The moments I spent inside my Grandmother Virginia’s apartment as her soul embarked are heavy in the pit of my stomach even now, six years after her death.
I can still feel the light that poured into her little space, illuminating the palpable void. I can hear the silence that stressed her absence. I can still smell the faintness of her scent.
Never again would I sit on one of her kitchen chairs and pepper her with questions as she whipped up something delicious in her well-loved toaster oven.
Like stitches, the scene is embroidered on my heart.
In her bedroom, the covers were thrown back as if she’d gotten out of bed just minutes before; her favorite Colorado Avalanche socks were waiting atop the blankets to warm her feet.
On the floor I found a paper bag that she’d crumpled and breathed into, attempting to cease hyperventilation from the pain she had been in. What she called the “Devil’s grip” turned out to be the second of three heart attacks that claimed her life. (The first had occurred more than a year earlier.)
I felt like an intruder, not wanting to linger. My father and I – sent on the errand by my uncle – swiftly searched for the few heirlooms Grammy had hidden away that could prove potential targets for thievery.
Where would Grammy keep such things? What were we even looking for?
We eventually uncovered a small, blue fire box containing her wedding ring, an antique pendant watch and what I believe was a ring she must have received as a child.
In a top drawer we located a number of pieces of vintage turquoise jewelry and a mound of costume necklaces and bracelets. Behind the door in a hanging vinyl earring organizer, I happened upon a blue silk pouch that held a gold ring – a present from a boyfriend – and a sterling silver horse ring she’d bought for herself on a rare occurrence.
Two weeks later, the bulk of our family returned to Grammy’s apartment to parcel out her worldly belongings in the manner she’d intended – a lottery. While my father and his two brothers waited as chance would determine the next owner of contested items, everyone pitched in to pack up her life.
Each of her granddaughters and great-granddaughters were allowed to select something from her less-valuable pieces of jewelry. My sister chose a sterling locket that my niece called “Grammy’s pretty.” She cherishes a photo of my niece as a baby, sitting in Grammy Ginny’s lap, mesmerized by that locket around her neck.
I chose a silver bracelet loaded with charms Grammy had collected on her travels – most of them after my grandfather’s passing 22 years earlier. She became a widow at the age of 70 after half a century of marriage. For many that would be life-stopping, but not for Grammy. It was a new beginning – just as she told me Grandpa Jack would have wanted it to be.
The last decades of her life were truly golden. When she turned 80, she announced that none of us could tell her what to do, ever again. She did shots of Tuaca and drank Budweiser (not simultaneously). She ingeniously wore her pants backwards to accommodate her tummy and lack of backside. She beat my super smart brother-in-law at poker. And she did it all wearing bright red lipstick.
She saw the world in those years. She found love again. She made new friends, took up painting and poetry and rarely missed watching a Rockies game. She wore a sombrero on her 92nd birthday. She lived.
That charm bracelet and the incredible woman who now shares it with me are profound and gentle reminders that life is what you make it. Grandma Ginny made her life big, beautiful and her own.