Growing up, Thanksgiving was just another holiday that my giant polish family got together to eat. Like most families I guess, we’d go around the table and say what we were thankful for in a hurry because staring at the feast in front of us was torture. One person at the table was never in a hurry. My Grandmother: Charlotte Nieliwocki (I told you, we are very Polish). Her favorite thing in the whole world was her family. Nothing was ever small. Holidays, birthdays, graduations, picnics, etc. would always be at Grandma and Grandpa’s house. We would fill that colonial style home in New Jersey wall to wall as we got older and had to filter to the backyard when it got too crowded. Thanksgiving was her favorite. Why exactly I’m not too sure, but the smile that was on her face every year as she looked around at each of our impatient faces is etched in my mind forever.
77 years old seems like an age accompanied by wheelchairs, cataracts, broken femurs and assisted living. Charlotte was an exception to this fate. My grandma was a ball of fire; nothing slowed her down. She was also quite the lady. She loved tea, to read novels and eat Oreos at midnight and kept quiet when it came to anything you wouldn’t feel comfortable speaking to your priest about. Catholics.
She was also a badass. She was an avid traveler filling her passport like a scrapbook. She not only traveled the country but the world. She had a special needs daughter in the 60’s and fought like hell for Patty to have the best education and quality of life and she nailed it. Through all the ups and downs in her life, she stayed warm.
My grandmother loved all of her grandchildren endlessly, but she had a special place in her heart for her girls. She had collected teacups from her world travels and when we reached an age when breaking things was no longer a usual occurrence, she would set up extravagant tea parties. We would dress to the nines stumbling over silky dresses from her closet and fluffy feather boas. She would have every inch of the supper table covered in miniature cucumber sandwiches, scones, delicate cups, and the fresh cookies from the Polish bakery down the road. The hours would fly by as we would giggle and sip tea with our pinkies up. I could tell, even at such a young age, these moments with us are what she cherished. I now have one of those teacups forever inked on my ribcage. It is my most precious memory I had with her.
The world stopped spinning for a while on January 11th, 2015. I got a call from my tough as nails mother choking on tears.
“Grandma gave blood at church this morning and passed out at the 7/11. She’s being rushed to the hospital, but they are saying she suffered a traumatic brain injury.”
Once I had the naive feeling that this woman would live on forever never aging never changing and now her whole world was ripped from her hands.
Grandma went on another one of her trips but is not returning this time.
She calls me her daughter.
Her husband, my witty grandfather, is reduced to a broken man losing 15 pounds he can’t afford to lose as he watches the love of his life forget him.
She puts baked beans on a slice of bread, raises it to her ear and says “Hello”.
Everything changes and then nothing does.
Change can suck. The fear of no change when something is so monumentally altered is torture. Life is not fair and why these things happen to people I will never understand.
My grandma passed away a year ago on November 24th 2018.
Grief is weird.
It hits you when you least expect it. I’ve been so angry. Angry at the church for letting someone her age give blood. Angry at the universe for letting this happen. Angry for seeing the call come in from her the week before and ignoring it because I was “too busy”. Just angry. I am ashamed of myself because I’ll be at the grocery store and I’ll see an elderly person I’ll think “Why? Why are you still here and she isn’t? That’s not fair.” But that isn’t what she would want at all.
I’m not sure what I believe there is after this life but if there is a heaven or a “good place”, I know for a fact she’s there and that brings me peace. I talk to her a lot, especially as we approach the anniversary and her favorite holiday. It often happens when I am taking a shower or am on the toilet, which is strange, and I always apologize to her first, but I never want to be too busy for her again. Or too busy for anyone for that matter. Tell the ones you love that you love them. It’s 2019 and the world we live in right now is a scary place. No moment is guaranteed. So talk. Hug. Love. Be kind.
When I get angry or anxious and I fear the future and the change that may or may not come, I think of the crimson color that would cover my grandma’s cheeks as she smiled at us, her family and the memories she created.
And I smile.
And I cherish.