My grandpa was my rock. He gave me strength. But my grandma, Grace was my water. She was the fluid of my young life that flowed through me and gave me a safe haven, a way to be myself, and ultimately, she saw me as I was. She gave me unconditional love.
My whole life she was always sick. She had one kidney and chronic diabetes. But she always managed to be larger than life to my childhood self. She handmade about 12 loaves of bread every week. I still can close my eyes and see that smell wafting out of her kitchen window. That smell alone would send me running down the dirt road in a full sprint because I knew it was HER BREAD that was fresh out of the oven and I couldn’t wait to drown a slice in butter and eat it in all its warm fluffy goodness. She has a way with food and people. It was her moose soup, her fish ice cream, her salmon, the way of making everyone that she met feel welcomed in her home, the way she always fed people, the way she made willow root baskets, her unwavering faith mixed with her belief in ‘knowing things’ before they happened. The uncanny way she always filled her berry picking pails before anyone else, the way she wrote and received letters from her friends in Deg Hit’an and would always laugh and smile when she read them. It was the way she smelled like Oil of Olay & Crisco and how she had a million bingo dabbers laying around the house. Or the way she’d always tell me that I was her favorite when no one was around and I’d snuggle in ‘her nook’ and feel like nothing can ever break us.
I was away at boarding school when she got really sick. It was her failing kidney, her diabetes, and time. I returned home. It was not yet breakup, still a cold winter and she was telling us how she wanted everything to be. We’d read the bible to her or sang hymns to ease her pain. It went on for weeks like this.
Then I knew I had to return to school or potentially repeat the same semester as I’d missed so much school. My mother told me that I’d have to leave the next day as bad weather may keep me home. I didn’t mind. I couldn’t imagine leaving my grandmother. She had become so weak and frail. It was as if she wasn’t the same person. But, on the day I had to leave, I’ve never forgotten that I sat at her bedside and held her hand and leaned into her, our foreheads touched, our noses nudged and I cried. She cried. It was unimaginable that I had to leave her and never see her in this life ever again. But she smiled and said, ‘when I go, you’ll know. I see you. I’ve always seen you. We are the same. Now, go.’
That was the last time I saw her in this life.
I returned to Mt. Edgecumbe and all the normalcy of freshman life in Sitka, Alaska. I would be fine one moment and have a memory of her and feel her wavering another moment. Hot tears and pain shot through me…I knew that she would pass any day.
It was the night of prom and I had on a blue dress and black patent heels. I was ready to just dance and let go. I was halfway through the evening and I just wasn’t feeling it. I went back to the dorm. I felt a heaviness that I thought maybe I was coming down with something. I just wanted to go to bed. And that’s just what I did.
I awoke in a bright room. And there she was, my grandma Grace. She was in all white and she looked young as if she returned to her youth. She was beautiful. I jumped to the end of my bed to her and we embraced. I choked tears and asked if she was in pain anymore, she replied, ‘No, no more pain.’ She said that the beauty of everything after she passed is breathtaking. She said it’s nothing like we ever imagined. It’s beyond our wildest dreams. I wanted to stay there with her forever. Then she gave me one last squeeze and told me that I’d have to be there for my papa, as he will walk alone now. ‘Walk with him sometimes. He will need you for a time.’ She kept her promise and left me with a heavenly smile.
I abruptly awoke to a dorm aide opening the door and telling me I had a phone call. It was late and I knew. It was my mother calling to tell me that my grandma, Grace had passed. In my sleepy haze, I told her that I knew it, she just visited me. She understood.
Grace went home.
Sometimes out of nowhere, I smell fresh bread and I smile and say ‘Hi Grandma.’