“Death has its revelations: the great sorrows which open the heart open the mind as well; light comes to us with our grief. As for me, I have faith; I believe in a future life.” ~ Victor Hugo
This past weekend, my family and I gathered to say good-bye and pay homage to our matriarch, my grandmother. Good-byes are something that I, and my family know all to well. In my almost thirty years of life, I have had a lot of practice, while they all suck, some are easier to fathom and prepare yourself for, because you know your loved ones are no longer in pain, and others are so incredibly jarring and unexplainable that you question how God could let something like that happen. It is safe to state that with the nine people, including Kobe Bryant and his daughter who died in the helicopter crash this week, a lot of people are feeling the latter right now.
While realistically, I knew I would eventually have to say good-bye to my grandmother, who was eighty-seven, if I was being honest and albite not realistic AT ALL, I thought she would live another eighty-seven years, at least. Not only did she seem ageless, she also looked it.
Digressing just a bit, which I will probably do a LOT in this post, but she got into so many arguments with people not believing she was a stunning and spry eighty-seven year old woman. Most people believed she was lying about her age (because most people aged themselves of course) and actually in her fifties or sixties. It was always entertaining to watch as people refused to believe she was telling the truth or then ask if she had work done. She never did, it was what my cousins and I called the Wassel genes, my grandmother and her sisters never looked over sixty, and for the younger generations we prayed we would get at least some of those genes. As the need for botox approaches, I am still waiting.
The last time I physically saw my grandmother, she was cutting a rug at my cousins wedding, letting her grandsons’ spin her around the dance floor and shaking her head at our shenanigans. She finally got to meet the rest of her great-grandchildren including my youngest niece, and the two of them had an instant bond, that melted all our hearts. She truly was omnipresent.
She was little, but mighty. Only an inch taller then I am, and let me tell you, she was proud of that inch. She use to shake her head, wondering how on earth I could walk in those heels. Though she seemed to forget (and thanks to pictures, I have proof) that she once walked in heels even higher then mine. In fact, my style is something else I got from her. For a woman who had four kids, she was always so immaculately put together.
I was blessed. I got to grow up with my grandmother and grandfather living just down the street, and later when I moved to New York, my Grandmother had already moved to Connecticut to live with my aunt, after my Grandfather’s passing, and I got to see her there as well.
It seems cliche to say, but both my Grandmother and my Grandfather played pivotal roles in shaping the person I have become. Coming from New Jersey and opening a hotel in the White Mountains, I grew up sitting at my grandmother’s kitchen table as she would cook or sew, whilst telling stories of her childhood, and that of my Mom and her siblings. One of six, (and the youngest girl) she grew up in the shadows of the New York City skyscrapers. One hundred percent Slavish, she was incredibly proud of those roots, and never missed an opportunity to pass traditions and recipes down to not just her children, but us grandkids. She also loved telling us about her own grandparents, including her grandfather who learned English watching cop dramas, and developed some interesting phrases because of that.
My grandfather for his part is the reason I am a hardcore New York fan, and while I don’t care much about college football, because of him I can’t help but root for Notre Dame when they are on. (Go Irish!) He also was the reason for my cake business, and even named it after I would make him gluten free cake’s after his bypass surgery and subsequent complications. It was the only thing he would eat, and we would even take our frosting the same way. (equal parts cake and frosting) While he was the albite gruff exterior with puddly insides, that would tease us grandkids mercilessly, – he use to tell us we couldn’t leave their house unless we paid him twenty-five cents – my grandmother was the quiet stoic homemaker who kept the home hearth going for all of us, quietly guiding us with life advice, a LOT of life advice.
One of the biggest lessons my grandmother taught us all, was her faith. She was steadfast in her Catholic faith despite losing my grandfather after fifty-seven years of marriage Despite burying two grandchildren, including my sister within a year. Despite losing her own parents at a young age. And despite being the last of her siblings truly cementing herself as the Wassel/Prince matriarch.
She never wavered. Through all life’s hardships, she persevered because she had her faith which she passed on to my mother and her siblings who in turn passed it on to us. She didn’t just leave her faith at church, like so many people do, but practiced it day to day, by volunteering and helping others, regardless of whether they were Catholic or not.
Claire and Don
You can’t really talk about my grandmother without talking about my grandfather. It was always Claire and Don. Even after my grandfather passed away, my grandmother still talked about him, missing him immensely these last thirteen years.
It is funny to look back now as an adult, because as a kid I never truly understood or even appreciated my grandparents relationship. To be perfectly frank, they always seemed crotchety with each other, I didn’t realize that after all they had been through, they didn’t need to prove anything to anyone. They loved each other in their own quiet rock solid way. They didn’t need to gush, and profess love in front of everyone, taking selfies for all to see like millennials today do. They were confident in each other and in their love, they didn’t have to put airs or hide when they were irritated. It was unconditional, through trial and tribulation and all their quirks, it was tried and true.
One of those funny quirks was when my grandfather would jingle his keys for the hundredth time, because my grandmother was blissfully ignoring him as she finished her conversation which had run an hour over. It became a running joke, how many times could Grandpa jingle his keys before Grandma would finally stop talking. Then their were the times my Grandmother would yell “Don, Don, Don!” getting progressively louder with each Don when he would pass an outlandish comment, that was not fit for us grandkids ears. Yet she would also humor him by watching Patton for the billionth time, and my grandfather would patiently wait (no jingling of the keys here) while my grandmother spent hours, upon hours, picking out one piece of furniture. My Mom and Aunts took us kids twice with her before they learned their lessons to pass on that excursion.
Their love was steadfast, through the good and the bad as they had said in their vows. It wasn’t always glamorous, but then for them it didn’t have to be. It was theirs. It was a fifty-seven year marriage, that channeled my Grandmother’s philosophy and mantra that “Anything worth doing, is done doing well” And despite the death of my grandfather, that love did not end. My grandmother missed my grandfather fiercely, their love never dying despite death trying to separate them.
I took my first plane ride with her at fifteen, and I (lovingly) blame her for helping fuel the travel bug. She was my partner in crime as we would travel with my aunt and uncle going to see my cousin dance in Ohio and upstate New York.
When I moved to New York, I was able to see my grandmother fairly often. It also opened another phase of out relationship. As her youngest granddaughter, I was no longer a child, though every time I saw her in the city, including this past spring, she would ask if I was okay getting home, like I had just moved to Manhattan and not lived their seven years.
Despite not being internet savvy, every so often she would tell me she liked this article or that blog post I had written, surprising me and making me laugh, because Grandma was still invested in our lives. When I saw her this past spring, not only did we discuss my traveling as well as moving to Charleston, but also my novel, which while scandalizing her with the content, also made her incredibly proud.
There are so many memories I have, but one that makes me insanely grateful now is Grandma humoring me for a selfie, or ten. She would half-heartedly protest, as I would say we need a picture, but she would do it regardless if she thought she was not picture ready. (she always was) Because of that I have pictures of us, that not only make me smile, but I can share with my nephews and nieces.
My Grandmother had four children, thirteen grandchildren and nineteen and a half (my cousin is due in June, hopefully another Gemini baby!) great-grandchildren. She was fiercely proud of the family she and my grandfather had created.
On the day my Grandmother finally past, five days after she was found unconscious with irrecoverable injuries, my Mom and I had gone to church, praying she would find peace and let go. Despite being quiet, she was a fighter, and her last days showed that. A family friend said to us she must not be done packing. I had to laugh, because not only did I know that was true, I knew my grandfather was up there nodding in agreement, jingling his keys and saying “Claire let’s get a move on.”
Well, she finished packing Grandpa, and I know you were there to greet her, reuniting after 13 years to continue your love story. And what a love story. What a life.
Mom, Grandma, Grandmere, Aunt Claire, Claire, Josie, Gigi, so many nicknames given out of love because that is what you created. You inspired so much love, taught us all so many lessons, and you live on for generations. I know you would be thinking, “What is all this fuss?” Despite knowing you would shake your head, we grief and honor you anyways because you touched so many lives, especially that of your family. Rest with the angels Grandma. Love you always. <3