4 months ago

My Grandmother Died, And I Did Not Cry

I stood there on a mild and sunny November day, not surprised that snowflakes were slowly falling from the sky. My grandmother LOVED the snow, and everything else surrounding her death seemed perfectly timed – so this first unexpected snowfall during her burial was no different. I watched the rest of the family cry and I knew they were silently saying their goodbyes to their mother, grandmother, great grandmother, aunt and friend. All I could think about was the strange things that had happened over the two weeks prior to her death – and of course the secret she told me a few months before then. When my grandmother died, I did not cry…

Do you know who you really are? I’m not talking about knowing that you’re a woman who has good days and bad, often overthinks and needs to have a coffee within the first 30 minutes of waking up (ok… that’s me). I’m talking about knowing who we REALLY are.

If you were to look at a human under a microscope, you’d see that we are just a bunch (trillions, to be more accurate) of atoms doing the Macarena at light speed. Look closer… those atoms eventually disappear. Now you’d see what we are for reals. We’re energy. Yup. All we are is just a complex pattern of energy. I think that you all kinda knew that? It’s high school physics, which for me was light years ago, but why do we not actually see ourselves as this? It’s because we are living totally distracted by the events happening out here in the human world. It’s ok! I am too. They are most often wonderful. SO wonderful in fact, that we fail to notice (or remember) what is always lying beneath.

The second last time my grandmother was admitted to the hospital, she told me a secret that made me really think about what we ACTUALLY are. It was about an experience that she had the year prior. It was profound and so vivid to her, that she was ready and not afraid to move on. This secret of hers made me experience her death in a different light. It quieted my outside world – and the quieter you are, the more you can hear.

My grandmother’s name is Rita. Born in 1914, she was a ‘new soul’ (as opposed to an old one). I say she’s a ‘new soul’ because she was beyond her times. She did not judge people by their skin colour, or social status. While she did faithfully fill the ‘traditional’ roles of a mother and wife, she had a streak of feminism in her that I was priviledged to be raised in the presence of. I remember when I was a teen, my boyfriend came to pick me up. He pulled in the driveway and honked the horn. As I jumped up to go outside and get into his car, my grandmother lovingly grabbed my arm and said, “You do not go out there until he comes to the door and gets you like a gentleman.” She was smart, loyal and so sweet. Her hair was always curled, her clothes were always pressed – and she was the biggest sports fan, animal lover and farm girl I know.

Halloween, 2011, my mom called to tell me she was in the E.R. with my grandmother. Nothing major it seemed. After trick-or-treating I popped by the hospital to keep them company. I laugh when I think of my grandmother’s response to the E.R. Nurse; “Rita, you’re 97(!!!), what’s your secret?”, “If I knew, I’d give it a good kick in the pants!” That night, my grandmother was admitted to the hospital with pneumonia, and started on antibiotics. I think it was about 2 or 3 days later we found out that this time, she would be palliative.

Here’s where the weird stuff started happening.

The Missing Card and a Bottle of Rum
In 2006, my husband and I moved into our first (and current) home. That September we hosted a birthday dinner for my grandmother. I bought a card and gift… good to go! EXCEPT I lost the card. After turning the house upside down, I conceded that it was gone. Every year (for the next five years), I searched for that flippin’ card… and could never find it, so I’d go and buy a new one. You see where this is going, don’t you?

The night we were told that my grandmother would not be beating this pneumonia, I came home, and needed a drink. A DRINK-drink. A rum and coke – drink. I NEVER drink rum. EVER. So I reached into the very back of the liquor cabinet, where all the misfit booze for guests lives… and stuck to the bottom of the rum bottle, was a purple ‘Carleton Cards’ bag. Yup. For FIVE years I’d been looking for this card to celebrate her birth – and I find it on the day that we find out she’s going to die. ‘For A Very Special Grandmother on her Birthday’. Receipt still in the bag ‘9/12/2006’.
Weird. Creepy. Awesome.

“We found love in a hopeless place” – Rihanna
If you’ve stuck with me through the physics lesson, and are still reading after I’ve quoted Rihanna, then we’re all good! I’m not sure why my grandmother chose a Rihanna song as the soundtrack to her passing, although she did have a great sense of humour. This song was playing EVERYWHERE I went during the two weeks before my grandmother died.  It was annoying, but it eventually made sense.  It made sense because we did find love and connection during a time of despair.

My mother who is unflappable and always in control of her emotions, let go and for the first time I had to be the strong one. She had never let me do that before. I never knew I could do that.  My mother allowed her vulnerability to be seen, and there is no greater connection than one formed through vulnerability. None.

One evening, I took the shift staying with my grandmother so my mom and her brothers could put together some photos for the funeral. I know my grandmother was happiest when her kids were together. She would have loved for it to have happened more often.  I’m not sure if she could hear me, but I made sure to tell her they were together and having fun.

At this point, my grandmother had been in a coma for almost a week.  It was this night that I held her hand and told her that I was strong enough to handle it. I work in a hospital, and have seen it before. I told her that her kids were all together, and enjoying each others company. Even the Sens beat the Leafs that night! All was in order, but she wouldn’t.  She wouldn’t go in front of me… While she was still alert, she had told me that she would not ‘go’ in front of any of us. No way, no how.

Sweet Rita held on long enough for my mom to let go, for her kids to laugh over a meal, and for me to hear that Rihanna song enough times to realise… that we were meant to find love, even in this hopeless place. (Touché Rihanna, touché)…

My mother returned, and off I went home… with that same song playing – again.

Now you see me, now you don’t still do…
On November 14th, 2011, my grandmother passed away. It was the first night that nobody stayed with her. Just like she had promised, she did not move on in front of any of us.

I’ve had many odd encounters with her in these last six years. She has fun hiding cards!  She wedged one in my sock drawer a few years ago, and I found it on my most very worst day ever!  Funny how I didn’t find it on a good day.

The most awesome visit from her was, well, actually a visit! It seemed like a dream, but not like a dream all at the same time. My grandmother was with my great-great aunt. They were in my room, above my bed, laughing and having a grand ol’ time. I asked them how they were. They said ‘great’, and that my grandfather was waiting – so they had to go. They swirled together like a reversed tornado and vanished. This was the only time I’ve ever had a ‘dream’ about her.

Energy is a constant. It can not be created or destroyed.
I’m  not one to go to fortune tellers or watch ‘Long Island Medium’ (who has the time?). What I’m trying to say is that I wasn’t ‘looking’ for signs or comfort. These things just happened, and I could not ignore them. Maybe the birthday card stuck to the Rum bottle was a fluke? That Rhianna song, well it was a new release. Snowing in November… it happens.

You know how I know that this loss was different? I didn’t cry. I did not cry when my grandmother died. Why?  Because I never felt that she left. Her energy is undeniably still in my daily life… and all this started because of her divine secret.

What was that secret, anyways?

I can’t tell you her secret, but I will tell you this. She was not afraid to let her body die. A year before she passed, she connected with her endless energy, and had a glimpse of what we REALLY are all about… only to be catapulted back to her body by a perfectly timed peanut butter sandwich (yup… she couldn’t have made it up if she tried). I will keep my promise, and not tell her secret in greater detail. I’m a woman of my word, and I’m not about to peeve off a ghost with the master key to my house!

There is no end to Spirit,
there is no end to space.
There is no end to love,
there is no end to grace.


Love you Nanny.
xo jo


Edited by Sarah Kistler

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  1. Joanne, that was the most enduring story I have ever read. I felt your love for her and I had an image of her in my head. She was a beautiful nanny! Thank you for sharing this with us, it sure opens my eyes,my heart and my soul for all those that I have loved and lost. I hope to be that kind of nana to my own children. xxx

    1. Awe… thanks, Suzanne. It sure gives you something to think about! It’s been on my mind since I had that conversation with her years ago. I’ve never seen her so certain of anything. You definitely will be that ‘nanna’. Start hiding stuff randomly now! ❤

  2. omg you’re awesome and so is your grandma! How lucky were you to have had (and still have) this amazingly inspirational women part of your life! And how blessed was she to have had you as well! P.S. I enjoy your posts!


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