In the space of 4 months time I have lost my 2 remaining Grandparents. In the 10 years that I have lived in the UK, I have lost the 3 Grandparents I grew up with and was unable to attend any of their funerals due to being 4000 miles away. That’s a lot of loss in 10 years! And a lot of long-distance grief that, in a way, never gets properly felt. When you are 4000 miles away and can’t afford to make those journeys regularly, the distance creates a wall. It’s almost as if they start to fade from your life the minute you settle in that far-away place. I’m not sure if this makes the resulting grief from their departure easier to bear or if it settles down somewhere deep inside you and eventually explodes at an inopportune moment? Regardless, it sucks.
My Grandma Dolly died yesterday. She was 95 years old. I missed virtually all of the last 10 years of her life with the exception of a brief visit in 2008 and my brother’s wedding in 2009. My Grandma Dolly knew everything about our lives here thanks to my Auntie and my Mom sharing pictures and news. We occasionally Skyped on special holidays and I was able to see bits of her life through social media (not that she was on social media, mind you!). Grandma Dolly never met Sam. It makes me sad that she was unable to enjoy her great-grandchildren in the last few years of her life but that’s what extreme distance leaves you. In a way, however, the fact that I was not there for what was most definitely the hardest bit of Grandma’s long life, leaves me with the memory of the Grandma I knew from 10 years ago. The Grandma who I grew up with. Those are lovely memories and ones that I will treasure always. I’m going to share a bit of that with you…
Grandma Dolly was always Grandma Dolly to my brother and me. We were her first Grandchildren and for many years, her only grandchildren. My Grandma Dolly’s given name was Helen. I believe the story goes that her father used to call her his “Little Dolly” so that became her nickname and eventually what everyone called her. I don’t entirely remember her being anything but “Dolly”. When I learned, many years later, that my Auntie and Uncle’s children always had called her “Grandma Helen” I was slightly confused! She was always Grandma Dolly to me and so she will remain my Grandma Dolly.
Grandma Dolly was a wonderful Grandma but quite opposite to my other Grandma. Grandma Dolly had had to work pretty much all of her life. She held a job doing the accounts for the big pharmacy store in the town my Mom, Auntie and Uncle grew up in (kind of like Boots here in the UK but not a massive chain across the whole country). Mind you, my Grandma wasn’t an accountant but she was very good at keeping track of things. However, my Grandma’s methods of organisation and tidiness were quite interesting. She was very good at clutter and hoarding. In Grandma’s house there was very little room on the counters for anything!
Grandma Dolly wasn’t much of a cook but she was amazing at preparing Ham at Easter (always Ham, never anything else) and the most mouth-watering rosettes which are a sort of deep-fried, sugary pastry. I think we had those at Christmas time but it’s been so long that I can’t remember. Grandma ALWAYS made rosettes. They were dusted in granulated sugar, sometimes coloured green or red and they were absolute heaven. Grandma Dolly may not have been churning out pastries and cookies to greet us when we arrived but once a year those rosettes made us extremely happy. I will always think of Grandma Dolly when eating Ham or if I am lucky enough to come across a rosette. Perhaps I should start??
Grandma Dolly had a phenomenal rose garden. She lived in a relatively small mobile home with a very small garden but that garden was filled with roses. She tended to them carefully. There were varieties and cross-breeds and I didn’t understand any of it but they were glorious. My Grandma was also a very devout Catholic who attended mass weekly. Her rose garden had a statue of St Francis of Assisi which took pride of place. I wonder if there’s a rose called “Dolly”…there must be?
Grandma Dolly and my Aunt lived in the town where I went to University. I am quite grateful for those 4 years now because I regularly got to see them both and spend quality time with them. During my time at University I had to have my wisdom teeth removed. Grandma Dolly looked after me that weekend, propping me up on the recliner in her lounge, constantly bringing me packs of frozen peas to place on my swollen cheeks to keep the swelling down and making me soft foods that I could eat. It was rather lovely to have her look after me in that way. I could always count on Grandma Dolly for unconditional love and caring whenever it was needed. I’m so sorry I couldn’t be there to do the same for her at the end.
Grandma Dolly got her first passport at the age of 84 to come to England for my wedding! Can you imagine? Your first passport at the age of 84? It was no simple feat either! They had to work very hard to provide the necessary documentation to prove her identity in order to get that passport. But they did! And along with my Mom, Auntie and Uncle, the four of them flew to London and later the train to my neck of the woods to be present for our wedding. I never would have dreamt that would happen! But Grandma Dolly wasn’t going to miss my wedding. I’d like to think that was pretty much a mega-highlight in her life. It certainly was lovely having her here, as challenging as it was at times for my Mom and her siblings.
Grandma Dolly was a big sports fan! She was a rabid supporter of her hometown baseball team, the Chicago Cubs! I think she watched every game throughout every season (and baseball is a VERY long season). Go Cubs! And of course, like every good Wisconsinite, Grandma Dolly bled Green and Gold for the Green Bay Packers. I don’t think that Grandma Dolly ever got to attend a Packer game in person but she will certainly be watching them from Heaven this year.
Grandma Dolly had 7 grandchildren and 4 great-grandchildren. My cousin gave birth to my Grandma Dolly’s 4th great-grandchild last year and I know holding her and seeing her grow over the last year brought a lot of pleasure to Grandma in a time of great challenge for her physically. Grandma Dolly was exceptionally proud of all of her grandchildren and I know we will all have our own special memories of our times with her.
Grandma Dolly had 3 fantastic children. My Mom was the first-born, then came my Uncle and 13 years after my Mom was born, along came my Auntie! My Aunt has remained in their hometown and has been looking after my Grandma for as long as I can remember. Everything and anything that my Grandma needed, my Aunt took care of. Initially, Grandma Dolly moved from her home to an assisted-living apartment building. Several years ago, as her physical needs increased, she was moved into a nursing home where she was well looked after. My Aunt continued to visit and advocate for her Mom at every turn. 2 years ago, my mom moved back to her hometown to be closer to her Mom and her sister. I know my Mom is grateful for those last couple of years where she was able to visit Grandma nearly every day and particularly that she, my Aunt and Uncle were with my Grandma Dolly at the end.
And so, another amazing lady has gone. Everyone loved my Grandma Dolly. She was the epitome of “Embrace Happy”. She never complained, though her life had big challenges and she always helped others and looked after those closest to her. The end of her life was not a pleasant or easy one. But in the end, she was surrounded by her children and she went very peacefully as we all should. I will miss Grandma Dolly as I will miss my other Grandparents who have gone before her. But I like to think that there is a Heaven and that Heaven right now is filled with some pretty special people. Goodbye Grandma Dolly…I love you.