I write this from a hotel room in Phoenix with some time alone to finally process a goodbye to my paternal grandmother. Her life came to a sunset a couple of weeks ago on Thanksgiving.
Even though her mind was fogged with memory loss and her failing body was resigned to a bed in a distant Pennsylvania nursing home, I was able hear her voice one last time.
My aunt held the phone close to her bedside. I wasn’t sure if she’d remember me.
“Hi Jeremy,” I heard with familiar enthusiasm. My aunt said she gave a “big smile” as she said my name.
I really want to believe this is the exact greeting my grandmother said to me on the day I met her for the first time at age 5.
I don’t remember much about that day in 1984.
I just remember seeing my father cry for the first time while I was trying to comprehend that this light-skinned woman named Margie Reardon (Nelson) was somehow related to me and that I should call her “grandma.”
The story of how my father tracked her down 30 years after his adoption is for another time. It’s too complex and too long to begin tonight. I know if I started, I’d be up writing until 2 a.m.
I will say her decision to give up my father 63 years ago has a profound and everlasting effect on my own personal identity today. The 17-year-old ranch hand she fell for back in 1953 in New Mexico is a complete mystery. He may have been oblivious to my father’s conception.
I wish I pressed my grandmother more about my father’s father, but those are waters I thought were too dark to explore, especially over the last few years as her memory dwindled.
I often wonder what it was like for her to see her grandchild for the first time that day in 1984……the child of the child she let go.
I had the blessing of seeing my grandmother a few times over my life. She came to my wedding eight years ago. She was the first to greet me after the ceremony with a big smile.
Now’s the time to say goodbye here, through the therapy of writing.
And as I come to a close, I just realized in the paragraphs above I described three greetings with my grandmother.
A day to reconcile a birth.
A day for a wedding.
A day to acknowledge an end.
“Hi Jeremy,” are the last few words she said to me. I’ll remember them forever as a beginning and an end.
I take comfort in that greeting and oddly, what she said immediately after:
“Okay, I have to go now.”
I understand grandma. It’s okay.