Seven years ago this spring, I was helping decorate for a surprise party for my sister-in-law when I got the call that my beloved Grandma Hetherington had passed away. Although she had been in the hospital with a pulmonary embolism, she was recuperating in a nursing home and expected to make a full recovery. It came as a shock to the whole family when she threw another clot and didn't make it.
Grandma H. was always a kick in the pants, so it seemed like the right thing to carry on with the party that night and be together as a family, not just celebrating the birthday of my sister-in-law, but also the life of a quick-witted lady we all adored.
I remember, after the initial wave of sadness washed over, feeling immense gratitude that night. I wonder now if it was just some sort of coping mechanism kicking into gear. But I felt overwhelmed and eternally grateful for having had time with her (I was in between jobs then) before she was gone. I was so lucky to take in those last stories and cheeky puns.
When my dear Grandma P. died two years later, there was a slow decline leading up to it, so my thankfulness felt more spread out over a number of months. I hung on to every conversation in the nursing home. Even if they were disjointed, they were gems. I wore her jewelry more often. I made sure my schedule had me stopping by to see her a couple times a week. By the time she stopped being able to talk to all of us, I was ready for her suffering to end and I had prepared to let her go.
It was hard to lose these women who had helped raise me and had been my single gal pals at so many holidays after my grandfathers passed away.
But then in late 2008, I met a new grandma. Mr. Wonderful's sweet, Greek Yiayia.
We visited her on our first trip to St. Louis together and I was in love immediately. She hugged me and kissed me a million times, telling me how happy she was that I was dating her grandson. In what I assume is traditional Greek grandma fashion, she asked us at least a dozen times if we were hungry, each time rattling off a different snack she had to offer. She took us into her bedroom and yanked open drawers, revealing stacks of hand-crocheted doilies and other knit items. She insisted that I take with me an apron she had sewn, and sent Mr. W with a bedspread-sized handmade afghan. Being in her presence filled a little space inside me that had been empty for a year and a half.
On a subsequent visit, I got to try a lemon-orzo soup she makes that is now one of my favorites. Actually, a lot of her cooking skills were passed straight to Mr. W, so there are probably a lot of favorites I have that can be attributed back to her.
In September of 2010, Mr. W and I visited St. Louis again and Yiayia taught him how to make baklava so that we could hand it out as the favors at our wedding. Yia wasn't feeling well enough to travel for the ceremony, so it meant a lot to at least have her recipe there with us.
That's our wedding venue above, and if you look on the napkins you can see all the packages of baklava Mr. W made, thanks to the tutelage of his grandma.
Because she couldn't make the trip out, we had Mr. W's dad Skype the ceremony to her and other St. Louis relatives over his iPhone. We hoped it was almost like being there.
When we visited Yiayia again this past October, she was tired but so glad to see us and look through the book of wedding pictures we had for her. She was full of hugs and kisses, as usual, and I think she referred to Mr. W by her favorite pet name, "my best boy."
Last weekend we got word that Yiayia had taken a turn for the worst, and we found out this morning that she passed away.
My heart is broken for Mr. W and the entire family. They have lost an irreplaceable matriarch. But on the edge of that sadness is the same feeling of gratitude I had when my grandmas passed. I am so lucky to have met such a precious soul. I will be forever grateful for the chance to know Yiayia.