When I was a child, I was learning to play piano. My parents didn’t have one at the time, but my grandparents did. Every evening, we’d go over to their house so I could practice. I suspect I was more interested in other things most of the time, though — whether Grandma has some cherry moos in her fridge, or whether Grandpa would play chess with me or do something fun in his workshop.
Grandma would often be in her curlers, and we’d often leave her in the evening saying goodbye in the pink fluorescent lights she had shining on her plants by the door.
Other times, we’d just go to visit, or I’d ride my bike over. I liked helping Grandma cook or bake peppernuts. And when I was trying to learn chess from Grandpa, and Grandma thought he was being too hard on me, she’d say something to him in German and I’d magically start winning.
Grandma volunteered at a local thrift store weaving rugs. These were made by hand on old looms in a traditional way, mainly out of donated clothes and drapes that were too tattered to sell. My mom used to drop me off with grandma while she went shopping. I maybe brought my lunch, and watched grandma, until one time I asked her if I could help. She let me, and eventually the store manager told grandma that I ought to be able to work on my own loom. Pretty soon we had a routine down: in summer, Grandma would pick me up at home, I’d read a computing magazine in the car to town, and work at a loom side-by-side with Grandma. That lasted until I got too busy in high school. But ever since then, Grandma delighted in telling this whole story almost every time she saw me, and she remembered word for word what the store manager said — something I never quite could remember.
I remember watching Grandma care for my brothers when they were sick, or helping out my parents with whatever they needed help with. We had a tradition for a number of years of spending New Year’s Eve at Grandma and Grandpa’s house, and going back home the next morning. The three of us boys slept in a cold upstairs room, but we didn’t care because the bed had more layers on it than we could count, and an electric blanket besides.
When my Grandpa Klassen passed away in 1990, Grandma missed him but didn’t get too worked up about it. She was convinced that he was in a better place, and appeared to be at peace with it. Death was a normal part of life to her, and it didn’t surprise her that it happened.
In the last few years, Grandma’s health has been failing. Her knees have been bothering her for years, and she has also been struggling with dementia for a few years. It’s been hard on me to visit her, because in some ways she hasn’t been the same person I remember for awhile now, and in other ways she’s exactly the same. Lately she hasn’t always remembered where I live, or what Terah and Jacob’s names are, we knew to expect that and are respectful of the situation. For years now, Grandma has been saying, “I don’t know why the Good Lord doesn’t take me up to be with him yet. My bags are packed and I’m ready!”
Last time I saw her, I mentioned that we used to do weaving together, and she couldn’t remember. That was a sure sign to me that things had taken a turn for the worse. Our last several visits have ended with a big hug, and her still iron grip on my hand, with her saying, “Thank you for coming! My family is so good to me. We love each other!”
She’s been battling infections and heart problems the past few weeks. This evening, I got an email from my mom saying “It’s time” to say our goodbyes. She had been to see Grandma today, and Grandma still managed to tell her, “We love each other.”
As much as time has changed her in the past few years, she’s still there, the same loving Grandma as ever.