This post is dedicated to my paternal grandmother, who passed away a year ago.
I am lucky. My grandmother was part of my life until a few days before I turned forty-five. I did not expect that my grandmother would live forever but I had never known her to be sick so her death was a shock. At the age of 95 she still enjoyed life to the fullest. She traveled, played bridge, lived alone, drove, cooked for friends and family, went to church, and visited ailing friends in the hospital or nursing home. She was also a die hard St. Louis Cardinals fan. She rarely missed a televised game and she went to spring training in Florida many, many years.
My grandmother was an incredible woman. She loved to travel, crochet, knit, and do needlepoint. And she loved to play games, especially card games. I don't ever remember a time when she would refuse to get down on the floor with my children and play any game they requested. Family holidays always included game playing marathons.
As a child I would spend weeks with her in the summers. My grandfather passed away when I was five and my memories of him are fuzzy. But my memories of my grandmother include both the memories of a child and the memories of an adult. After I graduated from law school I went on vacation with my grandmother, one of my father's cousins, and an aunt. We drove from Missouri to South Carolina, where my aunt and uncle were building a house. Along the way we did not pass by any opportunity to shop and I still have many of the purchases we made on that trip. I would find something that I would need for my new apartment and my grandmother would decide that she needed the same thing.
Many of my childhood memories center around ceramics. She was a ceramics teacher and the basement of her house was her studio, complete with two kilns, a wall of paint jars and all manner of things both painted and unpainted. She made decorations for every holiday and many of my gifts were dolls, or other things she painted. She also did china painting, creating delicate lifelike flowers on the surfaces of china plates, cups, saucers, teapots, vases, and pitchers. Her artistic talent unfortunately did not flow down my line of the family. Although I spent many hours painting ceramic objects of all sorts in her studio, the only ones worth keeping are those that involved her steady hand and keen eye.
My grandmother's life is certainly one worth emulating. She worked hard and played hard. She was dedicated to her children, her family, and her church. She cared deeply for others. She enjoyed every minute of the life she had. Several weeks before she died, my grandmother and her sister went with my parents and several other relatives on a tour of the Missouri wine country (yes, Missouri does have a wine country). They were having lunch at a winery when a group of young men in their twenties approached and asked my grandmother how old she was. When she told them she was 95 they asked if they could take a picture with her. They told her that they loved that she was out drinking wine and having a good time and they wanted to show the picture to their mothers. I remember her laughing when she retold this story.
My grandmother was doing much the same thing on the day she died. She had gone to lunch with her two daughters and they had planned a walk after lunch around the botanical gardens. Shortly after they left the restaurant my grandmother fell, hitting the back of her head hard on the pavement. She lost consciousness immediately and died a few hours later of the bleeding caused by the impact. Her death was hard on me and on everyone else in her family because it was so unexpected. But it certainly was easier for her. She never suffered ill health or the slow debilitating decline either mentally or physically that happens to many people as they age. This, I think, is a true blessing even though it is never easy to lose the ones we love, whether they are taken from us prematurely by disease or whether they have lived full lives.
I aspire to be like my grandmother: vibrant, healthy, happy, and enjoying life and family until the day I drop. And I don't intend to let my BRCA mutation interfere with that goal.