This is the letter I wrote to my grandmother when she was in hospice care. These are my last words to her.
When you used to visit us in Georgia during the holidays, you would always sit in the same place – on the loveseat by the lamp. You would nap, insisting that you were just resting your eyes, and for days after you left I would smell the sofa where your head had rested and I’d smell your perfume. I catch a whiff of it sometimes and I always think of you, and I always will.
I’ll never forget the last Christmas we spent together. My dad was pouring everyone drinks in your apartment, and three times you admonished him for not making them strong enough. It made me laugh, and it when my drink burned its way down my throat, I knew that I was indeed your granddaughter. And as I flipped through the pages of your incredible photo albums – you and Grandpa in the Ukraine, in Azerbaijan, in China – I knew that I’d inherited a great deal more from you. Our family heirlooms live in our bones, not in our houses. Although I did look around my kitchen one day and realize that I’d outfitted it in red kitchenware – my microwave, my kettle, my spatulas – pops of red everywhere.
There is something about red, isn’t there? It’s powerful and daring – like hopping into a fighter jet in Greenland with some handsome airmen and whizzing through the fjords. I thought of you when I went paragliding in the desert in Spain several years ago. “This is the Grama gene.”
I’ve always taken such great pride in telling people about my Grama who served in the Air Force, who visits Antarctica and Morocco and a thousand other places, and who manages not just to see the big wide world but to take pride in her own corner of it and try her damndest to change it. One day, not long after 9/11, we were doing a jigsaw puzzle during one of your visits and I said something about war maybe being necessary sometimes, and without lifting your eyes from the puzzle you said that it wasn’t necessary, ever. I’ll always remember that.
I’ll always remember you when I smell your perfume, drink vodka, choose red, get on a plane, or vote. I think of you often, but I’ll always, always think of you when I do those things. Heirlooms live in our bones. I love you, Grama.
You can read more about my truly amazing grandmother here.