Dear Gigi

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Dear Gigi,

Today you left us.  I miss you terribly.  I missed you the moment your mind turned inward and our words couldn’t inspire you to speak back to us.  Maisy even learned “Gigi” just in time to tell you when you were in the ER… and then spend the next several days, including today, saying it repeatedly and increasingly.  Your name is her new favorite word.  In the moment when you were lost to fighting to self sooth yourself out of the pain of your blood infection all I wanted to do was hold you in my arms like a baby and wash all your pain away with the sheer force of my love and compassion for you.  In that moment I saw you as I see my baby girl.  I also saw you as beautiful as I’ve ever seen you.  I can’t put my finger on it, but all I could tell you right then is that you looked beautiful and I loved the color of your hair.  But it was so much more than that.  Though you were going through pain I cannot even imagine all I saw was this beautifully, perfectly unkempt mop of grey-white hair.  It glistened like the water glistens when there’s a slight breeze, serene and other-worldly.  Your face wore the innocence of a sleeping child, with your eyes stubbornly clamped shut and all.  You were the most beautiful to me in that moment and that is the last memory of you I want to hold in my heart.

But I also saw you today.  Just after you left us.  I suppose I needed to see you that way.  But it was harder than I expected.  When I walked in and saw your mouth hung awkwardly to one side, drooping farther than humanly possible, I realized I’d never actually seen a dead person before.  I’ve lost a loved one once a year like clock work for 8 years straight and yet I missed this moment with each of them.  It simultaneously made me feel sick to my stomach (like the being in the same room as death just does to a person) and like a bunch of bells were chaotically but somehow pleasantly resounding around in the pit of my chest (like the joyful peace of knowing a loved one is Home and pain free also just does to a person.) Throughout today I’ve been mostly regressing inward into a zombie like state of being and working.  Dried up from tears I simply flipped through my overdue list of editing, picking away picture by picture on autopilot.  Thank heavens for autopilot.  This evening, however, I reflected a little differently.

I remembered the first time I met you.  I went to your lower level apartment in the most quaint, small town I could register in my memories.  We walked in and for the next hour or so I relished in listening to your tales.  I could not remember what stories you told but simply that you painted pictures with your words and that you were the sweetest grandma I’d ever met.

The next time I met you it was my first official gathering with the Calhoun family where I was accepted as “the girlfriend.”  First thing I did when I arrived was knock you over into the bushes.  I don’t remember how it happened, I simply remember feeling mortified and that you simply melted into a fit of laughter as we tried to right you.  I loved your bouncing belly laugh.  You were the first and only person I’ve met that had a true belly laugh.  When you laughed, your belly bounced, laughing with you.  Then I grew a beachball of a belly and would think warm, fuzzy thoughts of you every time I laughed.

My favorite moments in our story were every moment we spent together after I increasingly became your go-to caregiver when Mom and Dad went out of town.  I would stay overnight and wake up, excited to bring you coffee and whatever treat I chose for the day (sorry Mom, I spoiled Gigi with lots of pastries).  I hope with all my heart that you knew I loved our morning coffee dates when I got to stay over to care for you.

These sleepovers became regular enough for me to get to hang out with Gigi every weekend.  I would cart me, the kid, and our little bag of things over there to spend the weekend in a sort of state of joyful bliss.  Sure, I usually took off like a rocket after our coffee date to go photograph some wedding or portrait or another but it was truly the pleasure of your company that made my weekend.  I wrote you many letters over the years, I loved being pen pals, so I hope if I didn’t adequately tell you in person how much I adored my time with you that you knew it either from my letters or simply because you just knew.

You were the perfect grandma to me.  You weren’t a motivated woman, in fact you were quite lazy, but you were very loving and giving.  I’m so thankful for all the moments and I had with you.  I do wish I could give you one more kiss on the cheek, share one more donut with you, hear you tell me one more story, and say “I love you” while you could still hear me with your ears here.  Instead, I’m left to settle for hoping that you understood I treasured every moment with you and held you in my heart as my own flesh and blood.

I realize now that I have a short but important list of regrets.  I regret not kissing you “see you later” on the cheek every single time I left you.  I regret not visiting you at least once more while you were at rehab.  And I very much regret not finding a way to visit you once a day after your last fall that sent you to the ER then to hospice – I wish I would have found a way to make the time to come in and tell you all these things that I’m writing now, to read to you, and to tell you “I love you” 100 more times.  For that, I’m so sorry that I ache inside.  I wish I could go back a few days to have a redo, but I suppose my “once more” would be “once more” no matter what – I’m just a kid asking for 5 more minutes after I’ve already been given five more minutes.

Gigi, I love you and I’m so thankful you are Home and pain free!  I’ll look forward to seeing you again when it’s my turn.

With all my heart,


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