Agnes, Mom, Grandma, Grams, "Beema", Auntie Reggie, Madrinha
She went by many names, played many roles, evidence of all the lives that she touched.
Grandma said her goodbyes on August 17, 2009 and moved on to a more peaceful state. She left behind the nursing home and staff who loved her, her daughter and son-in-law, her grandchildren, her great-grandchildren, her many nieces and nephews, her godchildren. She said goodbye to us and went to be with her sisters and brothers and her beloved husband, Daniel. We are all so sad to see her go, but so happy that she was with us for 89 years - that we had all this time with this wonderful woman in our lives.
When I was little my Dad used to travel quite a bit for work. My Mom's parents, Grandma & Grandpa, lived in Fall River and spent a lot of time with us. They never lived with us, but they were over nearly every day. Grandpa would spend hours and hours playing with me. Grams cooked dinner with Mom nearly every night. They were permanent fixtures in our home and such a huge part of my childhood. As I grew up, I became enmeshed in friends and the like, but I would still spend one night each weekend sleeping over their house.
Grandpa died suddenly when I was in 5th grade. It was my first experience with death, the first time I lost someone I loved dearly. Grams was an independent lady and would not even consider moving in with us. We did find her a smaller place, closer to our house, but she clung to her independence. The summers following I would routinely sign up for Girl Scout camp and then back out at the last minute. I was terrified that something would happen to Grams while I was gone. I needed to be around, to see her everyday - to keep an eye on her so that she couldn't leave unexpectedly.
Growing up we had had a Sunday dinner tradition at my house. Grams was the cook - she made clamboils, pot roast, stuffed shells, spare ribs. She made us our favorite cakes on our birthdays. Eric and Dad always got her pistachio cake -with green frosting and chocolate chips. I got a vanilla cake with a sugary strawberry frosting that I just loved. My high school boyfriend, Mike, and I would get into fights over that cake. I always thought his pieces were just a little too big. I wanted to save the cake as long as possible. I always ate the cake first and saved the frosting for last. When I was a teenager the Sunday dinner thing annoyed me of course, but now I'm so glad I have all those memories.
I went to middle school and high school and then college. Grams and I were always close - she loved both my brother and I so much and she told us that all the time through her letters and her actions and her hugs. Eventually I stopped sleeping over, but we always got together for lunch or breakfast when I was home for the weekend. When I left home she wrote me letters all the time. She'd write them while waiting for the bus or waiting for a batch of her famous rice pudding to cool. She lit candles for me in churches all over Fall River whenever I had a presentation to give or a big exam at school. She sent me money - $40 when my wallet was stolen, $50 when she got an unexpected insurance payout, $50 when she got her tax refund. She was such a generous soul - always sharing and giving. Her one "vice" was a yearly gambling trip in Atlantic City with her sisters. And if she came home a little richer she promptly shared her winnings with us.
I often brought friends home from school with me and Grams always remembered them and asked after them in her letters. "Say Hi to Arthur" she scribbled at the top of one. "I was so glad to meet your roommate Corinne, what a nice person she is. I hope to see more of her!", she said in another. Her generosity was never-ending. She took care of her friends who were aging a little faster than her. She took the bus all over the city to accompany them to doctor's appointments, to mail their tax returns. She didn't have a car, but that never stopped her. She went everywhere by bus and on foot after Grandpa died.
At the end of 2002, Grams suffered a stroke and was never really the same. The prolonged hospital stay accelerated the Alzheimer's that was already beginning to take hold. Prior to that there were little warning signs - a forgotten ingredient in a recipe, misplacing her purse, getting a name wrong (I went from "Becky" to "Bev" quite often in this period - but there ARE two Bevs in our family!). Soon after we had to move her from her apartment into Somerset Ridge Nursing Home - where she lived the remainder of her life. Even as the Alzheimer's dug in deeper, taking her away from us, she remained sweet in nature and generous in spirit.
If I close my eyes and just let my thoughts drift while I think about Grams I see images of the apartments she shared with Grandpa. I remember sitting on her lap while she let me "play" with the loose skin on her upper arm. I remember countless clamboils. I can see her at our kitchen sink, doing dishes with my Mom nearly every night. I see her in her apron, the pockets stuffed with paper towels that she carried around just in case something needed wiping up. I remember trips to Bickfords and Newport Creamery for breakfast. I remember feeling so very loved.
Grams was the last living sibling in her family. She had 10 brothers and sisters - all of whom passed on before her. She was close to her siblings, especially her sisters. Many of the men died young, before I was born, so I didn't know them very well. The one exception was her brother Billy (Uncle Butch, we called him) who always joined us for Sunday dinners at our house. Her sister Nina lived in Jamestown and Grams would spend a couple of weeks with her every year. Through her example and her steady love she taught me about the importance of family. She was very special to her nieces, nephews and godchildren as well. We all loved her dearly and we will miss her.
My one big sadness is that she didn't really get to know Gordon, Lily and Quinn. Gordon came into my life less than a year before she had her stroke. She seemed to know him when we'd go visit her, but he never really got to know Grams they way I would have liked him to. Lily had 2.5 years with her Vo-Vo - and we took her to visit often. Grams face always lit up when Lily was there. She only saw Quinn once, but I am glad that he got to meet her before she left us. I know that without the Alzheimer's she would have had unbounded love for her great-children. I am happy that at least they did bring her joy, even if they did not get to know her the way that i knew her.
On October 4th, a number of us will be doing the 2009 Alzheimer's Association Memory Walk in her name. Lisa, Eric and Victoria have put together a team, Reggie's Runners - and Gordon, Lily, Quinn and I will be walking with them this year. If you've also lost someone to Alzheimer's and would like to support our team in their name or in Grams' name you can do so here.