“Birthdays are the hardest.”
“I don’t really celebrate Christmas anymore.”
“I have a hard time getting out of bed on anniversaries.”
These are things I’m sure we’ve all heard someone who has lost a loved one say. Certain days are always harder than others for those of us who are missing someone. I am missing quite a few special people from my life. I was fortunate enough to grow up with all four of my grandparents. I knew (and still remember) four of my great-grandparents. When my dad re-married I got two bonus grandparents, people I have known my entire life. Grandma is still going strong with us at 95, but Grandpa passed away just a few years ago. My oldest sister’s oldest child was tragically taken from us in an accident ten years ago when she was just thirteen years old, not too far out from her fourteenth birthday.
I remember the moment I learned of the deaths of all of these wonderful people, and I have the anniversary dates of their passing permanently etched in my brain. You would think that I would have difficulty with quite a few dates. All four of my grandparents had fall birthdays and all but one passed away in the fall, as did my niece. So the fall can be a little tough sometimes. But there are also a lot of fall birthdays in my family to offset the sadness. For me, Veterans Day is the day that makes me want to curl up in a ball in my pajamas on the couch and stay there all day.
The year my grandfather died was when I started calling my grandmother on Veterans Day to thank my her for serving our country. I’ve mentioned in a couple of other posts that she was a Lieutenant in the Army, running the osteo ward of a MASH unit in the Philippines. She took care of soldiers who survived the Bataan Death March and helped to mend their broken bones and bodies. She earned a Purple Heart, though none of us knows why because she refused to talk about it. She did, however, share a couple of stories with me later, that you can read about in my post called “Rebellious Role Models”.
Don’t get me wrong, I call my dad every year too. He was too young for Korea and too old for Vietnam, having already served four years in the United States Coast Guard and being honorably discharged before the war in Vietnam even began (Semper Paratus, Daddy – I’m so proud of you!). But my yearly phone call to my grandmother sort of slid into being a really big deal before either of us knew it.
Every Veterans Day the phone would barely ring on my end before I heard my grandmother cheerfully, yet expectantly answer, “Hi, Edee!” She knew. She always knew I would call her and she looked forward to it more and more each year. There came a time when she would tell other callers and well-wishers that she couldn’t talk for very long because she was expecting a very important phone call. During her last year of life she lived with her daughter and wouldn’t let her answer the phone because she knew it would be me on the other end. She loved to pretend to be surprised when she answered but would always give one of her cute little giggles and say “you’re welcome” when I would say to her, “Happy Veterans Day, Grammy, and thank you for serving our country.” Then she would freely admit, her voice smiling, “I knew you’d call. You always call me.” We’d talk for a few minutes before exchanging “I love yous” and then hang up. It’s just one of those silly little things you do that takes no more than five minutes out of your year, but it means absolutely everything to both of you.
Grammy passed away on October 10, 2006. Not a day goes by that I don’t think of her. So many things remind me of her, whether it is something my sister says or that I say, or wishing she was still here to tell me what to do when I’m sick. I miss her cool hands on the back of my neck when a migraine was coming. I miss how her “yankee” accent made “oh God” sound like “Oh Gyaaaaad”. I miss her getting authoritative with me right up to the end and starting sentences with, “Now. Wait’ll I tell ya.” She said “hurry on” instead of “hurry up”. If I teased her she would say, “Oh Edee Byrd, I’m telling YOU!” The inflection in her voice at the end made it sound like a question and she always used my maiden name, even the last time I spoke to her. I miss her loud soprano voice with its exaggerated vibrato and the way she would randomly break into a song or a little dance of some kind just because I said something that reminded her of a particular song she once knew. And I really, really miss her asking me, “Are you my special?”
But, above all things, I miss making my phone call to her every Veterans Day. I still call my daddy every year. However, as all good daddies are, he’s immortal (right, Daddy?!), so it will be a very, very long time before I miss calling him. For the last five years, though, I’ve wandered around on Veterans Day knowing something isn’t quite right, that something’s missing, and knowing that something is really a someone, that it’s her.
So, in honor of my grandmother (as well as my grandfathers) I say from the bottom of my heart to all of you who have served our country: Thank you.
And thank you, Grammy. I love you.