Let me start this by being completely honest. My grandmother, Janet Barnette, was a real firecracker. She would have been the first to tell you. She would also tell you that she was known to "make a splash, but not ruffle any feathers with frou-frou pleasantries." She was passionate and kind, bold and gentle, fierce and loyal. She knew exactly how to be herself unapologetically without ever threatening someone else's boundaries.
Her strength attracted friendships that lasted 70 years and she could melt someone's icy exterior without even meaning to. She never complained and didn't have a selfish bone in her entire body. She didn't believe in discrimination or hate, only in love, living colorfully, and silver linings.
When I was 2-years-old I moved into her home with my mother, where I lived for seventeen more years. As three different generations of women, we had some uncharted territory to navigate as we all got used to co-existing in the same house.
Most of that time, I can recall us painting art together in her ceramics studio, caring for pets when she had her pet-sitting business, reading and discussing novels like The Hunger Games and The Gargoyle and The Catcher In The Rye, discussing the past, present, and future in lengthy breaths over dinner, and most of all, listening to music together. She loved young people and all our current trends, but she also loved Elvis and Frank Sinatra.
In the car, on the way to school every morning, we would swap our favorite music as we made the long commute across the city of Charlotte. Some of my favorite memories include us belting out songs by Jack's Mannequin, Carla Bruni, Little Richard, Rent and High School Music soundtracks, and even some early Panic! At The Disco songs.
She never spoke to me, or anyone like they were younger or less wise than she was. She would give the benefit of the doubt and patiently accept varied ideas, even if she didn't agree with them.
Born in New York and raised in California, she was one of the most open-minded people I'd ever met, who had a way of being opinionated but completely interested and respectful of ALL people. If you wanted to talk to her about anything (her favorite were history, politics, and fantasy) she would promptly pull a comfortable seat to the table and present you with her famous bowl of freshly baked Chex-mix and a drink of your choice.
Unlike most grandmas, she was particularly popular for her Christmastime Chex-mix, which she would proudly deliver to everyone she knew including the mail carrier, the lawn care helpers, and various clerks dotted around Charlotte as she did her holiday shopping. And if she took a real shine to you, you'd most likely be offered her favorite mix, an Amaretto spiked coffee to sip on as you swapped stories.
She had this way of captivating a room full of people with her stories. Although she always liked to pretend she didn't know that's what was happening. Her energy was electric and humble and strong. My grandmother was able to spin a story that made you feel like you had been next to her throughout the entire fiasco she was describing seamlessly. She'd always write quotes in cards too. Somehow, she managed to write EXACTLY what you needed to read at the time. It was like a sixth sense sort of power she had, being able to predict and send them a card just when they needed it most.
She had a quote book filled with hundreds of quotes for every occasion from Thomas Edison to Maya Angelou to The Rolling Stones that she would carefully select and write out in her cards of encouragement.
One of my favorite stories she told involved her recounting her times on a mission trip to Haiti. She was only 30 but was already a wife with two children, that were ten and eight years old, she was a working-class businesswoman at American Airlines, an established artist with a degree, and her own business: Two Hearts.
She would always start this story with a similar opening, "Honey, that was just the way things were then! I wasn't some Super Woman! I was just doing my best and trying to provide some joy wherever I could. And sometimes that meant traveling to a different country to bring food to the hungry, that's where I went when I could pinch my pennies and go!" We all knew she was a Super Woman, though.
The sparkle that would gleam in her beautiful, crystal blue eyes would light up with passion when she told stories or talked about history. She devoted her entire life to a single purpose: giving back even if it meant a more modest life for herself. There was never a time when she wasn't trying to find a way to succeed in helping others. Many a family member or close friend would find an open door and a welcoming, warm couch in her house when they were without one. Without her, my mom and I would have been homeless. She made sacrifices that were not easy and left her scampering around to find a way to move mountains. She seemed to always be able to make the impossible possible with ease and confidence. There was never a time where she would admit or accept any praise but simply wave her hand and insist she had nothing to do with it.
Every single person who met her found her spirit contagious and her strength a source of endless support. She was always the first responder for any event, but her especially down-to-business attitude made her an ideal problem-solver for the serious incidents that arise during emergencies. My grandmother had a heart that was larger than life, and she was only interested in sharing a laugh with the world. Her generosity was unmatched and her cornbread unrivaled.
And while I do feel as though I've been robbed of my grandmother, guardian, conversationalist, and my best friend; I also feel an immense wave of relief as I know she is no longer in pain. She can finally stop fighting and swimming against the current when she is tired. I keep wanting to pick up the call and say, "Hey Grandma! Did you hear about those genetically altered babies? Or watch that new episode about who the real Jack The Ripper is?" She always was ready to hear about something eyebrow-raising and wanted to hear what the scoop was on the latest scientific breakthrough.
Now I know I won't be able to do that again. I won't be able to ask her advice or fondly request a retelling of one of my favorite stories. The weight is heavy. I haven't been able to face it. Reality has started to set in, and I've started to realize that it will be okay. I will still get visits from her but in the form of my favorite cards or the winking stars that she'd been known to name one-by-one or an elaborate Christmas tree.
Our loved ones are never really gone. They live on in the traditions and memories we knew them by. Grief is not something you get over, but rather something you come to terms with as you accept. The pain never goes away, but it does get easier as you find comfort in the nostalgic moments that remind you of your loved one. My grandma may not be here anymore, but her legacy and love are still as potent as ever.
I hope this can help anyone out there struggling with the process find some peace. I know getting all my swirling emotions out has been a complete mess. There is only a rainbow after the rain, and the rain doesn't last forever. I can feel her strength radiating through me as I write this and I know that she is somewhere with peace and neverending rainbows. ♡