My parents split up when I was seven, so my grandmother was the one stable thing in my life. She’d cook me dinner, tuck me in bed, then put on her nurse’s uniform and go to work. She was already 65 by then, but somehow she’d still find the energy to cook me breakfast when she came home. She understood me. We shared secrets.
Both of us tended toward melancholy, and she made me feel OK about that. We also had similar weaknesses. Oma put everyone else before herself. My grandfather was abusive and abandoned her. But when he got cancer in his old age, she told him: ‘Come back home Joe, I’ll take care of you.’ She nursed him until he died. That’s the kind of person she was.
Christmas was always a huge deal for her. It was the main reason she kept working. She’d save up all year for it. Each of her grandkids would get twenty presents, and they’d be stacked to the ceiling. Unfortunately, her health was never great. And when I visited her in December of 2017, she was in horrible shape. She couldn’t walk more than a few steps without gasping for air. I remember carrying her up the stairs and putting her to bed.
I read her books since my childhood. And she hated every minute of it, I’m sure. Because she hated being cared for. When our time was finished, and I was walking out the door, she told me: ‘Nick, I love you so much. And please don’t tell anyone– but this is the last time you’re going to see me.’
I cried the entire way to the airport. And three days later she died. It was the week before Christmas. My entire family flew to her house for the funeral, and there were tons of presents, for every child and grandchild, perfectly wrapped and placed under the tree. But I was too heartbroken to go. And I think she anticipated that.
Because on December 23rd I received a package. It was postmarked the day that she died. Inside was a bottle of holy water, a rosary, and a card that said: ‘Right now you probably feel like the weight of the world is on your shoulders, and it’s going to come crashing down. But keep going. We all have a purpose in life. And one of the reasons you are here was to bring some happiness into mine.’