We said goodbye to my grandma this week- one of my very favorite people of all time. Esther Clara Swenson left this world on Monday and I haven’t stopped remembering since. She was truly a gift to our family and such a joy to be near.
One of the many things I admired about my grandma was her desire for community. She was a sincere friend to anyone and everyone. Even when I was much younger I remember always hearing her talk about her friends and siblings, as if their lives were so intertwined, one and the same. We started writing each other letters when I moved away, and I loved getting her cute cursive notes, filled with information about whoever was sick, her recent lunch dates or current walking partners. Even in her last few years, when we’d fly home for visits and head up to Park View to see her, I always got to meet a tableful of smiley women, usually different ones each time, and it made me so happy. In a world full of people longing to be seen, she saw. She never stopped reaching out, turning strangers into friends…a true treasure.
I loved her humor. The last two times I saw her, even in her distressed state, she still joked with my sons and then with my sister and I. Laughter was so important to her, just as it is to me. She was so good at it, smiling was her favorite. On one of our last visits, grandma was sharing a room with a sweet bed-ridden woman who desperately wanted company and kept asking me questions, trying to make conversation. All I wanted to do was soak in the precious moments with my grandma, but as we neared the end of our time that day, after I had laughed loudly, that dear woman exclaimed “You have your grandma’s laugh”! It stopped me in my tracks, tears welling up immediately. I don’t remember ever being told that…but it makes me smile each time I think about it now, especially because my laugh is such a part of who I am. I wanted to hug that lady as I walked out the door, tucking that little nugget into the special place where all my granddaughter memories reside.
It’s actually difficult to separate the memories of my grandma from the whole of my life, because she was present for so much of it. I am so thankful she was such a fixture all of these years. I remember sleepovers at my grandparents house, the best mac-n-cheese, homemade popcorn and Saturday morning cartoons (we didn’t own a tv, so this was such a treat). I remember her stories about the farm, and Pa, Wanda, Leona, Oscar, Arnie…I giggle at her family’s names because they were just so darn cute. Her childhood seemed like another world, yet she melded into mine so seamlessly. I remember her old telephone with the round dial that I used to play with endlessly…the seagulls in the bathroom, the storage room upstairs with extra snacks, and searching for treats in her freezer. I remember the night I stayed at their house awaiting my little sister’s birth…and the countless other major life happenings she was a part of.
I remember her cute little house and all the times I dreamed of what I would do to renovate…even though as I look back now, it was perfectly cozy and exactly my grandparents. I remember her faithfulness as my grandpa deteriorated- so loving and strong and steadfast- never wavering in her care for him. Eleven years ago, I remember laughing with joy as she danced the night away at my wedding. I remember when she met my first born son- he was a giant baby and the picture of my little white grandma holding my roly-poly black son still makes me chuckle, even through these tears. It was so special to be able to introduce my children to my own grandmother. She was always so happy to see me, and my family, every time. She always tried to kiss me on my lips and though I often resisted, the last time I saw her I kissed her square on the lips with pride and held onto that hug for a long time. My sister had suggested I pray for her…and I couldn’t finish without tears welling up. All I could think about was that it might be the last time I held her hand…and it was.
I recently recall a conversation surrounding the beauty of how well-loved my grandma was. In this day and age, sadly, it’s unique and amazing that my grandma ended up with three sons who adored her (not to mention all the rest of us family members). Throughout her life, but especially in these last few months her sons selflessly tried to out-serve one another and it was incredibly touching to watch. I have thought long and hard about her secret…how did she do it- how did she end up surrounded by such dedication and affection? And I know. It was love. It was connection. She knew how to make people feel seen, heard, and valued. She knew how to stay connected and love really really well. She knew that was more important than anything else.
I am so thankful for all these years I was able to see a life well lived. She was a gift. One of faithfulness and honesty, one of acceptance and generosity, one of laughter and kindness, one of joy and unconditional love. I am so so so glad I got to be her granddaughter.
Until we meet again Grandma…