My grandma was anything but boring. A card shark and crafting queen, she kept me entertained with games of Rummy and her latest creative endeavors. She always had hard candy on hand, too.
The one thing I’ll always remember the most about my grandma, though, was how much she loved Christmas.
She loved having her home full of the heavenly smells of the holiday feast and the boisterous noises that came when you packed the house full of your 6 children, their partners, and over a dozen grandchildren. Grandma loved filling our stomachs with food, our hands with presents, and our hearts with love every December. She didn’t care about all the time it took to prepare or the money she spent spoiling us all because, as she always told my stingy grandpa, “You can’t take it with you when you go!”
I have many fond memories of celebrating Christmas with my father’s family, but the one that I will always hold in my heart is more bittersweet: Grandma’s last Christmas on Earth.
It was 2006, and my grandma had been sick for several years. Despite the toll chemo had taken on her body, though, she insisted on doing all the Christmas shopping herself. She took time to ask each one of us grandkids what we wanted more than anything that year, and regardless of what we had said, she made it happen. That Christmas Eve was a magical night of food, fun, and family. And from her bed there in the living room, Grandma just smiled through it all.
She passed early the next morning, and it was almost as if she knew that night was her last wonderful moments with us all. Some of her last words were asking my parents what time it was, like she had booked a train to go to the other side and knew the exact moment she’d be leaving us.
I can’t believe we’ve been without my grandma for 12 years now, but that’s mostly because, in many ways, I feel her presence with me still.
She’s with me as I teach someone a new card game or play board games with my own kids. Her presence lingers when I work away in the kitchen or enjoy a piece of hard candy. She’s with me when I go to Walmart or eat hotcakes and sausage from McDonald’s.
But mostly, she’s with me in my heart when I give to others. Because the one thing I learned most from my grandma (besides how to be a badass at Blackjack) was that the best part of living is sharing happiness with others through presents or your presence.
We’re strapped for cash this Christmas, so we’ve decided to get crafty with our gifts. But I know Grandma will be with me as I put them together and when I gather with my parents, my brothers and their girlfriends, my husband, and my kids. Because really, giving is the real gift on Christmas. And although she left on Christmas morning 12 years ago, I firmly believe that Grandma’s spirit lives on each time I make my own Christmas spirit in my heart.