Heaven knew we needed each other.
In the 1980’s and the here and now.
This is a story, a tribute, a mini-memoir, of my relationship with grandma who spent the last year of her life mentoring me.
I feel a cavernous void.
An emptiness that could swallow.
Friday I rushed to the airport to fly out to Colorado to be by my grandma’s side as she was passing. I wanted to hold her hand one-more-time. I wanted to tell her over and over how much I love her and how my life has changed because of her. I wanted to read the Bible to her, the verses I knew she built her life upon. I made it to O’Hare. I walked through the American terminal, the Home Alone one that brings back memories of family trips taken. Just as I got to the gate they were calling for boarding and at the very same moment, my sister called. “She’s gone, Trina. She’s gone.” I had a meltdown at the K4 gate, right next to Frontera and across from the food court. I sat and sobbed against the window, behind my grey Brookstone carry on suitcase, for an hour until my mom came and collected me.
I’m dealing with grief the best way I know how. Tears. Prayers. Songs. Memories. And writing. Always writing.
I feel joy and sadness.
It’s strange to sit with those two emotions at the same time. They fight for first place, like competitive siblings. They both are so inward and so outward, all at once. So opposite and yet so emotionally charged all the same. It feels like they should be alone, separated, these two. But, sometimes they come together. They return to one another, like estranged family during hard times.
I would do you a disservice, I believe, to go on and on about my grief, because behind my grief is an amazing lady. A lady I not only knew as grandma, but also as friend, confidant, mentor, and hero.
We’ve always had a special bond. Maybe it’s because I was the first grandchild? Maybe it’s because I was woven with many of her inherent traits? Maybe it’s because God knew we needed each other, her and I.
In my littlest years I can hear her upswing voice singing “Zip-a-Dee-Doo-Dah” and “You Are My Sunshine.” I can, also, clearly remember going shopping with my grandma and my mom. We would eat lunch at Marshall Fields and then they’d put me in the stroller to shop. My mom strapped me in and my grandma would say, ” Dah Dah Dah . . . CHARGE!” Charge had a two-fold meaning, of course. (It’s all making sense, now, why Nordstrom’s sometimes feels like home:)).
As a girl, Grandma Hilda let me play with her glamours beaded vintage clutches (I was particularly smitten with a pink one) and she was the one who taught us to mind our manners. “No elbows on the table.” “Napkins in your lap.” “Please and thank you.” And her famous, “Pardon me?” “What” was never allowed.”
The summer after 4th grade, my parents put me on a plane to go stay with my grandma in Colorado for a few weeks. We ate cheese toast together, did some shopping, and in her blue Volvo, she drove me and my cousin’s up the mountain to the zoo. At night I played store, in her basement, and she watched Murder She Wrote. It was this trip, I think, that tied us together like a pair. Heaven knew she needed me then.
My grandma told the best stories about her life, in a most animated way. Stories that started in Canada traveled to California, parked in Pennsylvania and Indiana, galavanted to New York, roamed through Rochelle and got comfortable in Colorado. And sometimes the heart of the story was from Holland.
As a young woman, my grandma got her start as a reporter, during the war, at The Edmonton Bulletin (it’s where she met my grandfather). She taught piano after a long newspaper career and the last twenty-nine years of her life she spent ministering to women in recovery from addictions. She was a woman who found purpose in her work and who worked out her passion. She was extremely smart, full of class and astute. Honestly, she always reminded me of the Queen, played by Helen Mirren.
In my late teens, Grandma would come to visit and she would take each grandchild out to eat. She’d let us pick the place. With piping hot coffee in hand she would ask all the right questions and listen, in a most active and intent way (one of her most admirable qualities). And then in a perfect kind of timing and a most un-presumptuous way she would spill wisdom. Pour it out like water from a pitcher. It was around this time when I realized that she was not just my grandma … she was a wise woman.
I thought the wisdom came from the millions of books that she read. The ones she marked up in red (the same way my dad marks up his books and I mark up mine). I thought, also, that her wisdom was a God given gift. I thought right. But what I didn’t find out until many years later was that her wisdom came by way of brokenness. By not staying in a sharded, crippling place but by living a life of surrender and letting the Lord lead her out.
She found hope, when all hope was lost, and then she spent her life sharing hope.
It was in my brokenness, these past few years, that heaven knew I, now, needed her. My dear sweet grandma spent her last year, from age 91 to 92, mentoring me. She would send books, she would send notes, she would send articles and above all she sent prayers. For each package I tore open there must have been a tear in my heart that repaired.
Growing up, my mom would tell me, “oh that expression looked just like Grandma Hilda.” And, “You have her smile.” I see these inherent things even in my children. At such an early age, I remember Rocco closing his eyes, raising his eyebrows and telling me something so seriously. I giggled as I took in that little blond boy’s face that was somehow 3 and 89 all at the same time and said, “Oh you little Grandma Hilda.”
I look down at my hands, even now, as I type. They are her hands. They have never felt like they are my own. They’ve always only felt like a carbon copy of hers; tiny, petite, with a slight slant, and a bend at the knuckle. I’ll use these hands to carry on her work. To study, to teach, to mentor, and to offer a balm to the broken. I choose to spend my life sharing hope too.
I’m not sure what I’ll do about this void. This gaping cavern. I’ll read the books she sent that I haven’t yet gotten through. I’ll process the notes I’d take every time we talked. I’ll feel the familiar, unconditional love that didn’t leave when she did. And I’ll just have to ask the Holy Spirit to be my teacher now. He was her’s, after all.
Loads of Love, Grandma Hilda, my mentor, my hero, my friend. Loads of Love.
There is so much more I’d love to write, and I’m sure I will in time, but for now, this just did my heart good.
If you still have grandparents, spend time with them. There is so much gold to mine. And your stories are connected more than you know.
Heaven knows you need each other.