Out of my system.


Ten days after I got back to MA, ten day after my dad’s memorial service, the message came that Gram was about to pass. And for eight weeks, I had thought I was going to be okay with that message, that after everything we had gone through – I was going to be okay with that message.  But I wasn’t, and ten days after I had been home in MA, I was packing up and heading to CT. Again.

An aside-

-there about fourteen stories I have to tell you in this one post to get to the ending, so please hold on, I’ll get there.

When Papa was in the hospital – I had a lot of new CT area code numbers in my phone.  And one day when I meant to dial my mother – I dialed my grandfather.

Oh hi Grampa, it’s Tara Jean

Oh hi Tara Jean, it’s Grampa.

Sorry, I meant to dial mom’s work phone and I dialed you.  How are you?

I’m good. I’m with Gramma, want to talk to her?

Uh, sure.
You should know, that in my visits with my gram, we hadn’t actually talked since August.)
Hi Grammy, it’s Tara Jean

Hello Tara Jean
(came the voice so small and so far away).

Grammy I love you.

I love you too Tara Jean.

You hear her voice, it’s so little now
(he said, he her husband of 62 years.)

And so – in the middle of all that was happening, I decided that – that one phone call, that one “I love you”.  That was going to be enough. That was going to be it for me. Whatever happened from that time on forward.   That first “I love you” that I had gotten from her in over a year, that was going to be okay.

But then it wasn’t
– Ten day after my father had passed, and I was throwing my grades at the school secretary, declaring them good enough, and telling my boss I had to go, again. The eyes of everyone that I talked to on the way out of  that school that is more generous and kind than I can even say, those eyes told me they didn’t even know what to say to me anymore.

And it was a Wednesday, and there were two and a half more days left till vacation, and I was just going.  Leaving my students again.

And so at home, I threw a a change of clothes and my meds. and my chap-stick in a bag, kissed my boys, and I drove down to CT. Again.

And it was pouring, and I asked my father, whereever he was, because I can do that now, make requests out to the unknown, I asked my father to please let me get there to say goodbye again, to give her one more kiss, to tell her I love her one more time.  And then 30 seconds later, A PT merged in front of me on the highway.  And then I knew – he was listening.

And so I got there, and we were all there, again.  Because, we had all just done this. We, Berniers, we were getting too good at this.

And then for days, the nurses said it wouldn’t be long – and we took shifts, keeping Grampa company, takign over the libary, swapping stories, pulling all nighters. Again.

And Gramma, well she taught us all, that no one passes when people say they’re going to – instead, people pass in their own time.

But on Friday – I realized, I couldn’t just be in CT anymore.  I couldn’t leave my boys for a few more days,  I had to go home.

And Because technology is amazing, on my phone I pulled up everything I had ever written about Gram, and I sat down, and read it all to her.  The hospice pamphlets they pass out – the ones I now have two of, or had, because I got rid of them as soon as I could – the hospice pamphlets tell you that hearing is the sense that hangs around the longest before a person passes – and so I prayed that she got to hear everything I said.

When I finished, I kissed her, told her I loved her, told her that she knew a thing about raising boys, and that she knew I couldn’t leave mine alone much longer.  I turned, gave my grampa a squeeze, and headed home.

Turns out, she wasn’t going to go with all of us holding vigil there anyhow.  When on Sunday night she passed from this place to the next, she did it when all the family had stepped out of the room so the night nursers could change her bed clothes – Gram never really did want anyone making a fuss over her anyhoo.

In the week leading up to her funeral, I tried to think how I was going to pull off another Eulogy – it by this moment, had been just three weeks since I was writing the last one.

And just like the last time, come the night before, I had nothing. As I went to sleep on Friday night, I figured I would sleep on it, and if by morning, I was at a loss, I would take something I had written before, and shape it up.

And when I woke up at five am – I knew I had written everything good about my Gram in momments of love, and longing, and hapiness, and revererance, and that now, in a time of sorrow, it wasn’t the time to question that writing. So I took it all, smooshed it all together, and for the second time in three weeks, deliverd a Eulogy.

April 23, 2011
Most of you, but perhaps not all of you know, that my saint of a grandmother, a school nurse, with summers off, hosted what came to be known  as Camp GrammaGrampa.
Their house was set on just barely two acres of land born from my great-grandfathers farm.
When you stand at the end of the driveway you can imagine, between the cars that travel the highway of route 74, what it was like when the sun set at the farm, how the land must have look in the spring when it smelled of earth and new.My grandmother’s house was to me, idyllic, to say the least.
There were gardens that my grandmother tilled, and orchards that my Grandfather tended, and open fields to run barefoot in, even though Gram warned us of bees.
There was  pool with a pool house, that when I was sixteen, I might have brought my friends to, and I might have suggested we could jump off the roof of the pool house into the pool – and if I didn’t suggest it, I certainly went along with it.
There was a compost pile before it was hip. There were gardens of heirloom tomatoes before it was the sustainable thing to do. My Gram recycled  cans before there were those ubiquitous blue barrels at the curb.
There were long days in summer, and picnics where my grandparents lead sing alongs, and where my grandfather would fix martinis and gin tonics for all his friends.  In retrospect, the gin probably explains the singing.
There were car rides where me and my brother and three of my cousins would pile into the back of a Chrysler.  The Chrysler did not have a third row, there were no booster seats for the young ones, and we shared seatbelts.  There was ice cream that stuck to every inch of my younger cousin who had the same name as me, but pronounced it different.

And Mostly to me there was my Gram’s kitchen where I learned to  cook and can.

And well, it’s been a while since I was sleeping over in the front room on the pull out couch, with one cousin next to me, and two tucked in sleeping bags on the floor.  Every summer morning, my nose woke me up to the smell of Gram brewing coffee for Grampa, and making him breakfast before he left for work.

1080 am would crackle over the airwaves, and I would snuggle myself in, and feel like all was right with the world  as they chatted about the day to come.

After Grampa would leave, just as the sun was rising over the trees, Gram would set out cereal bowls for me and the cousins, and then head out to the garden.   I would drift back to sleep till I heard the back screen door slam, and then I would wander up to be the first to eat breakfast with her.  And it was over breakfast and through the course of the day, that I learned from gram so many of the things that make me who I am now. . .
A while back I made a list — of all the things I learned from Gram

Things like,
why blue jays are bad
how to color queen anne’s lace
how to shuck corn
how to make creamed corn
how to make tuna salad sandwiches
how to make jam
how to make apple butter
how to make pie
how to pick berries
how to kill japaneese beetles
what a peep frog is
how to look for critters
how to compost
who Gene Stratton  Porter is
how to use coffee grounds on your flowers
how to iron wrapping paper for another use
how to save ribbons
how to keep track of license plates
how to sing Amazing Grace
how to teach Sunday School
how to read the Bible
how to get ready for a picnic
the comprehensive history of her brothers, sisters, children, and all her nieces and nephews
how she asked my Grampa to marry her when he was engaged to another woman.
why the library is so special
why she joined the Women’s Army Core in wwII
and she taught me that sometimes it’s easier to laugh than be angry
and  that you should always, always take pictures

I‘d give anything to be back there to have breakfast with her on a summer morning like that again. Because Gram, thank you, you are so much  my heart, and who I’ve become– because —So much of who I am can be boiled down like apple butter and be told in just sentences that are short like summer vacation.

2 responses »

  1. This made me well up, mostly because just yesterday, as I passed some New York-looking women in their late 70s, on the sidewalk, I was overwhelmed by a rush of nostalgia for my own grandma.

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