Memory Eternal, Florence Sandstrom, who mercifully slipped from this world today with family at her side. From Michigan to Florida, I felt her passing before they told me; her life force was the strongest I’ve ever known. I cried until it was time to cook my children dinner, which is exactly what she would have done. She was a true matriarch, a neck that turned the head, my first image of a God-like power. For some reason, today I keep imaging the piles of blankets she’d knit or sew for grandchildren presents: we were always remembered for being. Not our uniqueness (we all got the same thing in a different color). But for being. I hope she knew how much she was loved. I wrote the following April 2006. When she finally slipped away, she knew no family, nor could she speak or communicate in any way. I think she would have been relieved to know the suffering is over. All the fuss and bother it required was really not her style at all.
They say she can’t remember. Alzheimer’s does that and distance helps it along. She hasn’t seen me in 7 years and the last time I talked to her she didn’t know my kids names. Then she didn’t remember I was married. That was the last time I called.
Now, she spends her days in her recliner being cared for by my Grandpa. I can easily envision him doing the daily household chores, keeping her fed and getting her set up for her TV shows; maybe her fingers still deftly crochet afghans while she sits there. I wouldn’t be surprised if her hands still remember the motions even if her mind has forgotten. When I think of him, which is often, I pray that someone helps him today. There is lots of family up there and I wish they stopped by more often. Brought in meals…that’s what I think about. Are they eating enough? What does he do when she wanders in the night? What will he do when she forgets him?
She doesn’t remember, but I do. When I was a child, she was a larger than life force. The matriarch. Lots of stuff went on in Grown Up Land that I didn’t understand, but I knew she had power. I liked to be in her house; it always smelled of warm toast and was always very clean. I remember the beds being made neatly with cream colored spreads and afghans on the end. And she made raggedy-Ann dolls by the dozens: little triangle eyes looking at me and sewn on little hearts that said, “I love you”. When she gave me one, I felt she was saying it to me, even if all the dolls had that on thier chests.
We never spoke much. She was always a “constant”, a big hug and a loud voice. When she was mad at me, or at anyone for that matter, I got a sick feeling in the top of my stomach. I think I felt safe with her because she was so matter-of-fact. When she was mad, you knew it. When she was having fun, you knew it. When she was about business, you knew it. It was a straight-forward plainness that I could predict and adapt to. I knew where I stood and didn’t have to guess.
When we moved away I saw her much, much less. She was a benevolent person to write to, to get checks from, to occassionally talk to on the phone. And yet, when we did get to see them, it was as if time hadn’t passed at all. Safety again, and big, big hugs. Conversation not so unlike the kind you’d have with any other person….the bigger, deeper topics were never delved into. No physco-babble or emotionalism. Just….family.
Seven years ago part of the Michigan family decided to come to Florida for a visit. I was on the perephery of it because I was in Atlanta with a very sick little girl. They were coming on Memorial Day; my dad’s birthday was that weekend too and we were hoping to be home from the hospital that same weekend. In secret hopefull moments on the second floor, I imagined what a fun time we would have.
And then my baby died. They still came and my dad drove me home from Atlanta and not very long after I got home I was in my Grandma’s arms. It was just a hug and yet there was something very special about that particular hug, those arms. I knew she’d had a stillborn baby. I’ve since learned she also lost an older child, a little girl. She held me differently than any other person who hugged me that funeral weekend and I longed for more of that connection.
So many other times in my life she wasn’t there. It was a non-issue. There are tons of other grandchildren and we weren’t part of one another’s daily lives. Milestones came and went. I never in a million years would have expected her to be in my life on the weekend of my baby’s funeral. And yet, as God would have it, on the most important “milestone”, she was. She was breathing proof that I could live through this. She was proof, even through her red rimmed eyes that told me she had shed tears for my pain, that one day my eyes would stop crying.
She didn’t cry in front of me and we didn’t talk about it. And then the weekend passed and she was gone. We resummed our normal pattern and my kids grew up. She stopped sending them birthday cards and christmas cards. My dad started saying how much trouble she was having remembering things when he talked to her and I got scared.
Why scared? Because I don’t know how much I can handle getting on the phone and knowing that she doesn’t remember me. Part of me has always wondered how much I mattered to her, in a gaggle of grandchildren and hundreds of miles away, how much would I be missed? I was just a pain in the butt redhead at family gatherings as a kid. But I don’t really want that question answered. And I don’t want it to end….don’t want to hear that her mind can’t recall who “Kenny’s daughter” is.
So my Grandpa will take care of her as long as he can I suppose. If I was there I’d be there often, doing because that’s better than watching. I’m trying to let her go in my heart, knowing that one day we’ll get a call that says it’s done. She still seems larger than life to me and I still hunger for that connection. A melting, huge hug, just hearing her sometimes coarse and vibrant commentary or humor. I keep her handwriting around, her recipes, because they are all I have and somehow they speak volumes to me. She’s given me more than she ever realized at the time, and more than I knew too. She was just….unconditional and steady. Imperfect but not expecting perfection from anyone else either. I wish I knew where I stood.