Saying goodbye is never an easy thing. Most of us know that. Recently I received a book, “If You Knew Suzy: A Mother, a Daughter, a Reporter’s Notebook” by Katherine Rosman as part of the From Left to Write Book Club that brought back the hardest goodbye I’ve ever had to say in all my 32 years on this earth.
When I spoke to my mom that morning, everything was fine. It was only a matter of time before Grandma went and I wanted her to call me when it happened. My mother had been staying with my aunt and grandmother for a week or so by then because we all knew it was going to happen soon.
“You’ll call me when it happens right?” I said meekly into the phone, my four year old son playing in the back of our pet store.
“How about we come and get you?” she said on the other end.
“No, I want to know when it happens. I don’t want you screwing around because you think it will be better for me. Please. Just call me when she goes.”
“Ok,” she sighed.
No sooner did I hang up the phone than my father comes walking in the door. My dad at the time worked in Manhattan and usually takes the train to and from our Long Island home. It’s unusual for him to get off the train five stops before his own just to come see me at our store. Still, naive little me looks at him and says;
“Hey, what’re you doing here?”
My dad puts his arms around me and whispers into my ear, “She’s gone…”
I think I lost my mind for a minute or two. I remember sitting on the couch behind the counter screaming “I just spoke to her! Why didn’t she tell me?” I remember being angry at my mom for not telling me even though I made her promise to call me when it happened.
Then I remember the grief setting in. She was gone. The matriarch of our family had passed away early in the morning of July 10th 2006 in my mother’s arms. She suffered from Alzheimer’s. She was 88. She would have celebrated her 89th birthday just 16 days later.
I called my husband, put a note on the door of our little shop and closed up. I collected my son and my things and went home to decide what to do next. I knew I couldn’t continue to work that day. I knew I couldn’t do a whole lot of anything that day, except take care of my boy. He saw Mommy cry, but he didn’t ask why. He was too little to understand yet, so we didn’t tell him until after everything was over, the funeral, the burial, everything.
He was my biggest concern. He knew and loved his Granny but I couldn’t tell him when it happened because I knew he wouldn’t understand why he couldn’t see her or play with her anymore.
At the funeral home, my husband stayed with him outside of the viewing room with a DVD player and all his favorite movies and toys so I could be with my family and my Big Boy didn’t have to see Mommy being a blubbering idiot/ chain smoker. Two agonizing days and about 6 packs of cigarettes later, we sat in the church to say our goodbyes.
My brother and I, being her only grandchildren, were asked to do a reading. When my brother finished his reading, a small voice could be heard from the pews “Good job Uncle Brian!” Laughter ensued. Mostly because it was funny and inappropriate, but I think there was a small part of us that laughed because of his innocence, my baby was so innocent. He had no idea what was going on and just thought his uncle, his idol, did a great job giving his speech.
Big Boy was often a happy distraction from this sad time. We could look at him and laugh and for a minute, forget.
I wouldn’t let him see his Granny in the casket. I didn’t want his last memory of her to be of her in a box. I also didn’t let him see her when we all gathered to say goodbye before she left us. I would rather his last memories be of her smiling, she had the most gorgeous smile, and laughing, her laugh was infectious.
My grandmother was the most stubborn little woman you’d ever want to meet. She was this little Sicilian woman who wanted to do things her way or there was no way. And man, could she cook. I hope I have some of those genes in me… I know my mom does. Me? Not so much. At least not yet. Anyway, her favorite phrases while I was growing up were “I can do it, I can do it!” and “Ah, shut up!” both of which we put on a t-shirt and gave to her for her 75th birthday.
It’s funny the little things you remember about your loved ones. I remember once we were sitting around our kitchen table, the usual gathering place for our family, and Grandma did something, maybe she kicked over the soda bottle or something, and she blurted out in a very Steve Urkel kind of way “Did I do that??” Gosh, it was so funny, you just had to be there.
My Big Boy has his memories of his Granny too. He doesn’t remember much and if you ask him about her, he’ll tell you, “She was nice.” She was more than nice. She was the greatest grandmother anyone could every ask for and we were so blessed to have her in our lives. I’m so sorry Little Miss wasn’t able to meet her but she carries her most beautiful blue eyes and that hot Sicilian temper. Every so often, my Big Boy will look at me and say, “Remember Granny? She was nice. I miss her.” and a lump rises in my throat. Little Miss looked past me one day on the street and pointed to a woman and said “Granny”, my heart skipped a beat. I know they don’t know or understand really, and it still hurts a little to know she’s gone, but when my daughter looks at me with her great-grandmother’s blue eyes or my son recognizes her in a picture, I know she’s watching over us.
Reading Katherine Rosman’s “If you knew Suzy” I realize that there was a woman inside my grandmother. Not just my Grandma.
She was born and raised in Easton, Pennsylvania. I’m not sure when, but at some point in her youth, she changed her name from “Providenza” to “Frances”. She had a younger brother and sister, both of whom she out lived (and she’s probably really pissed at us for not telling her when her sister died, but we had our reasons. Grandma wasn’t quite with it when her sister passed. We didn’t want news like that to make her worse.). I remember going to Uncle Al’s wake as a child and watching Grandma break down at the casket. It’s that moment that strikes me now as the first time I’d seen her as something other than my grandmother. She was somebody’s sister, somebody’s wife, somebody’s mother, somebody’s friend.
She worked as a seamstress in Manhattan with her sister and met my grandfather, a book binder, born in Sicily and emigrated to Easton, there. They had three wonderful daughters, all she ever wanted, and when the grandchildren came along (my brother and I) she became the typical grandmother. Always wanting us to eat, spoiling us rotten, letting us do things our parents wouldn’t.
I remember staying with her in Brooklyn when I was a kid. I was only there for a week or so, but I remember the best part of it (besides the food) was going with her to 86th Street in Bensonhurst, not far from her home on 23rd Avenue and perusing the open market. There, the vendors set their wares out on the sidewalk in the summertime, there was a fruit market, a meat market, a fish market. Grandma would pick up what she needed, talk a minute or two with a friend she met on the street and off we would go pushing her “old lady shopping cart” back to the house.
She had plastic on the furniture in her house in Brooklyn, so you didn’t get it dirty. And plastic runners (that my brother liked to fall asleep on) on the floor leading from the kitchen through the living room to the porch. And my favorite place in the house was in front of the banister that railed off the stairs leading down to the front door. I used to practice my ballet there at the banister. It was my own personal barre.
I wish I knew more about my grandmother when she was young. I still pick up little stories from my mom and her sisters at holidays around the dinner table (still our favorite gathering place) but I hope to learn more about her so I can share how wonderful she was with my own children. And I hope that one day soon, my kids will have the same relationship with their grandma, as my brother and I did with ours.
Rest in peace Grandma, we love you and miss you everyday.
And thank you Ms. Rosman for sharing the story of your most wonderful, courageous mother. It was truly a beautiful story and you may never know how you’ve helped me remember a woman who meant so much to me, but of whom I know so little about.
This is an original ROSCMM post. It was written for the From Left to Write Book club from which I received Katherine Rosman‘s book “If You Knew Suzy: A Mother, A Daughter, A Reporter’s Notebook” for free.
This post is dedicated to the memory of my grandmother, Frances. July 26th 1917- July 10th 2006
“May the Lord bless you and keep you: May the Lord make His face shine upon you, and be gracious unto you: May the Lord lift up his countenance upon you and give you peace.” Numbers 6:24
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