January 31, 2015

A Letter to Gramma

As I sit here in the quiet, sipping tea from the bone china teacup and saucer passed down to me from my Grandma, I find myself at a loss for words.

It has been a little over one month now since my Grandma Dorsey passed away. This is the third grandparent I have lost in less than three years' time. But I have to admit I'm processing the loss of my "Gramma" much differently than when I lost my Grandpa's.

I suppose it is quite natural that typically, a granddaughter should feel closer to her grandmother and a grandson to his grandfather, with being of the same gender. It is no exception with me. I will freely admit I feel closer to both of my grandma's than I did to my grandpa's, simply because we have bonded over so many female-things, similar interests, and shared personality traits. As a girl, I spent much more time in the company of my grandmas than my grandpas. My love for all four of my grandparents is equal, but yes, I share a special closeness with my Grandmas that I didn't share with my Grandpas.

Now I have lost one of my Grandmas. My sweet, beloved Gramma, Ethel Dorsey, passed away peacefully on Christmas Eve. It was perfectly fitting--Christmas Eve was her favorite day of the year, the day when her entire family of kids and grandkids came together to celebrate Christmas.

I had the distinct privilege of reading my Gramma's life story at her funeral service. I was nervous because I am quite an emotional person and when I get emotional and try to speak at the same time, the result is less than pretty. Thankfully I made it through, with some emotional shakiness to my voice near the end. I added in a few personal words about my Gramma. I sincerely would have loved to say so much more but I knew I lacked the strength to say all I wanted to say without completely breaking into sobs.

Since the day of my Gramma's funeral, I have wanted to write something here to commemorate her life and my deep love for her. Yet I have found so much rolling around within my mind and so many emotions in my heart that I truly didn't know where to begin. I have laid awake many nights, staring at the sky through our sunroof, trying to carefully piece through all I want to say about my Gramma. I knew I needed to write about her and as writing is a form of therapy for me, my need to write has grown with each passing day.

Finally, it came to me that I can best process the loss of my Gramma by writing to her. So, I shall.

At the Oregon Coast, March 2009

Dear Gramma,

I am sure you knew that as your granddaughter, I loved you very, very much. Yet I'm not sure you ever really knew just how deeply I loved you and sincerely adored you. Even now as an adult, I feel a great sense of awe and reverence for you. I respect you, and I want to be like you in many ways.

Reflecting back over the years, I am overwhelmed by the warm, happy, and loving memories we share together. I can remember how wonderful it was to be wrapped in your big "hello" hug and I can still remember your sweet smell. I close my eyes and I hear your voice. Then I am there in yours and Grampa's house, sharing a meal at the kitchen table or playing cards and board games for hours. I hear your chuckle and as we chat you say, "Oh, is that right?" as your most frequent exclamation. I hear the tick, tick, tick in the stairwell as I climb the stairs to the bathroom with the red velvet-striped walls. I hop on the stepping stones in your beloved garden and dip my finger in the stone bird bath. I admire all of your lovely collectibles you've brought home from your many travels abroad. I sit on the smooth stone in front of the living room fireplace as you and Grandpa sit in your blue chairs in front of the big picture window, trying your hardest not to doze off {sometimes unsuccessfully}. I felt so safe, so warm, so happy in your home--it was a real second home to me, filled with delightful memories.

You never ceased to amaze me at how many details you remembered about my life, my friends, and my hobbies, despite the fact that I was your tenth grandchild, one who lived on the other side of the US. You always made me feel so incredibly special. I was yours, your one and only precious Deanne. You doted on me and I knew just how much you loved me.

This past Thanksgiving, a few weeks before you passed away, I shared a very special and sacred moment with my mom and Erin. For the very first time ever, we took out your wedding dress. You had never taken it out of the box it was preserved in, even to show it to my mom.

A hushed silence came over the three of us as we took in the beauty and significance of this satin gown. It was exquisite. We were in awe, and suddenly, I felt your presence there in the room with us.

And then, a monumental moment in my life: I tried on your wedding dress. I stepped out of the changing room and instantly my mom's eyes flowed with tears. We embraced for a long time. We admired every detail of your dress: the point at the cuff of the sleeves, the long, silky train, the very slight puff of the sleeves at the shoulder, the gathering of the fabric at the waist, the delicate trail of buttons all the way down the back, and the lovely veil. It was so simple but so unbelievably elegant. I had seen your wedding photos but seeing your dress in person took my breath away. It was one of the loveliest things I have ever seen.

As I stood in front of the mirror, wearing your dress and admiring it, a very profound thought came into my mind: I would not exist if it weren't for this dress. 

Because you put on that dress and pledged your heart to Grandpa on your wedding day, I exist. You gave my mom life, and therefore you gave me life. It's all a rather simple premise, yet in that moment I was overwhelmed by your contribution to my life. It was one my top life-moments, and I became acutely aware of how you and I belong to one another; how I truly came from you.

Mom, Erin, and I also shuffled through all of the other mementos you saved along with the dress. Most of it consisted of ticket stubs from your honeymoon to the seaside, the receipts of the purchase of your gown, veil, and Grandpa's wedding suit, and records scribbled in your handwriting of various other wedding or honeymoon-related expenses. In that moment, I realized how very much I am like you in that way--keeping mementos from special occasions and events.

And then I suddenly remembered a very specific memory from my early childhood and realized that it was you who taught me to keep scrapbooks. I must have been about six, and you were visiting our home in Spokane, Washington. I vividly remember sitting at the dining room table with you. You presented me with a brown leather book with the words "Scrapbook" in gold on the front. It was the kind were you peeled back the cellophane from each page and stuck things down onto the sticky page. We sat for a long time, you and I, as you helped me leaf through lots of magazines to find pictures I liked to cut out and add to the scrapbook. We added lots of other things like postcards, stickers, and the front of greeting cards. We had filled the scrapbook together and it was something I treasured throughout my childhood. 

Now I have scrapbooks filled with all sorts of important little things. I save movie ticket stubs {and note who I saw the movie with}, old photos, newspaper clippings, wedding or baby shower invites from family or close friends, museum tickets, old driver's licenses or photo ID cards from high school and college...the list goes on. I've realized my affinity for the saving and scrapbooking of these sorts of things came from you. I really love these scrapbooks and I continue to create them to this day. I wish I could show them to you.

I have to tell you how excruciatingly difficult it was to watch you struggle with dementia over these past many years. You were you, yet you weren't, and with time more of you slipped away, little by little. My heart was so sad as I watched you struggle with forgetfulness, confusion, and sadness. It was cruel to watch, but more cruel to experience, I am quite sure. You told us many times you were ready to "go home" to heaven and as your family, none of us wanted to see you struggle with this awful illness any longer, lest it worsen. Now, we praise the Lord, not only because you are home with our Heavenly Father, but because you are finally free.

As I've observed your mind slip away over the past years, I found myself feeling more drawn to you, longing for a connection. I wanted to feel you here with me, despite all the thousands of miles between us physically and all the growing fuzziness of your mind. So I have found ways in which I keep you with me and I cling to these things all the more now that you are physically gone.

Do you remember when you gave me the gold heart locket, the one with the delicate engraving on the front? It has two pictures inside: one of you when you were four years old, and a picture of my mom when she was four years old. You mailed it to me without explanation in high school. I began wearing it frequently over the past ten years or so. In fact, I consider it one of my very most treasured belongings. I wore it on the day of your funeral, and I will wear it for the rest of my life, feeling a wonderful connectedness to you as it hangs near my heart.

I am also proud to possess the beautiful oil painting of the sun setting over the ocean shore, done by your sister, Pinky. Because it hung on the wall opposite the bed of your guest room, I grew up gazing at that painting each time I stayed in your home. I loved the painting so much that I even used to go up to the bedroom just to "nap," which was really an excuse to lay on the bed, listen to my portable CD player, and gaze at the painting. I loved doing that as my little way to "recharge" in my own introverted manner. Now the painting proudly hangs in our beach-themed guest room. I have other mementos from the Oregon coast in that room which always remind me of you and Grampa, yet it is this painting alone that evokes such strong memories of our happy visits to your home.

In all of these little ways, Gramma, I carry you with me each day. Yet I hope that I can best honor you and your life by the way I live mine. So many of the things that were most important to you are also the things that Matt and I value and practice within our own home. Most namely: the love of family and the love of Christ. We cherish and adore our family, both immediate and extended, just as you and Grampa did. And we strive to center our daily lives around Christ and honoring Him, just as you and Grampa did. In practicing our faith and raising our children to come to know and love Jesus is the most important and meaningful way I believe we can honor your life and Grampa's life.

I always knew how proud you were of me and I hope I can continue to make you proud. You may be physically gone from this earth, but I hold onto your love and memory in my heart. I will never be able to thank you enough for all the memories, the love, the life you have given to me. I praise God for knowing that I can thank you again one day in person when we reunite in heaven. I will once again be wrapped in your wonderful, loving arms, and I will never let you go.

In loving memory of one of the loveliest women I've ever known.

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