My grandmother, Winnie, died on May 29. She was 91.
She moved to Round Rock from Louisiana when I was in middle school. She became good friends with my other grandmother, Deda. Together, they came often to my volleyball and basketball games in middle and high school. Whenever they came, I think everyone must have been praying that they wouldn’t get smashed by a ball on their way to finding a seat in the bleachers. They weren’t very fast walkers.
Not only did she come to my games, but to all other important events in my life through the years. I know she was there because I distinctly remember when she wasn’t there: at my college graduation in California. She had been making the trip with my family and got so sick that she had to be hospitalized in Arizona; my uncle had to come pick her up and escort her back home.
Her presence was always comforting to me. She was always quiet, but fully there, very present. Content to be with us, her family.
In the last few years, her health declined. She had a stroke, and it became harder to understand her when she spoke. She wasn’t always happy. In fact, she complained a lot. She hated that her independence had disappeared when she could no longer drive and needed full-time care.
After I moved to Mexico, I still saw her whenever I was in town, sent her messages on Facebook, and called occasionally. I justified my infrequent phone communication by saying that I couldn’t understand her or that I hated when she complained so it would just be better not to call. And though I didn’t vocalize it, I was scared that I would start calling her and then I would get used to it and then she would die.
Carlos called me out on my selfishness one day about a year ago: “Why don’t you call your grandmothers (Deda, too) more? It would really mean so much to them.”
Whatever “love” I had been giving my grandmother before wasn’t love at all. I would call if she didn’t complain. If I could understand her. If I knew she wouldn’t die soon. That’s conditional love. Which isn’t really love at all.
I thought about it for a while. And I knew that Carlos was right.
I started calling both Deda and Winnie more…sometimes once a week (usually on Sundays), and sometimes more.
Sometimes I couldn’t understand her, but usually I could. And sometimes she complained, but usually she didn’t. Usually she asked about Carlos and my job and about how she wanted to take me shopping the next time she saw me. Once, a few months ago, I decided to order a pizza on a Friday night on my way home from work. I had to wait for about 20 minutes, and I decided to call my grandma while I waited. It made me happy for the rest of the night.
“It was so good to hear your voice, sug,” (her trademark shortening of her favorite nickname, “sugarfoot”) she’d say every time before we hung up.
And in between all the phone calls, I got to spend a lot of great time with her in the last few months. And when I wasn’t with her or talking to her, I thought about her. About her kindness and spunk and stubbornness and generosity, demonstrated throughout my whole life.
It did really hurt when she died. I had gotten used to talking to her, of having her close to me. This past Sunday, when I realized it was Sunday and I would have called Winnie, I started to cry. But, I am so thankful that God showed me what it really meant to love her before it was too late. And that I made myself available to be loved by her, as best as she could love at this stage of her life. The words of Alfred Lord Tennyson ring true:
“Tis better to have loved and lost
Than never to have loved at all.”