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Grandma and I back when that outfit was cool!

Happy Thanksgiving!

In keeping with what this holiday embodies for me, the story I wrote after my grandma’s funeral is posted below. Thinking about losing her encourages me to embrace an attitude of thankfulness. I don’t know how long I’m going to be here. I don’t know how long I’ll have the ones I love. With that perspective, being a blessing and appreciating blessings, becomes more and more important–especially the older I get. Instead of thinking of what or whom I’m grateful for just on Thanksgiving day, I’d like today to be the beginning of naming 365 blessings in my life–one for every day of the year. I will list them all on a page in my blog. Join me in the journey and list your own as well! An attitude of gratitude does amazing things for a dull and dreary life. How much time do I spend wishing and praying for things when I already have more than enough? I’m going to try and refocus all that negative into positive and follow Psalm 69:29-31. “I will praise God’s name in song and glorify him with thanksgiving.” If you see me dancing around my kitchen to praise music, just look the other way!

Day One: I am thankful for the grandma I still have left!

Grandma Marge and Grandpa Don (miss you Grandpa)

Grieving Grandma

For Grandma Rothgery

Baby blue—an odd color for a casket.

Yet there it sat, next to a mound of fresh dirt, waiting to be lowered into the ground. Constructed of thin wood, the casket was clearly bottom of the line, but there wasn’t much money to put toward the burial. Grandpa needed taking care of. Bills needed to be paid.

Good thing Grandma was on the inside of the casket—otherwise she’d have heart palpitations over her final resting place. I could almost see her beside me searching frantically in the bottom of her purse for a Nitroglycerin.

The graveside service was over—the cemetery empty of the living. Except for me. Everyone else had hustled away, whispering in reverent tones, bundled against the frosty air. Six inches of snow covered the ground. Typical for November in Wisconsin. Wind whipped through the trees, pushing snow into odd-shaped piles of white fluff up against the tombstones. Shivers trailed down my spine and I pulled my collar high. The soft fur on my hood brushed against my face, warming it temporarily.

Twelve carnations in various colors lay on top of the blue casket—one for each member of the family. A son, a daughter, five grandchildren, five great-grandchildren. My aunt’s way of saying goodbye. Ironic because grandma hated flowers.

Between the coffin and the carnations, two Nitroglycerines were in order. The only thing we did get right was our clothes. Grandma asked us to celebrate her life with bright colors—no black allowed.

I slid my gloved hand across the wood and frowned. We should’ve tried harder to go more traditional—trade up to a conservative brown or black at least. Appearances had mattered to Grandma.

“I miss you.” I laid my check on the cold, coarse casket. “I’m wearing a lavender suit. With matching earrings. And pantyhose.” I glanced at my feet with a grimace. “Okay, so on the way from the church, I traded the heels for boots.” I pulled my hood back as if she could see me. “But I curled my hair with hot rollers.”

I wanted her to say, “I’m sorry for dying and leaving you here.”

But she didn’t.

Her face, the way it had looked the last time I’d seen it—gaunt and strained, flashed through my mind. Watching her die—keeping vigil over each labored breath as her body wasted away and shut down organ by organ—had been the hardest thing. Ever.

I leaned over the casket to rest my icy cheek on top of my hand and let go of all I’d been holding inside. Tears ran down my face, over the glove, and onto the casket.

I cried because no one else but Grandma had ever understood that sometimes I just needed a hug. I cried because no one would make me pistachio salad, without the nuts, and peanut butter balls with them. I cried because Grandma’s pantry would no longer be stocked with Cookie Crisp, powdered sugar donuts, and tomato soup.

“Who’s going to send me cards? And go to lunch on Tuesdays?” For a moment, I was back in her bedroom, stretched out next to her on the tiny twin bed, reading The National Enquirer and watching One Life to Live in closed caption.

Tears froze under my eyes as a gust of wind whipped across my face. “Who’ll notice my haircut? Who’s going to care that I’m still me? Not just Pat’s wife or Kyle and Alek’s mom?”

A half smile pushed through my tears and my eyes opened. “Who’s going to iron Pat’s work pants? They’ll be all wrinkly now.”

The tips of my fingers grew numb, my gloves more stylish than functional. “Remember when you sent those Christmas cookies to my dorm and my roommates ate them and you mailed another batch express mail?”

I moved my toes against my soggy socks—the snow was melting through the faux leather of my boots. I stood there anyway. I couldn’t leave her here. Alone. In the cold.

“I never thanked you for paying for drama lessons that summer when Mom said no.” I rearranged a few of the carnations, separating the colors and forming them into a circle spanning the width of the casket. “Sorry about the flowers.”

I flexed my stiff fingers and rubbed my hands together. It didn’t help.

“Last night I told Julie I was your favorite grandchild. She said, ‘I was Grandma’s favorite, but she asked me not to tell you.’ I laughed so hard I slid off the bed. You told me the same thing and made me promise not to tell. The funny thing is we both believed you.”

The feeling in my toes completely disappeared. I couldn’t stand out here much longer. I’d freeze—or lose an appendage. I wiped my face on the inside of my collar and blew out a long breath. “No one will ever love me like you did.”

My eyes ached, swollen from too many tears, and stung from the cold wind. “I miss you so much already.”

I pushed against the casket. My legs were stiff from squatting so long. Just then, the sun peeked through the clouds and the wind took a momentary hiatus.

“Wait for me—we’ll eat beef stroganoff and strawberry shortcake when I get there.”

The sun warmed my face, drying the tears and soothing the icy burn. I skimmed my hand across the small blue box one last time, arranged the flowers again, until they were just right, and whispered with a sigh, “Good-bye. I love you.”

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My Grandma Holding Me!

With a sigh, I drop into my favorite overstuffed chair and rest my cheek against the green tweed fabric. Leftover turkey, green beans, and mashed potatoes, brown with gravy, litter white plates scattered across the counter. The spicy aroma of warm pumpkin pie floats into the family room.

My boys tear through the room, flashing silver foam swords, my husband on their trail. He scoops them up and plops them down on the couch next to my sister and my grandpa.

“Turn the game up, I can’t hear the score.” My mom yells from the kitchen.

The dishwasher clicks on and I tune out the soft hum and close my eyes. Full of warmth and family, the day seems perfect. Yet, something is missing—the picture incomplete.

Grandma’s absence fills the room.

Grandma, Me, and Kyle (my oldest son)

The smooth scent of vanilla slides over me. A hand rests on my shoulder and I cover it with mine—trace the bumpy veins on loose, spongy skin. I open my eyes.

Grandma kneels beside my chair, dressed in her favorite outfit—blue sweater, matching pumps, and pearl clip-on earrings.

I bite my lip. She’s not supposed to be here.

A smile warms her face. “I just want you to know that I’m okay.”

“It’s not the same without you.” I squeeze her hand and lean my head against hers. “I miss your hugs.”

Her fingers comb through my hair. “I miss yours, too.”

“Mom made your pistachio salad. It was all wrong. She put in the nuts.”

With a laugh, she kisses my cheek.

A harsh buzz shatters the moment. Startled, I sit up in bed. My husband snores softly by my side. I hit snooze on the alarm and fall back against the pillow.

It had only been a dream.

And now it’s too late. Too late to tell her how much she meant to me. Too late to hug her and realize what I had.

My husband rolls over and rubs his eyes. When I take the time to think about it, there are so many things I’m grateful for—like when he takes out the garbage and scoops out the cat litter. He’s made dinner on my tired days more times than I can count.

I roll over and scoot down so I can face him. “I love you.”

With a sigh, he pulls me close. “I love you, too.”

My hand rests against the rough stubble of his cheek and I breathe him in. I want to live in this moment, be grateful for what I have right now.

“Thanks for putting away the laundry yesterday and coming home early to drive Maddy to church.”

Surprise lights his eyes and, after he stares at me for a moment, a huge smile lights his face. “You’re welcome.”

As he holds me, I think of my kids still asleep, under their covers. How many hugs have I pushed off, busy with the drive to finish this or that? How many times have I punished their bad choices and neglected to praise their good choices?

My devotional reading from early in the week drifts through my mind.

“And let the peace that comes from Christ rule in your hearts. For as members of one body you are called to live in peace. And always be thankful” (Colossians 3:15 NIV).

Thankfulness. Something I don’t spend much time pondering. It will take a conscious decision, some deliberate prioritizing, and major prayer to make a permanent attitude change. But it will be worth it. My grandma may be gone, but my husband and my kids are here.

After a soft kiss on my husband’s cheek, I climb out of bed to wake my kids up with a hug. I can’t wait to tell them how special I think they are!

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