Category Archives: Letters to Gramma

Letters to Gramma: You’ll Never Guess

Dear Gramma,

You’ll never guess what someone asked me for today.  Never in a million, katrillion, quadfillion years.

I was quietly checking my e-mail this morning while walking to work.  And there it was staring at me in my inbox.  A request from another teacher.

Know what she needed?  I’m in fits of giggles just thinking about it.  Seriously, you’ll never guess.

She needed to borrow a mini trampoline!  Can you believe it?  A mini trampoline of all things!  I know, I’m dying laughing, too.

In about 0.2 seconds I e-mailed her back telling her she could borrow yours mine yours.

After school she drove me home and on the drive I told her about how you used to “train” for your trips by trampolining.  Sorry to put “train” in air quotes, Gramma, but I just can’t say it with a straight face.  We were cracking up just at the thought.

When you died, that’s why I wanted your trampoline so badly in the first place.  It makes me smile every time I look at it and remember you bouncing, ahem, “training”, on it.

Wait, I’m snickering too much.  I have to stop and take a breath for a sec.

Ahhh.  Better.

After hearing the story of how I came to possess your trampoline, my colleague said she didn’t want to take the trampoline because she was afraid something might happen to it.  I told her that’s the very reason she should take it.  Something might happen to it.  Something laugh out loud hilarious might happen to it.

You see, my colleague is going to use it in a spirit assembly that involves kids wearing superhero capes and doing silly tricks and eating disgusting foods.  I told her that assembly is just the kind of thing that would’ve made you laugh.

So you should know that on Friday afternoon a bunch of middle school kids are going to be jumping and bouncing and having a ton of fun on your old trampoline.

And when I get it back I might just take a jump or two before putting it back in the closet.  Gramma, you always made me laugh.  You’re still making me laugh.

I love you like crazy,

Alicia

Letters to Gramma: Envy in Grief

Dear Gramma,

I had a dream this morning, a nightmare actually.  I dreamed that it was the day you died and I was alone in your house.  I’ve had this dream before, a memory that comes back to me at night sometimes.  But this time I was in your old house, in the house I visited as a kid, not the house you lived in when you died.  I was walking through the house, crying up the creaky stairs.  In the face of such a devastating loss, I crammed myself in the little closet that used to be a telephone room and I closed the door.

Your doorbell rang and I untucked myself from the corner of the closet.  Out on the front steps was a real estate agent and a family ready to look at the house.  In my dream I didn’t even know the house was for sale.  I explained to the agent that you had just passed away that morning and it really wasn’t a good time.  The agent pushed the door open and showed the family in.  The mother started asking me all these questions.  I gave them a tour of your house, staggering through the rooms of memories with a lump in my throat and tears welling in my eyes.

My alarm clock sounded and I’ve never been so glad for it to go off.  I woke with that lump in my throat and swallowed it back down.  My pillow was wet from crying.  The dream felt so real that it took me a few minutes to realize it couldn’t have been real because you haven’t lived in that house for over 20 years.  I swept away the cobwebs of the dream and pulled the covers up under my chin, wiping my eyes with the sheet.  I miss you so much that sometimes it’s a physical ache in my chest.  This morning was one of those times.

I got up to ride my bike with Terry and Nick.  A good hard ride was just what I needed.  I pedaled up and across Shasta Dam, the water in the lake blue and glassy.  We followed a new piece of trail and at a split I jumped on the old the river trail and Terry and Nick followed the road back home.  I wanted to be by the river, to be near something beautiful.  I rode fast, pushing a big gear, passing everyone I encountered.

I reached the Sundial Bridge where there was a breast cancer awareness walk.  I got caught in a crowd of people dressed in pink.  I felt the lump rise up from my belly and bob in my throat.  I saw people walking in memory of loved ones lost and the ache stabbed at my chest.

Then I saw people walking with the word “Survivor” pinned to their shirts.  There were stickers and pins and hats and everything else rightly proclaiming survivorship.

White hot envy bubbled up.  And I know I shouldn’t be envious that they survived and you didn’t, but sometimes I am.  Most days I think you won, Gramma, that you lived the best life of anyone I know.  But some days I feel like cancer won, that it’s unfair that other people survived cancer and you didn’t.  It’s the ugly part of grief, Gramma, the part I hate the most.  It’s not that I wish these other people didn’t survive.  It’s not that at all.  It’s that I wish you were still here, too.

I tried to get out of the crowd of walkers, but no matter how many times I called out “On your left!” or “Coming through!” they didn’t move aside.  The entire bridge was filled from one side to the other with walkers and survivors and pink shirts.  I felt the tears pricking my eyelashes.  I needed to be anywhere but there.  I unclipped and walked my bike through the crowd, keeping my head down until I got to the road and onto the trail that would lead me home.  I rode uphill, stomping on my pedals, crying until hot snot ran with my tears.  By the time I got home I’d stopped crying, but the sadness remained.

Gramma, I don’t mind dreaming of you.  In fact, I love it when you talk to me in my dreams.  But this dream was different.  You weren’t in it at all.  And that’s what makes the sadness stay, the fact that each day I get further and further away from the life that had you in it.  Sometimes that loss devastates me all over again.

Come talk to me in my sleep, Gramma.  Sidle up next to me and drawl “Hi, honey.  How are you?”  Make me watch Jeopardy with you while we eat ice cream for dinner.  Come back, for just a little bit, even if it’s only in my dreams.

Love,

Alicia

Letter #9: Whisper To Me

Dear Gramma,

You’ve been gone over a year now.  In some ways it feels like you were here just yesterday.  Other days it feels like eternity has spread out in between us.  I’m starting to forget what your voice sounded like.  My heart breaks even typing those words because I need your voice in my life.  This week I needed your warm Texas lilt to whisper in my ear.

I needed your voice when cancer took my friend’s mother.  I needed your words when cancer crept back into the brain of another friend’s mother.  In their sadness, my grief for you welled up in my heart and broke it all over again.  My words of comfort were such a meager offering in the face of staggering loss, in the face of fear come to life.  And yet, I feel like you would have said just the right thing.  Once again I find myself wishing I was more like you.

Last night I prayed that you would come talk to me in my dreams.  I long for you to sit down next to me, pat my leg and tell me everything will be okay.  I dream every night.  Most mornings I wake up recalling a fistful of dreams.  But not last night.  Last night was void of dreams.  You were silent and I woke up alone in bed, missing you more than ever.

It’s almost Easter and my memories of last Easter are snapshots flickering in the forefront of my mind.  I remember singing in your church Easter morning, painfully aware that you weren’t there next to me.  I cried through worship, both for the beauty of Easter and for the agony of loss.  I remember riding my bike up through your mountains, my heart bobbing in my throat.

Cancer is such a cunning thief.  A year later, I still feel hollowed out.  And maybe that’s why I don’t have the right words to say to my beloved friends.  Maybe there aren’t words to fill the cavern of loss.

Gramma, words never seemed to fail you.  You could strike up a conversation with anyone and build a friendship in mere minutes.  As for me, my words choke up behind my tongue and come out all wrong.

But this I know for sure, when my words fail my actions speak for me.

So when it comes to cancer, I’m letting my legs do the talking.  With every spin of the cranks, I say no to cancer.  When I stand and pedal up hills, I’m standing with my friends.  And maybe one of these days when I’m riding through the plains and the wind is whipping through the wildflowers, just maybe it’s your warm Texas lilt I’ll hear on the breeze.

I love you so much.  Come talk to me soon.

Alicia

Letter #8: Do Over

Dear Gramma,

It’s been a year since you were diagnosed with cancer and almost a year since you died.  Today I was talking to my mom about how time is so elastic.  It feels like you’ve been gone such a long time, but in the next breath it feels like we talked yesterday.

Do you remember when I called you just after you found out it was cancer?  I asked you how you were feeling and you told me you were scared.  It was the only time you said that to me, maybe the only time you said it at all.  I told you I was scared, too, that cancer was an okay thing to be frightened by.

This week in Bible study, we’ve been talking about facing our fears, about how there are things in this world that are worthy of a shake in our shoes.  And I couldn’t help but remember the time in my own life when I was most afraid.  I visited you and you reminded me of the faithfulness of God, reminded me that He did not give me a spirit of fear.  And when I worked up the courage to tell you my most deep seeded fear, the one that was breaking me into pieces of myself, you hugged me and told me that you prayed for me every morning.

I still remember your short arms wrapped around me.  I remember the way your head rested in the crook of my shoulder, the pendant of your necklace pressing into my stomach.  I stood there, all six feet of me pressed into all five feet of you.  I kissed your head.  You told me I’d be okay and you said it with such conviction that I believed you.

A year has passed since you told me you were afraid and all this time later I have the luxury of hindsight.  So I’m telling you now what I wish I had known then.

It’s okay to be afraid.  But God is bigger than the cancer in your body.  You don’t have to be afraid of chemo or radiation or losing your hair or being in pain.  You will leave before any of that is even a possibility.  You will leave your body and you will go home to be with your Lord.  And until that day, you’ll be taken care of by the best doctors and nurses.  You won’t be in pain.  You won’t be alone.  You’ll be surrounded by family and friends who will love you every second of the rest of your life here on Earth.  Gramma, I will love you every second of the rest of my life, both here and beyond.

I learned this week that the word courage comes from the latin word cor, or heart.  If I had it to do all over again, I would tell you it’s okay to be afraid, but that you can also take heart in knowing that God has his arms wrapped around all five feet of you.  I’d tell you to rest your head in the crook of His shoulder.

Even though you’re gone, I feel you every day.  When I eat ice cream I think of that time on our trip when I caught you eating ice cream without me and you tried to tell me it was someone else’s dish.  The ice cream on your mouth gave you away and I promised not to show anyone the picture I took as proof.  When I watch The Amazing Race, my hand reaches for the phone to call you so we can watch it together.  When I read a good book, I write it down and think of your book list.  And when my mom laughs, it’s you who I hear.

I don’t think I’ll ever stop missing you.  You were the most courageous person I know.  Sometimes that dark fear of mine creeps up and threatens to drown me.  I’m learning to face it, to recognize that God is bigger than my most ferocious of fears.  And I’m taking heart in knowing that someday I will see you again.   You’ll wrap your short arms around me and I’ll kiss your head.  And we’ll be better than okay.

Love,

Alicia

Five Golden Rings

Dear Gramma,

The other day when my little ones were lining up to go to lunch, I asked if they wanted to sing a Christmas song on the way to the cafeteria.  We sang Jingle Bells and then one of my little ones asked if we could sing “that one about the 12 things”.

My voice caught in my throat and not a single word cracked out.

I stood thinking about singing The 12 Days of Christmas at your house and always hoping, wishing, crossing my fingers that I would get the card that said “Five Golden Rings”.  It was my favorite line.  I could only imagine enough golden rings to slide on all the fingers of one hand.  I remember you singing that line in your best warbling Baptist church vibrato.  Your singing voice always made me giggle.

As I stood there watching my little ones pull their jackets on and grab their lunch boxes, I spun the gold ring on my right hand, the one my mom gave me from your trip to Greece together.  It is carved with the Greek symbol for eternity.  We walked to lunch singing and when we got to the part about the golden rings, I sang through the lump in my throat my voice trembling each time until I got to those four calling birds.

Christmas is a hard time to be apart from you.  The tree, the music, the decorations, the food-it all reminds me of you.  Those memories are so sweet.  And I’m thankful for all of them.  I just wish you were here to make more.

But then I turn the ring on my finger and remember that this season, when I am singing of the Christ come to Earth, you are singing with Him for eternity, singing in your best Baptist church vibrato.

I can’t think of a sound I’d like to hear more.

Come sing to me in my dreams, Gramma.  Come sing to me about the Christ come to Earth.  Sing to me about eternity.  Sing to me about Heaven where five golden rings are a mere drop in the bucket.

Love,

Alicia

Letter #7: Your Voice

Dear Gramma,

Today I woke up in the small morning hours and wandered out to the living room.  The house was cool and dark and I tapped away on my computer, writing in the stillness.  All the windows were open and the croaking frogs were the perfect metronome to my words.  When I was done, I crept back into bed as Terry was getting ready for work.  I drifted off to sleep for one last precious hour.

In that snippet of morning sleep, I dreamed that our family was having a party.  It was a backyard party with crisp white tablecloths snapping in the breeze.  Aunt Nancy poured some sort of exotic soup into bright white ramekins.  She filled one too full, and soup dribbled over the edge, seeping into the tablecloth like a tea stain.

My mom and I set the tables and I stopped for just a moment to watch Terry.  He sat near the grass and looked so handsome.  He didn’t see me sneak a peek.  You always told me he just gets better and better looking with age and I couldn’t agree more.

You arrived at the party and came up from behind me, putting your arm around my waist.  I put my arm around your shoulder and kissed your cheek.  It was so soft, like the cheek of a baby.  You said “Hi, honey.”  Your voice was so clear.  In my waking hours I have trouble recalling the particular lilt of your voice, the rhythm of Texas buried under years of California.  But in my dream your voice was so familiar, so filled with love.

In my dream you had cancer, but it appeared you were undergoing treatment.  I asked you “How are you feeling?”  You squeezed my waist and said “Much better.  How are you feeling?”  I laughed and said “I’m feeling fine, Gramma, just fine.”  You said “That’s good.” and patted my bottom twice, like you always did.  I have no idea why you always patted my bottom like that.  Was it because I’m so tall and you were so small?  Is that all you could reach?

There was music in the background and Uncle Jon and Aunt Jill danced close together on the patio.  Hayley was mortified until Katie pulled her on the dance floor.  Katie wore a gorgeous, dark pink dress that made her rosy cheeks even more striking.  Katie and Hayley danced and laughed.  Everyone laughed with them.  You and I stood there, your arm still around my waist, my arm draped around your shoulder.  You leaned into me, just the slightest little bit until your hair was touching my chest.  We watched them dance and we were so happy.

You turned to me and asked “Is everyone here?”  Before I could answer, I woke with a start back in my own bed.  I gasped for air like I was breaking through the water’s surface after swimming down deep.

My dream hung around me like gauzy sheets and as I sat up in bed, I realized my alarm hadn’t gone off.  I swung my legs over the edge and for a second my mind convinced me that my dream was real, that your cancer was responding to treatments.  That you were indeed feeling better.  That you were still here.  My feet touched the carpet and I realized it was not real, that it was just a dream.  A cruel dream that left tear drops on my shirt as I got dressed.  The dream looped in my mind, always stopping when you asked “Is everyone here?”.

In the unforgiving light of day, I answered your question.  Everyone is not here.  And today that thought has seeped into me, leaving me stained with sadness.

I love you, Gramma.  Come talk to me in my dreams again soon.

Love,

Alicia

Letter #6: Postcards From You

Dear Gramma,

Last night I was enjoying the quiet of the wee morning hours.  I could hear Terry snoring in the bed as I sifted through a box of things my mom gave me.  There was a book of things I wrote in first grade that I can’t wait to share with my class.  There were cards from my first few birthdays.  I traced your signature on the cards you sent me and I traced Grandpa’s name, too.

Underneath the stack of birthday cards were items my mom brought back from your house, including the postcards you bought on our trip.  The backs of the postcards were blank and I sat in our office staring at their stark backs.  Tears welled in my eyes because those postcards will always be blank.  I sunk to the floor, wishing for your words to trace with my fingers.

I flipped the postcards over and ran my fingers across each glossy image of the places we’d been together.  It occurred to me that it was exactly three years ago to the day that you took me on that crazy bus tour for my birthday.  We had such a good time, didn’t we?  As I studied the postcards, I remembered the day we visited Novi Sad.  Do you remember when we stopped on that bridge and I asked you to take a picture of me with the beautiful buildings in the background?

You took this:

I asked if maybe you could take another picture.  One that captured the buildings and especially the clock tower in the background.

You lined the camera up carefully and took this:

I laughed and asked if you could possibly take another photo with the buildings in the background and preferably my entire head.

For a third time you lined the camera up really carefully and clicked the button, confident that you’d certainly got a good shot that time.  Do you remember how hard we laughed when we saw this?

And then our bus was leaving so we never did get a decent shot of that clock tower.  Gramma, you were so good at so many things, but you were an awful photographer.  Just awful.  And I’m so glad because each time I think of that bridge in Novi Sad, I remember how hard we laughed that day and how relieved you were when I banned you from taking photos for the rest of our trip.

Later that night, we ordered banana splits for dinner in the hotel bar.  The bar was closing and you asked the waiter to take our picture.  We ate and talked well into the wee hours of the morning.

Thank you for taking me on that trip.  And thank you for never sending those postcards to your friends.  Three years later they have come back to me, reminding me that the things we saw on our trip paled in comparison to the time we spent together.

Love,

Alicia