve together, I was engaged to be married. I unwrapped my gifts, and came to one from her. I removed the wrapping paper and saw a Victoria’s Secret box. The people in the room took notice. My grandmother had purchased lingerie for me, and she got a kick out of it. And so did my dad… and my aunt and uncle… and my brother… and all the other people there it would be awkward to open lingerie in front of. One of my favorite memories of her to this day.
I shopped with her for the dress she would wear to our wedding. It was spring green, she looked… somehow younger. She felt pretty. We were in the fitting room when she casually mentioned that she would also like to be buried in that dress. Such strangeness, picking out a dress for her to wear to our wedding and her funeral at the same time and within the same dress.
The last time Grandma and I spoke, it was during cocktail hour at our wedding reception. We took a family photo, and she looked at me and said “You look so beautiful.” She wasn’t one to show much emotion, but her eyes were wet and her voice conveyed both strength and brokenness. She knew. I wish I had known that was my last moment with her. I would have lingered and stretched that moment as long as I could. I’m convinced she held on partly so she could see me on my wedding day.
I wish I could have been there with her as she passed. I had the honor of being there with my maternal Grandma and Grandpa when they died. I would have left anything to be by her side if I had known. I hope she didn’t feel alone.
Grandma has been gone for nearly 10 years now. I remember this easily, because she passed away while Jp and I were on our honeymoon, in late May 2007. We were in Door County, and I didn’t get cell phone service throughout the week. We found out on a dull stretch of highway as we approached Green Bay. I told my dad about the dress.
We had our family Christmas Eve party today, delayed due to a December blizzard. Each year now, I have a moment of acutely missing her during this party. Today, I was nursing the baby in my Grandpa’s room. He has pictures of our family on a small desk that I send him in the mail. But the house is a different house. And the meal has changed. And the tree is gone. No one makes the cookies anymore. And I so badly want her to meet her great grandchildren, and to know that I named Mary after her. And the missing just hurts.
And so I talk to her for a moment, and sometimes I cry for a moment, trusting that she can hear me from God’s loving arms. And I tell her I miss her. And I know that she no longer has cancer, and that she can breathe freely, and that she is at peace.
But the missing is hard.