You know those cinnamon hearts so common for Valentine’s Day?
He carried a clear plastic heart, but instead of filling it with candy, he placed inside the heart a picture of her – his dear wife of fifty-five years.
He had the words of the song written out on a piece of paper inside with her picture.
You Are My Sunshine
She was taken from him, suddenly, as is often the case.
He lost his sunshine and I lost my grandmother.
How can I make it possible, even through my precious words, for someone to understand just how special she was?
I had dealt with death, more than once, but I felt entirely unprepared for it when it came around again.
She has been gone for ten years and I wish I could tell her about my life since that day she had to go.
The Ties That Bind
I didn’t get to say goodbye. I just figured I would visit her the next day, either in hospital or out. It never really occurred to me that she would never come home again.
I heard my mom on the phone and I heard the news. I would not be visiting her in the hospital the next day.
My cousin stopped in on his lunch hour, as he worked nearby, and was speaking to her. My uncle and grandpa stood beside the bed. My cousin looked away for one second and when he looked back at her, she was silent and would not speak another word. He said her name, but she was gone.
I knew it wasn’t good news. I laid down on my bed and let the tears fall onto my pillow, unconcerned with the business of wiping them away. What was I going to do without her?
Her last diary entry
Thur. 21 32 degrees low 19
Telephone repair man here at 5 o’clock. Phone out since Sat morning, July 16th.
Caned 1 jar pickles..
Wed. 20 31 degrees low 20
I got pictures developed. Janet took of our 55th Ann. (tried out new canon camera)
Tues. 19 33 degrees low 21
I washed 2 loads. My right big tow sore. We rested in afternoon. I using Myoflex on arms & legs. It relieves pain.
Mon. 18 32 degrees low 22
Dad picked first pickles. All big. I cut some up 5 jars caned.
I phoned Connie at Dr.’s . She has to make an app for 2-D-Echo Cardiogram for me.
Craig came at nit to say Good-bye. He leaving to go to camp tomorrow till school starts, at Lions Head.
She kept a diary, as she called it, on her own terms. She did it her own way. I admired that about her.
I sat in their bedroom, with a cousin and we discussed our memories, and I wondered if my uncles or cousins might have any objections with me keeping her diaries. I certainly could not read the entries, but I wanted this one part of her, her memories and her words, even as I was being forced to let go of the rest.
I wanted to write the tribute to her. I wanted to be the one to read it at her funeral. I worked hard at what I wanted to say about her, writing it out and printing it out in braille, so I could take the words up there with me. I wasn’t going to draw a blank.
The three of us went up to the microphone. It was me, my sister, and my cousin. If I got choked up, my sister could take over. Our cousin was a back-up, just in case she too could not speak. I broke down a few times throughout, but after taking a few seconds to recover myself, I got through it. My usual issue with being unable to speak when I cried did not seem to be happening now.
As we stood at her grave, her sisters gave me flowers. I wanted to put my copy of the tribute, in braille, with her in the casket. I hoped my words were enough to show what she had brought to my life.
She was truly the only one who understood. She fussed over me when I was in pain because she knew my pain better than most. She had lived with her own pain since her children were young.
Many people didn’t understand it and she felt alone. I felt alone too. Together, we weren’t alone anymore. I feel alone sometimes because she is now gone.
I’ve lost something, an innocence not from childhood, but from her presence in my life. I miss it and I miss her.
I miss her singing.
She had a sweet naive quality about her, instilled from her upbringing in the tiny corner of the world she’d always lived in, but her many travels (Alaska, Hawaii, Europe, Australia) were just as important to the two of them. I love travel because of all the times I hoped she would sneak me along in one of their suitcases.
She loved Niagara Falls and she taught me to love it too.
Finally, we would go to Cuba together. She loved Varadero. She loved to watch the people in the hotel’s open-air lobby. She loved to stroll the town, not remaining in the resort the whole time. She loved to meet the people and to speak with them. Her open, friendly nature made other people feel at ease. She wasn’t afraid to try new things, no matter how old she got.
All the times we would stay awake long into the early morning. We would talk and before we knew it, it would be late. My grandpa could be heard snoring from the couch in the family room or in the spare bedroom across the hall. He could sleep for hours. She didn’t sleep well, for years, from pain and other things. I think she enjoyed having someone to talk to.
She said it so sincerely. She said she knew, somewhere out there, one day there would be the right man for me, someone who would take care of and love me for me. I believed her then.
Sometimes – I don’t know if I believe her anymore. I feel like I let her down, as her words and the reassurance in her voice once felt like the greatest comfort, but of which I can no longer hear.
I have only a far off impression of her telling me that, back at the back of my brain and it feels like the confidence in her statement, which she sounded so certain of that night, well I hold onto her and her words of love and comfort and I cling to that purity of hope she had, the sort of positive and optimistic nature she passed on to my mother.
I have my mother still and for that I am blessed because she continues to offer hope.
All I learned about love from my grandma is still in there somewhere.
It feels like more of a rarity now, with all the modern conveniences and technologies, whether that’s actually the truth I don’t know. I hope it isn’t.
But love, like the sort she and my grandpa had in each other, that must be proceeded by hope.
Love. Marriage. I stopped pretending those weren’t things I wanted, like having a bucket of cold water dumped, suddenly, over my head.
It’s something to hope for…something, worth risking failure for.
No matter how painful those failures may be.
I don’t know if what they had, the kind of love and connection, if that really even exists anymore. It’s rare, I know that much. It existed in a time long gone now, as fast-paced as things move these days. It’s a vanishing world of which they lived.
I often feel stuck between the beliefs she had, the religious woman of faith she was, and all she used to tell me and the modern world I live in. I sometimes don’t know what to believe, what I believe, but having her inside me somewhere, I know I follow my heart.
His heart was all wrapped up in her. When she went first, he would carry her photo in that Valentine’s Day heart, and for five more years he lived. She was his heart and he was hers, and now I think I will go visit their graves because writing this isn’t getting me to where I’d hoped.
Without her here to read what I write, I can’t quite get over these last ten years she’s been gone.
After the funeral and all the family gatherings stopped, a stillness and a silence fell over my mother and me in the kitchen, as we wondered where to go from there. What to do now, without her?
Ten years, flying by like nothing now. I wish I could feel like she’s not really gone, as long as I remember her and write about her.
I need to hear her in myself when I clear my throat. I need to recognize my own naivete, of which I got from her. I need to run my hands over her diary and feel the indentation of her hand writing on the pages within.
Since I began my blog and knew this anniversary was coming, I started wanting the day to get here for me to write, assuming I would write a ten year tribute, building on the one I wrote the day we said goodbye, but I guess it’s something different. It’s everything I’ve thought about her and the things I’ve learned since losing her.
It always comes back to the two of them, for me, and the life they shared for more than fifty years. I wanted to find someone I could love like they loved each other. That was all fifteen-year-old me really wanted.
She was a warm woman and a bright light to all who loved her.
Ruby Witzel, 1929-2005