My grandmother passed away unexpectedly, recently, and though her physical presence is no longer with us today her spirit continues to live on.
The shock of her death still flows through my thoughts and sometimes, while walking along the brisk autumn path in Central Park or ordering an iced americano at a local coffee shop, with the thick smell of espresso beans and the coffee grinders whirring in the background, my eyes cloud over and the city blurs and I hear my grandmother's voice and I'm no longer in the present-day.
I've been brought back to another memory, to another time and it takes everything to not burst into tears.
My grandmother will forever be a proud woman. She had such pride for her family and friends, her children and grandchildren, her nieces and nephew and everyone in between. My grandmother, ever the socialite, would take me by the hand and introduce me to her friends. I saw the veins in her arms, the wrinkles in her skin, the smile on her face.
Her hand never left mine and the love she had never left her eyes.
Growing up my family visited my grandparent's old house in Dobbs Ferry every summer. I loved it. It's the house I will forever associate with childhood.
I remember catching and then releasing fireflies in the backyard, the yellow light a beacon to childlike wonder. I perused through my grandfather's expansive mineral collection (both of my grandparents were science teachers) in the basement and discovered a love for science. I remember playing Monopoly each time we visited. It was one of those traditions where we had no intention of ever finishing the game. But we were there, together, buying houses and hotels and Railroads and Passing Go and narrowly avoiding getting taxed or going to jail.
Stepping on the creaking wooden floorboards in that old house, I felt that every time I visited I'd been transported to my own secret garden, my own Narnia, my own other world that I shared with my grandparents and my family.
In New York and Florida, my grandmother always made sure that we had something to eat. If she was cooking in the kitchen she'd ask us to wear aprons so we wouldn't ruin our clothes. I hadn't wanted to wear an apron -- what child does? -- but I'd put it on to appease my grandmother.
My mom and I visited my grandparents Florida home on my grandmother's last day. Of course, we didn't know it was going to be her last day at the time. My grandmother asked if we were hungry and after I said I was she made me a sandwich and when she placed it in front of me on the table, she said I should wear an apron. I'm now in my mid-twenties but she said it with the same voice and concern as she'd had when I was a ten-year-old, fifteen years ago.
I wore an apron in her presence for the last time.
I don't know if I'll ever look at aprons in the same way again.
It's been two weeks since my grandmother passed and I can still taste the dijon mustard that was on that sandwich. I don't know if it'll taste the same way again, either.
One time when I was a kid I had asked my grandmother why the sandwich, or soup, or whatever she had made had tasted so good.
She had smiled and said that it was made with love.
When I had that sandwich on her last day, I finally understood what it meant.
I didn't know what to say when my mom asked me if I wanted to speak at my grandmother's funeral. "You don't have to," she said, and others in the family weren't sure whether they were going to speak, either.
I had a few words, a few thoughts I wanted to say. But what if I choked up and couldn't say anything? What if I stuttered through the words?
As far back as I can remember I've been told to sit closer to my grandmother so she could hear me better. Talk slower. Enunciate your words. Speak louder.
My sister and I had our arms wrapped around our mom as she addressed the audience, in front of all of these people who knew and loved my grandmother.
I don't like crying in public but at that moment I didn't care. It didn't matter. I crumpled the tissue in my hand and let the tears fall.
After my mom finished, and at the last moment, I said I wanted to say something and my earlier worries dissipated.
I had nothing written but the words came to me, as if floating in the air above my eyes and all I had to do was gently push the words out and into the audience. I didn't see anyone's faces. I didn't notice the crowd anymore.
I wasn't talking to them. I was talking to my grandmother.
Through my tears, I spoke loud and clear.
I think my grandmother heard me.
Over the years my family has visited my grandparents too many times to count. But every time we leave, my grandmother always insisted on standing outside to watch the car pull out of the driveway. She'd watch the car drive into the distance and we'd both separately return to our lives.
The house locations have changed from New York to West Palm Beach and the seasons modified from Fall to Winter to Spring to Summer, but still she insisted on watching us leave, squinting her eyes in the sun or wrapping a jacket closer to her body.
They had waved. We had waved. They smiled and blew kisses. We responded in kind. I'd look back through the window and as we rounded the corner they'd still stand outside, waiting until the palm trees and other cars and houses obscured them, until they were gone from our view.
After my grandmother passed away and after my family went to the funeral, it was time to head back to the airport. It was time to return to some semblance of reality, to some new definition of home. It was time to return to my life in New York but though the apartment and the city and other things are the same it will never be the same.
My mom drove me to the airport. This time, it was my grandfather who stood outside.
He waved. We waved.
I looked back at the lone figure standing in the driveway and then I thought of my grandmother, and how many times she stood outside to see us off, to wish us well, to tell us to call her when we got back home safely.
And then we try to move on with our lives as the car drives on.
And then we miss them when they are gone.