In the summer of 2002, I was on a commuter rail train headed into Boston when I started thinking of my Grandmother. She was an enormous part of my life growing up. She babysat for me as an infant so my Mother could keep working until my parents were ready to go from dual income to single. She took my sister and I to the park, helped out with rides if my parents were stuck, and let my family move in with her after we sold our house in New York. We lived with her for almost a year until we bought a house and moved to Massachusetts in 1999.
On the train, I took my notebook out and wrote the first draft of a long letter to thank her for always being there for us and to tell her I love her. My parents took it with them on one of their visits back to New York. A day or two later I got a phone call from my Grandmother, thanking me for the letter. It was a topic that came up often in phone conversations since then. The last time I saw her was in 2006 when I was in town for an old friend’s wedding.
A few years later she started having problems. Suddenly, she couldn’t remember how to get to places she used to visit everyday. In 2008, she was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. She stayed with my Aunt Debbie and Uncle Brian until they could no longer take care of her and she was moved into a closeby facility. My cousin Robert visited her every single day and at varying times to keep the staff on their toes. She died on April 5th. My parents flew up from Florida and my sister and I got in the car and we drove to New Jersey for the Vigil. The funeral mass and burial were held the next day in Garnerville, New York.
Among her many activities, my Grandmother was also involved in her local Marriage Encounter. I remember when my Mom found cassette tapes from one of their meetings. Both my Grandmother and my Grandfather, who died before I was born, had participated in the Marriage Encounter and it improved their relationship significantly. Communication about one’s feelings did not come easily for their generation; there was always work to be done and wars to be fought. That’s why it was so moving to hear them on that old tape, talking about what it did for them, how they started communicating with each other better and more often, and how much stronger their bond had become. It’s sad that my Grandpa Bill died before he could see his 13 grandchildren, but when I think of that tape I take comfort in knowing that his last remaining years with Grandma Mary were among their best.
My sister remembered the bible quote Grandma mentioned on that tape, Ruth 1:16, “Don’t urge me to leave or to turn back from you. Where you go, I will go. Where you stay, I will stay. Your people will be my people and your God, my God.”
That same line inspired the lyrics to the song “Where You Lead”. I don’t think my grandparents were fans of Carole King, but all the same, when I hear this, I get this image in my head of the two of them hearing this on the radio and stopping whatever they are doing for a moment, to dance together.