You can listen to this while you read.
When someone passes away, it’s hard to know how to best remember them. You aren’t thinking practically. You just know you miss them now but time can pass, and their voice, their face, their essence can fade. That’s the scariest part — that you will forget something. That you will not even know what it is you’re forgetting.
Photos, of course, are helpful — and video, even better. But there are other special ways you can remember someone. I’m from the Midwest, home of cornfields, lawn ornaments and cheesy hand-stitched pillows.
When my sweet Grandma passed away in October, someone in my family had an idea that sounded odd at first, but then kind of brilliant.
You see, my Grandma was not a fancy woman. She didn’t dress up much — maybe a skirt or a jumper for church — but that’s it. She liked to be comfortable, often wearing baggy jeans and oversize t-shirts and sweatshirts.
She probably never bought anything new — there were “Praise Gathering” shirts conferences, shirts with local businesses from garage sales, cat sweatshirts scooped up at the Goodwill. Her Indianapolis Colts digs definitely came from a neighbor’s yard sale and perhaps her many t-shirts printed with Bible verses from every book.
We knew them all so well, worn over and over through the years. She wasn’t one to throw anything away. So, when she left us, there were drawers full of the oh-so familiar items we’d gotten used to her wearing for decades. In fact, at her memorial service, my aunts dedicated their portion of the service to discussing her clothing habits — including props. They spoke about her love of old t-shirts and items that she wouldn’t throw away, including a 20-year-old t-shirt of my cousin’s face when he was 2 — that she had worn only a few months before. I’m sure he loved it when they showed that 🙂
The thought of dumping all these beloved items was heartbreaking. So, we did something that might sound kind of weird. We took all those shirts and sweatshirts and created blankets with them. They were cut into perfect squares and a company that makes blankets sewed them together– one for each of us.
My grandpa wanted us all to have a piece of grandma — and he lovingly bought and paid for each of the kids and grandkids to have a blanket of Grandma’s t-shirts. I admit, at first I thought it was weird.
But then I started to realize how special it was. I got the blanket in the mail and immediately remembered every shirt included on my blanket.
- “Hoosiers Outrun Cancer” — particularly relevant since it’s the disease that ultimately took her life.
- Andersen Construction, my Dad’s small business
- Back on My Feet, the organization my whole family has supported for years.
- Praise Gathering, from one of the many conferences she attended
- Bubba Gump Shrimp Co.
- Another Praise/Bible Verse shirt
- Christmas shirt: “Wise Men Still Seek Him”
- A few Autumn-festive shirts (she loved the fall!)
- A t-shirt that reads: “Having my first senior moment”
- A couple of plain squares from the backs of other shirts.
A family group text message connected us all as we each texted one another photos of our beloved Grandma blankets. My sisters and cousins and aunts could write their own list of quirky t-shirts and memories they have with them from their own blankets.
My sister Lindsey had her baby and wrapped him up in it when he was born. How Grandma wanted to be here to meet Louis. I was standing next to her when Lindsey announced she was pregnant — and her face was priceless. Louis was going to be her 4th great-grandchild and 12th grandchild total, yet the joy that he was coming soon was just as great as if he were the first.
Here’s Grandma and Grandpa with newborn Marshall:
That’s the thing about Grandma, there was always something to stick around for. She was 73 years old when she died, but she’d have been glad to have another 30 years of grandkids to love on.
Lindsey sent a photo holding Louis the day he was born wrapped in the blanket. It was that day that I took the blanket out of the closet and start warming up with it at night.
I had a particularly hard day last week and I was sitting on the couch praying and crying and all of the sudden I saw the blanket. I grabbed it and put my face into it and prayed. I felt comfort that Grandma was with me, that the spirit of who she was and how she prayed and what she prayed for my life was.
I was so thankful to be sitting there holding onto this blanket, which she had worn with so much love, humility, joy, gratefulness, prayerfulness. The hours she spent wearing these shirts loving on other people, praying for me, enjoying life to fullest. I wouldn’t want to me holding onto any other material item in the whole world.
Grandma knew we’d miss her. That’s why she made a recording of herself reading one of our favorite books from childhood, Dr. Seuss’ “The Sneetches.” In the recording, she says it’s for Giovanna, but my mom made us all a copy on CD with a copy of “The Sneetches” to match.
I was afraid to listen. I thought it would make me too sad. But a few days ago, I pulled the CD from the sleeve taped into the book. I grabbed my blanket and hit play. All of sudden, she was there. Her sweet, soft, calming, comforting Grandma voice was there reading Dr. Seuss, just as she had all my life.
I remembered snuggling up on her couch under the covers, with her arms around me, reading each page so carefully with enthusiasm and Grandma expertise. It was hard to believe it was really her voice. Her voice lives on, even though she’s not here? Yes, it does. And so much more than that.
Her prayers didn’t die with her, they live on. And my life is blessed because of them.
One of the last things she said to me, laying in Hospice, before I flew back to DC and saw her for the last time was this: “I hope all of your dreams come true.”
I know exactly what dreams she was talking about — and she did too, even if it was too hard to talk about because she wouldn’t be there for them. It meant everything to me for her to say it.
So the blanket may seem like an odd way to remember someone. The CD may seem almost too sad sometimes. But I’m thankful I have them because the essence of my Grandma is not something I ever want to lose. I want my baby someday to know who she was and hear her read “The Sneetches” and wrap up underneath her sweatshirts.
She read my blog more faithfully than almost anyone else. I love you, Grandma, and I miss you so much.