Tomorrow, September 13th, it will be fifteen years since my grandmother died. Fifteen years. That is such a long time. The last time I saw her, she was in a hospice but ever in good spirits. I was almost 23 and had just landed my first real post college job. Up until that point, I had been babysitting and delaying adulthood as best I could. I told my grandmother that day that I had gotten a job and she clapped her hands, smiled and said, “I can die happy!” And that, in a nutshell, was my grandmother. She never seemed scared to die, or of anything for that matter. I honestly don’t think she was. She told me there were clothes in her closet that might fit me and that I shouldn’t be “afraid to wear a dead person’s clothes.” But I would never have felt that way. She wasn’t a dead person, she was my grandmother. And at that moment, she was very much alive. She was sharing her room with another elderly lady. She told me a little sadly that the two of them should be the best of friends by now, except that the other woman was quite deaf.
One of my favorite things about my grandmother was how much she loved me, pure and simple. She called me “number one girl” because I was her first granddaughter (and in fact, her first grandchild). She thought everything I did was amazing. She made little things fun for me, like when I was little and would help her in the kitchen. She would peel apples and hang the long spiraly peels on my ears and then say how lovely my earrings were. I would giggle and try to peel apples like her, but my peels always broke.
Fifteen years is a long time. In just another few years she will have been gone longer than I had her in my life. I can’t remember what it was like to take for granted she was there. To answer the phone and hear her voice say “Katrina!” which of course, is the Italian version of my name. I remember her laugh, her positive outlook on life. I remember her cooking (how I wish I could have a big plate of her risotto and a bowl of her lentil soup!) But it’s getting really hard to remember what it felt like not to think of her as “a dead person”. I always thought losing someone would hurt less as time passed but time keeps pushing her further away from me.
I often wonder what she would think of the woman I’ve become. I worry that she would be disappointed that I am not married and don’t have any little “bambinos” yet. I had told her I wanted to wear her wedding dress someday when I got married. But damn it, she was supposed to BE at my wedding.
I worry that she wouldn’t like some of the choices I’ve made. Sometimes I’m ok with that. Like how she hated when I wore dark nail polish because it didn’t “look natural”. That was an area we would’ve had to agree to disagree on. But sometimes I try to see myself through her eyes and I think, I could’ve done better, held myself to higher standards, been braver. Always braver. That was her secret and I never had a chance to learn it from her. For her, life was an adventure. She took pleasure in the littlest things. She was happy and she was content. She would’ve wanted the same for me. I want the same for me.
I would give up a lot to have one more conversation with her. To be able to ask her what she thinks about so many things. Things I’ve done, things I’ve felt. But even as I write this I can hear her voice in my head. She would say something along the lines of, it doesn’t matter if I’ve made some wrong choices. It’s life and no one is perfect. The important thing is that I am overall, happy, healthy, and self-sufficient. The rest is just salad dressing on the salad of life. Or whatever the Italian equivalent of an optional but not hugely important topping or condiment to a meal would be. Shredded parmesan on the lasagna perhaps? And I guess the fact that I can imagine her answer means she’s still with me after all.