My Grandmother, My Best Friend
The first words out of my grandmother’s mouth when I told her I was pregnant were, “Oh Adriana, why did you do that?” Not too encouraging, but at least she didn’t yell at me. She usually kept her opinions to herself and tried to stay out of her children and grandchildren’s personal lives as much as possible. It was a challenge with me, for sure, because she was my best friend and I had absolutely no problem sharing every detail of my life with her. We talked about everything: drugs, sex, religion, politics—there was no conversation off-limits. We didn’t see eye-to-eye on many issues, so we tended to argue a lot. Nevertheless, she was my best friend and I could not fathom life without her, especially life after having a child.
During my pregnancy, I was on my own and not working, so my grandmother and I spent a lot of time together. Since she didn’t drive, we did all of our errands together, always starting the day with breakfast at her favorite restaurant. She was the best Italian cook but somehow could not master pancakes and omelets, so it really was a treat for her. That was the best part of her day because she got to eat. It was the best part of my day because I got to watch my grandmother, a woman who took on the tedious task of making raviolis from scratch, amazed by something as simple as a pancake.
But no matter how wonderful our time together, there was always a palpable tension between us. I’d sensed my grandmother’s concern about my becoming a single mother throughout my pregnancy, but she never vocalized it. The day my daughter came into this world, my grandmother’s whole purpose in life changed. She would always say, “The only thing I want is for her to remember me. I don’t want to die before she can remember me.”
This is where I should tell you I would cry at the thought of anything happening to my grandmother. She learned she’d be undergoing surgery to have a pacemaker put in and asked me to take her to the store so she could get ingredients to make sauce. God forbid she died and we would have nothing to eat (her words, not mine). I assured her she didn’t have to make sauce as she would not be dying in the morning.
Oddly enough, I was very peaceful with my grandmother’s surgery, and when I visited her at the hospital, I couldn’t help but point out the fact that she was alive, which made me right about all that sauce. When she came home a couple of days later, she insisted that I drop off my daughter. Much to her chagrin, I refused. “You need to rest,” I told her, but again she argued that my daughter was her ultimate helper.
The next day, my sister called me at work and aimlessly wandered from topic to topic. She did that when she was nervous. I impatiently asked what was wrong. “Okay, don’t freak out. Stay calm,” she replied in a shaky tone. I then grew frantic and she responded with the words I’d dreaded for twenty-seven years: “Grama had a stroke. You need to come home because it doesn’t look good.”
I went home that night, drank half a bottle of vodka, had a nervous breakdown, and passed out. The next day, my mother asked me to go to the hospital to tell my grandmother it was okay to die. “Okay for who? What am I gonna do without her?” I wailed, my voice cracking from the heartbreak of what my mother was asking of me. The thought of telling her it was all right to leave crushed my soul. It was not all right for her to die, but I obliged my mother’s wish and headed to the hospital.
When I finally felt I could let her go, it dawned on me I had never had my daughter baptized and this would cause unrest for my grandmother. I scrambled to get in touch with a dear family friend and pastor of a church in our town. That same day, she came to the house and we baptized both my grandmother’s great-grandchildren in the room in which she lay dying. When she extended her hand to the girls, they both held her, and I immediately saw the calm and peace come over her. She was ready now. Her breathing started to slow.
Two hours later, I awoke to my mother tapping me on my shoulder. “She’s gone,” she whispered. My daughter climbed up on the bed, kissed my grandmother, whispered in her ear, “I love you, Nonna,” and began to cry. As I walked her out of the room, she stopped, looked up at me and in between sobs, she uttered one word over and over: wait. “Wait for what, honey?” I asked. “I have to tell Nonna something.” She walked back to the bed, climbed up again, and sobbed, “I’ll never forget you, Nonna.”
My grandmother died on August 27, 2006. She lived one month longer than anyone expected and died eighteen years later to the day that my grandfather died. She died in the same room he did, with her children and most of her grandchildren present. My cousin was on an airplane back to Florida, just like when my grandfather died. I took all the similarities as a sign that my grandfather came to get her. I took the fact that she passed away when the nurse left her for a few minutes as a sign she needed to be alone to let go, because if we had been in the room, it gave her reason to hang on. That’s how much she loved us. My daughter’s first day of school was three days later—the same day as my grandmother’s funeral. It was a bittersweet day: my baby going to kindergarten and my grandmother’s funeral.
A few weeks later, my sister and I were at my grandmother’s house having dinner. We had pasta with the sauce our Grama had made the night before she went into the hospital. It was the last jar left in the freezer. I tried with all of my strength to savor every bite, knowing this was the last thing she would make for me. As I stared at the meatball on my plate, I couldn’t help but sob and all I could think about was how annoyed my grandmother would be at my lack of adoration of her meal. She always wanted people to be happy at her table. But try as I might, the lump in my throat would not allow me to taste this last meal. I never truly understood the word priceless until that moment with that meatball. I would have paid a million dollars for it. Suddenly, I remembered if you refused a third helping of food, she would say, “What, you’re not hungry?” I laughed to myself and I finished the meatball, savoring every last precious bite.
My daughter has a picture of my grandmother next to her bed. All these years later, she talks to it every day, and many nights I have to pry it out of her hands while she’s sleeping. She randomly breaks down in tears and in a small voice says, “I miss Nonna.” And when she does, I tell her the same thing, “You just made Nonna so happy because all she ever wanted was for you to remember her.”
Adriana Osborn is a writer from Atlanta,Ga. She is a member of the Atlanta Writers' Club and Writers' Studio by Draft House. She's finished her first book entitled 12 Ways I Became a Fabulously, Crazy Single Mother, a comedic, satirical memoir about the pits and peaks of parenting.