I come from an entire family of strong women. Women who are kind and intelligent, loyal and caring, but definitely above all strong. My family explodes with an almost annoying amount of love and joy at every single holiday and all of the overwhelming support began with my Grandma Elizabeth.
Elizabeth was a giant. She’d be embarrassed if I called her an icon but she was absolutely the center around which my family spun. Even as friends and family began taking care of her more than usual, the candy bowls stayed filled and still, she was never too tired to hear about other’s complaints which were way less serious than hers.
She loved and outlived at least two men in her lifetime, witnessing firsthand the acute profoundness and magnitude of love. She raised seven incredible and unique babies all on her own and I always say it’s a miracle that none of them ended up as serial killers. My aunts and uncles are the most amazing people I know starting with my Aunt Teresa and ending with my Uncle Greg (who will try to tell you he saved my life if you ask him). Sixteen grand babies and five great grandkids later, my Grandma is a woman who was loved so unconditionally, she was given back the love she so freely spent. Which seems like the best return investment I can imagine. She honestly could’ve murdered someone and the lot of us would’ve defended her sweet little soul.
I always wished my Grandma could’ve been there when I had my own kid. My mom always described how calming Elizabeth was in the delivery room and I always pictured having my warrior of a grandmother by my side. She would’ve made me feel silly for being in pain, telling me to knock it off and push. I always wanted to see my own little fourth generation meet the first, but sometimes lives don’t get to overlap and we just slightly miss each other. Almost as if by accident or a bad luck of the draw.
The truth is that I’ve never been very strong on my own or by myself. My mom sometimes says that it takes a village to raise me because of how much I rely on my people to cheer me on and dust me off. After a cry, she likes to remind me that “You’re German! Germans are strong,” but I’m a little too much like my father. I also got the Puerto Rican genes in that I am way too emotional to function and I feel things way too deeply. I grew up noticing these differences in my parents and how, in some ways, I got a pretty even serving of their genes. And I love that. I think that is incredible and perplexing. The honest truth is that I’m not sure if I will ever feel completely balanced between who I am, who I probably should be, or who I am earnestly striving to be. But, in some ways I think life is all about finding that balance and figuring out how to be okay when the scales are tipped in one direction.
Maybe that kind of wisdom and grace comes with age. I am starting to understand that, truly, some things are impossible to understand without time on your side (as much as I would like to think that I already understand the secrets to life). My grandma is the oldest woman on my mother’s side of the family and she has seen parts of the world I’ll never be able to touch. I’ve always associated distance with knowledge, but Grandma lived her entire life within 50 miles of my hometown and yet her perspective on love and family are already unachievable in my timeline.
Catholics believe that the soul is an infinite creation. Each is unique and there are no expiration dates, but infinity is quite the concept. There’s a lot of focus a lot on how this little concept applies to us unspectacular humans. What I don’t like is how language doesn’t comply with this. As much as I know her soul is still somewhere, writing in the present doesn’t make sense, but neither does writing in the past. Words have always been my first true love and will always mean much more to me than they should, but I’ve never before been this angry or frustrated at how they can often fail us.
She’s here and she’s not here.
All I really know is that life ends and the only thing to do that makes sense is to start the process of moving on, but honestly the heartbreak is worth it. Elizabeth is gone and she deserves every tear her absence brings. A professor once told my class after her mother’s death, “I may never be as happy as I was before, but I will be a different kind of happy. My suffering was a tribute to my mother and if I wasn’t going to be sad then, when would I be?”
My Grandma deserved her own soliloquy. I guess I just keep wondering what she might’ve said if I was there.