Last night I lost my maternal grandmother. Just like in the movies, all I could see after I heard the news were little pieces of her life as I knew it - a virtual montage of the memories that made Shirley Trevor Stephens real to me.
I remember the roses by the rec room door, and how we used to pick the buds and pretend they were lipsticks. How cross she would get when she realized her roses weren't blooming because we were picking them before they had the chance.
I remember the raspberry bush behind the garage, the lilies of the valley that grew between the stones on the pathway around it. I remember taking a plastic bucket with me to pick raspberries so grandma could make jam, and the look on her face when I came back with a pittance in the bucket and guilty red fingers and lips.
I remember the breakfast table when Uncle Scott was home from college and Grandma frying eggs. I remember the English muffin bread, the homemade raspberry jam, and the ham salad that she made despite the fact that no one wanted to touch it.
I remember mornings in Ocean City, how she'd roll over in bed and "harrumph" if one of us peeked in too early to go walking with Grandpa. I remember coming back from the walk (and breakfast at Tony's 34th Street Grille) to a second breakfast with grandma before we spilled out onto the beach in our bathing suits.
I remember making "necklaces" with a needle and thread and grandma's expansive button collection. I remember trying on all of grandma's costume jewelry.
I remember the stories she told us about the time one of the boys got up at night and tinkled in the closet, or the boy who got into the bathtub fully clothed. She rolled her eyes when she talked about how Scott hated it when his feet got sandy at the beach, or the time my mother threw up on the attic stairs right after grandpa painted them.
I remember the year she moved to a smaller house with fewer stairs in a community with better (closer) medical care. I remember the night she called to ask if I wanted a box of my mother's old dolls. When I asked which ones, she replied, "Oh, I don't know. They're just old dolls. Some of them are missing arms or heads." I suggested that she call my sister and see if she might want them.
I remember the first year I saw her in Ocean City with a wheel chair. The pillow that she used to occasionally carry to sit on was never out of reach. She walked only when necessary, and almost never without help.
I remember the way she reacted when her hearing started to fade. She would insist that her hearing was fine, that it was everyone mumbling that was the problem. She told me I talked too fast (possible) and that I wasn't loud enough (highly unlikely). When she missed things in conversation, rather than ask for repetition or admit she could not hear, she would take a guess at what had been said and continue speaking as if she knew what the conversation was about. Watching her try to have a conversation with grandpa (who is also hard of hearing) was a task for the extremely patient.
I remember the last time I saw her, just two months before she passed. I brought her pictures of my children (her great-grandchildren), and she shuffled through the stack of six photos three times, each time looking at each photo as if she had never seen it before. There was a massive purple bruise on the side of her face from the most recent time she had fallen out of her bed. "I'm so glad you're not afraid to hug me," she said when we helped her to her car after dinner.
Through the sadness of her loss, I also remember these things: at 33, I have friends who have already begun to bury their parents. I have been blessed to be able to introduce my children to a great-grandmother who was able to physically hold them as babies and who had the mental capacity to recognize them to the end.
My grandmother was also blessed. She lived to be 88 years old, and made use of every one of those years. She was the first woman on my family tree to get a college education, and while at school she met my grandfather. They had five children who gave them 12 grandchildren and 6 great-grandchildren in her lifetime. She attended concerts and had dinner with close friends in the last weeks of her life. And when she took her last breath, it was in the company of her husband of 67 years, her youngest son, and two of her grandchildren.
Shirley Ann Trevor Stephens: January 6, 1924 - April 22, 2012