It’s been a year since my Grandmother died. She died one year ago today. She went into the hospital only a few days before. She was lucky that way. She was healthy and able up until the end. I had seen her only days before; she was sitting in her home talking about the thirties. I told her she was the strongest person I knew. She brushed me off. I’m glad that I got to tell her. Then my grandmother and cousin and I talked about Christmas. I asked about what I should bring to Christmas Eve. Her answer was a wave of a hand and, “Whatever you want.” Every year for my entire life, we had gone to my grandmother’s house on Christmas Eve. Last year was the only year that we didn’t. She was buried only a few days before. I didn’t know that we had already celebrated our last Christmas with her. I would have remembered more of Christmas 2011 if I had… This picture is from then, I’m glad to have it. My memories of the years of Christmas Eves at her home are all overlapping. I can’t remember what year things happened in. But they always happened at Grandma’s house.
I am convinced that December is the worst month to lose a loved one. It’s always terrible. But right before the holidays is just brutal. Last year I spent the days before Christmas crying, watching my Grandmother die. It didn’t seem like a holiday. I keep hoping nobody dies this December. Even though she was gone last Christmas, it still somehow feels like this is the first Christmas without her. It is the first Christmas that we know in advance that she will not be there. No pierogies, no Christmas cookies, no tales of Christmases past. We will actually have all of that. Just not with her, and not from her. I regret so much that I never made pierogies with her. I cooked with her on occasion, she taught me to make her noodles. But I should have written it down. One of the first things I did in the weeks after my grandmother died was to copy some of her recipes. How priceless they had become! I never thought I would so acutely miss food. What wouldn’t I give for one last Christmas cookie, a thumbprint or a pizzelle? I wanted to go into her house and raid the freezer. It is not her home anymore. I no longer have freezer privileges. There are no more frozen treats for me. No more borscht or broccoli soup. No more pierogies, made by the hundreds at a time and frozen for future use. I have dreamed that there were pierogies still in the freezer. There aren’t. I am so thankful for all of the times she fed me. She was an excellent cook and always put so much love and work into her food. She would cook for hours before we came over for dinner. Every Sunday. I didn’t appreciated it enough as a child.
Luckily for me, my grandmother lived until the ripe old age of 97. I had many years of adulthood to appreciate all that she gave me just by being there. Still, I thought I was going to have a few more years yet. I thought for sure she would live to 100. I thought she could someday be on the Today show, the oldest woman in America. She was so strong up until the very end. She went peacefully. As peacefully as death can be. She died in her own bed surrounded by her loved ones. We held hands and hugged and wept and prayed over her as she died. She would have been so proud. My last gift to her was the Hail Mary. What a lucky death. If only everyone could live a long full life and die surrounded by family! It is what she would have wanted, with so many of her non-Catholic “heathen” granddaughters praying for her. “Pray for us sinners now and at the hour of our death.” We did.
She is everywhere now. I almost wrote her name down on my Christmas list. I’ve nearly picked up the phone to call her more than once. And I wish that she was here so I could ask her if my son was like her youngest son as a child. Just for future reference. So I can keep the matches well hidden. (Wink wink to my uncle. She never held it against you.)
I am glad for all the stories she told me. She was more than willing to talk about the twenties and thirties and forties like they were only yesterday. She was quick to share any story you asked about. Even the grimmer stories, she shared. Perhaps it was the G or PG version of the past. I now see that. But she told me anything I asked. Lucky for me I am an asker. I always have questions to ask. Some people find it offensive, or so I have been told. I guess not everyone wants to reveal personal things about themselves. But, if you don’t ask, you won’t know. So I ask. I like to know everybody’s stories. My grandmother told me anything that I asked.
She actually told me a story that I hadn’t heard before on our very last visit in her home. Or rather she told me a story I had heard many times before, but there was a revelation that changed everything. I never knew that my eldest uncle was alive when my Grandmother’s first son died. Somehow I never knew that timing before. I always assumed he had not yet been born when Peter died. When I realized my uncle was alive, it changed everything. I knew now how she survived losing Peter. I had wondered that for years. My uncle, just a baby, kept her alive. I thanked him for that at the funeral. She was a tough old lady she really was. She survived so much and truly kept an open heart. I wish I had more time with her. But we did have a lot of time together. 35 years.
I was lucky. I lived in the same town as her for most of my life, college years excluded. I am so thankful for that. I have hundreds of stories and memories over the years. She came to every single one of my birthday parties and my childrens’ birthday parties. ALL OF THEM. She had come to my son’s birthday party only a month and a half before she died. She had to come in the back door since there were less steps. She was never able to come in the front door of my home. She had long since stopped going upstairs to her own home. Years. A decade or more? She couldn’t handle the steps. She had no cartilage in her knees and her achilles tendons were shortened. She should have been wheelchair bound. She only rarely submitted to this horror in the end. She used a cane, but should have used a walker at least. She told me she was afraid if she used a wheelchair she would never stand up again. I understood her fear. I respected her resilience. But I really wished she had submitted to some help. For her own sake. She could have been relieved of at least some of the pain involved in walking. But nobody could tell her anything. Why should we? She far outranked all of us. 97 years offers you wisdom and respect. Plus she was humble and pious and totally had God on her side.
She was what the Catholics call a saint. No, really. She should be a saint. She made over 47,000 rosaries to be given to the children of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Erie. 47 THOUSAND. That’s alot of prayer. She met two Bishops. Right before she died, she met the new bishop and he thanked her for her service. He told her she was a blessing to the community. She was at peace with her God.
Because of her I am here and so are my children. Without her struggle and labor and love and salvation, I would not have been born. Because of a single woman there are now 26 new people in the world. My grandmother had 7 children, 12 grandchildren and 7 great-grandchildren. So far. She was so proud of us all. I am so proud of her. I marvel at all that she lived through. I miss her everyday. Especially today, the day the world lost a saint named Helen Elizabeth August Trocki. I like to believe in heaven for her.
Thank you for everything Grandma.