My Grandma died from colon cancer when I was 18 years old. I was a freshman in college, away from home for the first time, engrossed in my first really serious relationship, and figuring out exactly who I was. Grandma had been sick for just over a year when my parents called and told me that I needed to come home and visit right away.
Grandma was much like her old self in the hospital, fussing at my Grandpa (who was driving everyone crazy), asking to see her children and grandchildren, and talking about regular old stuff. She encouraged me to come sit on the edge of her bed, and I did. It was then that I realized that the past year had been leading up to this: her death. It was clearly only a matter of time, and she knew it as well as we did.
During Grandma's last days, memories of the past months suddenly took on a new meaning: The summer day when I was having a cavity filled and Grandma wanted me to come visit so she could fuss over me. The night she made my favorite meal and insisted that I come over and enjoy it with her and Grandpa. That family trip to the Mountains. For her, it was the last time she could make a fuss over her granddaughter's toothache. It was the last time she would make her granddaughter's favorite meal. And it was the last time she would take a vacation to the mountains. She knew this, but I, with my silly little teenager brain, was clueless. Sure, Grandma was sick, but she would get better. Grandmas always do.
Just days later, back at college, I awoke certain that something terrible had happened. I sat in my dorm room all day, waiting for the phone to ring. My Dad's voice cracked when he said "Grandma died this morning." Then all I could hear were the sobs wracking his body, making him sound like a wild animal in pain. And I cried, too.
You are never ready to lose your Grandma. No matter how old you are, you are just a little kid again when your Grandma dies. We all need Grandmas, no matter how old we get. And I was not ready to lose mine.
Grandma held on until the Monday after Thanksgiving. My Mom said she waited until Monday so that she could be there for us for one more holiday. She was strong and wonderful, and losing her broke our hearts forever.
A whole year passed. We struggled through Christmas, Easter, birthdays and that first summer without Grandma. No more special dinners. No more ice cream to soothe me after a trip to the dentist. Somehow, we managed.
And then it was Thanksgiving again. I was a whole year older, but just as sad. That evening, my Mom sent me to bring my widowed Grandpa over for Thanksgiving dinner. He was so small and alone, looking like he was lost and would never be found again. My heart did this little clutching thing, snatching the breath from my body. And then I thought "This is it. This is our first Thanksgiving without Grandma." I drove Grandpa back to our house in silence, contorting my face and holding my breath to keep the tears from coming.
At home, I ran to my bedroom and slammed the door. In typical teenage style, I thew myself onto my bed and sobbed. I cried for the year without my Grandma. I cried for the last days that I failed to savor. And I cried because I needed my Grandma.
Then something happened. The air changed. Suddenly, the room felt heavy and charged, weighing me down. And then there was the smell: Grandma's perfume. In an instant I knew that Grandma was there with me. I had cried out to her, and she had come back, because she knew I needed her just then. I couldn't see her, but she was surrounding me as though giving me one last hug. I started talking to her, telling her all the things I hadn't said in the hospital. I told her how hard it was to live without her, and how I missed her special way of being Grandma. I told her that I feared I would never be happy again. I talked and sobbed for what seemed like forever. And, through it all, I would have bet every dollar in the world that Grandma was in that room with me, hearing my words and feeling my pain.
"Kristi, dinner's almost ready." My Mom's voice, obscured by the sound of the mixer, found me.
And suddenly, Grandma was gone. The smell, the electricity in the air, the warm heaviness that made her seem so close, receded as though it never was.
I found my Mom downstairs and told her what had just happened. Not being one to get caught up in emotions and the supernatural, she could be counted on to find a rational explanation. But she didn't. Just as I finished my story, Mom accidentally flicked a spoonful of mashed potatoes onto the wall. (Grandma was a messy cook, regularly doing just that sort of thing,) Mom looked at me, paused, and said "yes, I think she really is here."
Just when I needed her most, my Grandma came to me for one last time. That sad, cold Thanksgiving wasn't so bad after all, because Grandma stuck around to be with us for just one more holiday. And I cherish that last memory.