Don’t tell anyone this, but in one week and one day I will turn 30.
And tonight, I found myself curled up in my favorite comfy chair with my teddy bear.
Yes, in 30 years I’ve gained a lot but also had to let go of some things. I outgrew the high-top sneakers and neon spandex of the 1980s (thankfully). I ditched all my old prom dresses because I’m (honestly) never going to be able to fit into them again, and even if I could, where the hell am I going to wear a prom dress at 30 anyway? And I finally got rid of my cassette tape collection just 6 months ago, before undertaking our most recent move. It’s important to note that I haven’t had a working tape player in probably 10 years.
Tonight, I had to let go of my grandmother. She was by far the most influential person in my life. She was the example of faith and family. She taught me love, kindness, forgiveness, and the value of laughter. She was there when I was born, and for every significant milestone since. She was my biggest fan, my strongest supporter. We’ve played thousands of card games together in 30 years. We’ve taken trips, danced, sang, read books, baked, shared ideas, crafted, planned events, planned shenanigans, sat on the back deck drinking tea and wine (though not at the same time). She was my best friend: The first person I called when anything happened in my life, good or bad or insignificant. Tonight, all I wanted to do was call her and talk to her and cry with her, and have her tell me she was sending a hug through the phone and that everything would be OK because God has it under control.
But I couldn’t. For the first time in 30 years.
Thankfully, I’d kept that teddy bear.
When I was probably 7 or 8 years old, I was camping with my grandparents at Echo Lake in Montana. Camping was one of their favorite summer activities; a passionate pastime that they were thrilled to be able to share with my sister and I. One day my grandpa took me out fishing. Now even as a kid I wasn’t a huge fan of boats and open water, so we fished from the shore. This particular day grandpa sat on a tree stump next to me on my little fold-out fishing chair.
Turns out, somehow a whole bunch of battery acid had made its way onto that tree stump. Grandpa’s jeans were ruined. But my grandma never wasted anything, so rather than throw the jeans away she came up with a plan.
It just so happens that my teddy bear was the beneficiary.
Grandma decided that the teddy bear I carted everywhere (“Whitey Bear” is his name, in case you were wondering … And no, it’s not racist, he’s white and I was 4 when I named him so lay off) needed some clothes. I mean, that bear went everywhere naked, and that was just darn indecent! So we spent the day making him jeans and a jean jacket. And despite now being a couple of decades behind in fashion, he’s not been naked a day since.
The photo is my grandparents and I when I was maybe 3 or 4 years old. My grandmother put it in the frame for me after it was taken and I’ve had it by my bedside ever since. The back is broken and taped up, but I’ll never get rid of it. Whitey Bear is too cool for school in his homemade jean-jacket.
Tonight as I sat crying and holding onto that little teddy bear, I looked around my house and realized how deep her influence really has been. There is literally no corner of my house, or my life, that doesn’t reflect her life and our relationship. Her dining room table (her mother’s before her) now sits in my dining room. The hope chest she and my grandpa bought for me when I graduated high school sits in my living room, filled with memories we’ve all made together. Her picture (and normally my teddy bear) sits on my dresser in the bedroom. I have clothes she’s given me, notes she’s written me, photos we’ve taken, souvenirs she’s brought me, pie plates and dishes and silverware from her kitchen … My desk where my computer sits right now was first part of her house. I have an angel on the visor of my truck that says, “Grandchild, please drive safely” that I’ve had there for at least 10 years.
I do not even know who I would be now if she had not played such an active role in my life.
There really is no good way to sum this up. It sucks, and it’s hard. What makes it harder is that we almost shared a birthday. One week from today, she would have turned 77. One week and one day from today (on her mother’s birthday), I will turn 30. I will be back in Montana for our birthdays this year … The first time I will celebrate without her. I think Whitey Bear may need to make that trip with me.
Grandma and I last fall.
“Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.” Matthew 5:4