When you are young, grandmothers seem so very old -- ancient, even. They favor knitting over Angry Birds, think texting is something you do on a skateboard, and prefer shopping at Sears for their "comfortable slacks" rather than snagging a pair of cute skinny jeans at GAP. When you are young, even your own parents seem old-ish.
My maternal grandmother defied some of the true "signs" of a grandmother. She was always dressed beautifully, making that extra bit of effort that sets the stylish apart from people like me. Not only would her clothing fit beautifully, but her accessories were just right. Whether it was the perfect necklace, a vibrant scarf, or a pop of color from her tiny shoes she was the real deal. Her taste and desire to look well-dressed had been passed down from her own mother, who was known in her small Oklahoma town for her style and grace.
And love her as much as I did, she was my grandmother... old simply by definition. I would always view her with the clouded lens of my youth. I simply couldn't picture her as the young girl she once was. She was beautiful and funny, an excellent cook and baker, and loved her family more than anything. Anything other than her Oklahoma Sooners, that is. Dogs hid under chairs and grandchildren snickered when Granny was watching an Oklahoma game and coaching (quite loudly) from her comfortable arm chair at home. She had character and a certain glimmer in her eye that made you think there might be more to her than pecan pies and impeccably tailored clothes.
Sometime in her 60s, she was diagnosed with an illness that had no cure. Over the next handful of years, this illness slowly took our Granny away from us. But she was an elegant lady to the very end, requesting lipstick applications in the hospital and fussing over her clothes.
My mom had just turned 50 when my grandmother passed away, which at that time seemed fairly old and "adult" to me. It's so very hard to see your own parents as actual people when you are young. Even though I am close to my mother, I truly had no idea how she felt, to be robbed of the 20-plus more years she should have been entitled to with her mother. My grandmother was only 70 years old when she died, but in my mind she was old. Somehow I thought she had lived a "full life", that cruel phrase ministers are prone to throw into funeral services to make the mourners feel better.
I took my mom out to lunch recently, celebrating Mother's Day and catching up on our lives. We chatted and laughed, her eyes smiling at me like they always do.
And suddenly it hit me.
My mom will be 70 this year. My grandmother was way too young to die at this age. The realization that she wasn't really old after all makes me mournful all over again for my mother's loss.
She was my age and she lost her mom.
And I didn't really get it then. I wasn't mature enough, didn't have my own children, and was quite possibly wrapped up in my own little life too much to grasp her loss. Twenty years later, I see what she missed -- a huge chunk of life. Great-grandchildren growing up, getting married, moving off to college. A great-great granddaughter on the way.
I get it now. And I see how age and experience and the simple passing of time bring clarity that I couldn't possibly have had in my 20s.
So I hugged my mom a little harder, held her gaze a little longer, and just savored the fact that I still have my mom.
And I hope to have her for a very long time.