“Don’t cry because it’s over. Smile because it happened.”
As the morning sun poured through my bedroom window, I fully expected it to be any ordinary Tuesday.
I went downstairs, waved goodbye to my wife as she drove off to work, and started my weekday morning rituals with no trepidation for the future.
I poured myself a cup of coffee and placed two slices of bread into the toaster when suddenly the phone began to ring. Truthfully it surprised me, startled me even, for I rarely if ever receive calls at that hour of the day.
I knew immediately something was wrong.
It was my aunt, and I instantly froze where I stood. I didn’t have to pick up the phone to know that my beloved grandmother was gone. In the early morning hours of June 18, 2013, Madeline M. Ruvere peacefully passed away at the age of 92.
I’d been anxious about her passing for months it seemed – especially given her deteriorating physical health. I truly feared the emotional duress associated with losing someone who had been such an enormous part of my life from the very beginning, and well into my 30’s.
But beyond the inevitable emotional toll, her passing would solidify the conclusion of a very difficult chapter in my life.
I was your average little boy growing up – who loved to ride his bike, play in the dirt with his dump truck and tracker, and admittedly get into trouble every now and then. But my family dynamic was always somewhat stressed at home – as my parents often burdened our relationship with their own personal demons.
Throughout the relationship, I struggled to earn my parent’s acceptance and approval. It wasn’t uncommon for them to make me feel “bad” about ordinary childhood behaviors – expecting an unwarranted apology to ease their own insecurities while increasing mine. This blow to my developing self-esteem caused me to be anxious and reclusive at an age when life should’ve been filled with innocence, playfulness and delight.
But my grandmother always provided me with a welcomed reprieve from the unpredictable drama going on inside my house. My feelings of being alone and unloved seemed to disappear whenever I was around her – providing me with a safe haven filled with unconditional love, acceptance, support and laughter whenever I needed it.
As an adult, after counseling and personal discovery, I eventually decided to cut ties with my parents. But my grandmother was still around to maintain that safe haven I’d grown so accustomed to. She had always been the truest definition of “family” for me, and with her passing came the realization that my last, true familial connection had reached its conclusion – physically anyway.
My memories of her and the many times we spent together have been at the forefront of my thoughts these last few months. It seems that even the most insignificant details of my life remind me of her in one way or another. Sometimes I still believe she’s alive and well, just waiting for me to swing by to share a pot of tea, a few sweet treats and an admiration we held for each other.
But her passing has taught me so many valuable lessons:
1. Enjoy your life to the fullest, whenever you can – don’t assume there will always be a tomorrow.
2. Make time for those you hold dear in life – they are life’s greatest gift.
3. Turn off all the distractions every now and then to enjoy a cup of tea and conversation with someone you appreciate.
4. Fill someone’s life with memories – material possessions eventually lose their luster.
The night before my grandmother passed away, my wife and I went for one of our regular visits. Over the last few weeks she rarely possessed enough strength to wake up from her slumber – though we’d stay and talk to her about what was going on in our lives until visiting hours were over.
But on this particular night we were surprised when she woke up and recognized us immediately. We asked how she was doing and she replied, “Lousy”. Though she didn’t talk for very long, it was good just to see her eyes open. She stayed awake for some 25 minutes that night, staring intently at the both of us. It’s what I now like to think was her way of saying goodbye.
My wife and I were the last family members she ever saw before her passing, and I consider myself truly blessed to have experienced that with someone who meant the world to me.
While it’ll take some time to fully grieve her loss, I’m thankful for all the years I got to share in her life; all the lessons she taught me; all the stories from her childhood; all the memories we created that I now keep safe in the chambers of my heart.
I always remember this quote from the popular television show The Wonder Years. “Memory is a way of holding onto the things you love, the things you are, the things you never want to lose.”