Category Archives: Gratitude

The passing of an age

If you’ve followed Minnesota Transplant for any length of time, you knew I had a centenarian grandmother.

She was my father’s mother, and I say “was” because she died earlier this month. She was 104.

I needed some time to process her death, not because it hit me hard—who can profess surprise about the death of a 104-year-old?—but because I really wanted to write about her thoughtfully and in a way that honors her.

She was a tiny person physically, but she loomed large in her family in part because of her longevity. I have clear, vivid memories of her because I knew her when I was an adult, a middle-aged adult. We were pen pals for decades, and as a fan of the written word, I now am the proud recipient of many of her diaries.

grandma with her cake

When Grandma was 96 (and still living on her own and cooking for herself), she brought the dessert for our family Easter celebration, an elegant looker made from a recipe she’d found in a newspaper.

She was an incredible hostess, and I am honored to have inherited one of her sets of china and a set of flatware. Yes, she believed “lunch” required china cups and saucers, and no one spent any amount of time with her without being offered something to eat. No meal was complete without pickled beets or sweet pickles. And cookies, even if she served another more elaborate dessert. Cookies on the side.

I also inherited her vanity, but I do not consider it a deadly sin. I believe part of the reason she lasted as long as she did is because she took care of her human vessel. She cared about how she looked, and an interest in fashion was part of that interest. I once went shoe shopping with her when she was 100. She accented her outfits by wearing bracelets and scarves right up ’til the very end.

Grandma had a great sense of humor, and one of her favorite holidays was April Fool’s Day. She was also an avid gardener, which is no mean feat in north central Minnesota where the growing season is eight weeks long (I kid, but not much).

But more than any of these character traits and interests, Grandma was faithful. An ardent Christian, she believed with a capital B. Her week revolved around going to worship services until she moved into assisted living four years ago. That faith is what got her through the volume of grief only a 104-year-old experiences. She was a widow for 42 years (she never remarried). Her daughter-in-law who lived two doors down for decades lost a battle to cancer. Two of her grandchildren died young. Her sisters. Her brothers. Her youngest son died two years ago. So many friends and neighbors got to the finish line before she did.

She also lost her hearing, which I think was a difficult thing for someone as social as she was. It happened relatively early in her life; I don’t even remember my grandmother without hearing aids. In the end she was so profoundly deaf, it was easier to get your point across with a white board than to yell. Her eyesight was failing, too, and in recent years she began using a wheelchair more than her own legs. Aging is not for the faint-hearted, quite literally.

Before Grandma died, she planned her funeral, writing down many details so we would get it right. (Among the details she did not dictate, we draped one of her handmade quilts over her coffin instead of a spray of flowers; she was an avid quilter for many years and it was beautiful. And her family, not Grandma, selected the wild rice hotdish for the funeral luncheon, but I found that a perfect choice for a Central Minnesota funeral.) For some reason, Grandma designated me to read one of the Bible readings at the service. Apparently, I had brought my public speaking skills to her attention in more than one postal missive I sent to her. Unlike some of my cousins who probably would not have wanted the burden, I was flattered to do it. When I looked up the verses before the service, I thought they was perfect for Grandma.

21 For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain. 22 If I am to live in the flesh, that means fruitful labor for me. Yet which I shall choose I cannot tell. 23 I am hard pressed between the two. My desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better. 24 But to remain in the flesh is more necessary on your account.

~ Philippians 1:21-24

Grandma lived so long she came to wonder whether God had forgotten her or flat out didn’t want her. The pastor at her funeral said her most persistent question was “Why am I still here?” The tone he parroted made her sound like she was cross examining him in a court of law.

Her reason for being is probably as varied as the people who knew her. For me, she was a role model for aging gracefully, if not always cheerfully. It’s hard to get old, but she persevered because she believed in a higher purpose.

Fortunately for all of us and her, too, Grandma died in her sleep. God wanted her after all, He just didn’t want her going out in a blaze of IV tubes and pain meds so He waited out that strong heart of hers.

I’m not sad Grandma died. She lived a good life, and she died a good death. I will miss her, to be sure, but leaving this earthly plain is what she wanted so I’m happy for her. Her send-off was oddly celebratory for a funeral, but perfectly pitched for someone who lived 104 years in God’s grace.

The Day After

Like a visitor on an alien planet, I observed Chicagoland residents with keen interest today.

Who are these “Cubs fans”? What is the meaning of this white flag with a blue W? What does it mean, to reverse a curse?

The Chicago Cubs, of course, won the World Series last in a wild Game 7 that went 10 innings and included a rain delay. It was awesome! (I told you it would be.) I was awake at 11:45 when the last out was secured.

I thought I was weird. I’m a Twins fan, after all. And a woman. And who watches baseball nowadays with its relative lack of violence and obscure concepts like double switches and designated hitters?

But as I sat around a table this morning with eight other middle-aged women and a (lucky) man at a cafe known for its brunches, I asked who else stayed up till midnight last night. Every hand went up. Every. Single. One. And then we all toasted the Cubs with glasses of champagne. No kidding. It wasn’t sparkling apple juice, some pretender stuff. One of those middle-aged women brought a bottle of real champagne to our meeting. Because the Cubs winning a baseball game — The Baseball Game — was That Important. That noteworthy.

On the way there, a car ahead of me on the interstate had a license plate that read “CUBEES.” The plate hung on the bumper of a sporty model that probably isn’t normally driven this time of year. But it was driven today.

I stopped at a superstore on the way. Every other person there, bright and early, was wearing Cubbies blue T-shirt. Or sweatshirt. Or a Cubs hat.

In the afternoon, on my way home, I stopped for coffee with a friend who lives a normal, quiet suburban life. Playing on the TV in the restaurant? A recording of last night’s game. The friend? She (yes, SHE) stayed up until 3 a.m. after the game, standing in line and buying World Series merchandise at Dick’s.

What I thought would happen didn’t. There were no riots. No cars overturned and burned. No crazies causing headline-making mayhem. I didn’t even hear anyone trash-talking the poor, poor unfortunate Indians. No zombies. Instead, there was cheering and champagne. There were fireworks, yes (I heard them at midnight, even in my little suburban village, far from Wrigleyville). And there were tears. Oh, the dewy eyes of dreams come true.

What I didn’t expect was the disbelieving gratitude of baseball fans who had never seen their team become champions and who finally let go of the superstitions they held close to ward off disappointment. They finally witnessed the team win it all. For themselves, of course. But also for generations of others who weren’t so lucky.

The day wasn’t filled with belligerence or arrogance or vitriol. It was filled with joy. Pure, blissful joy.

And it was a delight to behold.

When there’s nothing left to do, be grateful

I’d like to think I’m not a worrier. That I can compartmentalize my emotions enough so that disturbing and frustrating events don’t permeate my consciousness to the point of distraction. That I can use prayer enough to let go of events I can’t control so I can continue to enjoy the rest of my life. That I can accept the imperfection that is life and be OK with it.

But the truth is, I can’t.

I know my methods are lacking when I find myself awake in the middle of the night compulsively imagining possible scenarios and how I will victoriously prevail.

And then there are those things I worry about that miraculously resolve themselves. The worst-case scenario never happens, I never get to deliver my witty comeback, I no longer have to imagine how I would escape danger. The Big, Bad, Terrible Thing evaporates like so much steam from my coffee cup.

That happened recently. The Horrible Situation I have been wringing my hands about for five years simply ended. Poof. No more Big Problem. All that worry? Completely unnecessary.

And now I’m thinking: What should I worry about now?

Huh, what?!

Yeah, how ridiculous is that? The thing I was worrying about before didn’t happen, and now I’m thinking I should worry about something else.

Dumb.

I wish I could use logic to refute my stupid subconscious, beat my worrying self back into dreamless submission. Because I have no choice but to keep trying, I shall try attempt this approach by thinking positively, counting my blessings:

  • What a pleasant weekend with my stepson and his girlfriend!
  • Wished my best friend a happy birthday and enjoyed a great conversation with her.
  • My refrigerator is so packed with groceries, I won’t have to go shopping ’til at least next month.
  • Almost finished with a huge, time-consuming DIY project that I can’t wait to show you (coming soon!).
  • It’s Sunday, and a whole week of potential awaits.

Take that, illogical subconscious!