The most important blood relative, other than my parents and my brother.
Now, that's a rather stern picture of Pauline Elizabeth Delong Case. Truth be told, I can't say I ever remember her looking like that. I'm sure she had her moments, and undoubtedly my granddad got a few of those looks.
But the deeply embedded resonance of my grandmother - 'Gommer', as we called her - is joy.
Laughter, always. Encouragement and laughter; Gomer was the kind of person you just wanted to be around.
I did, anyway. Growing up close to family, the only girl in a gaggle of boy cousins, she was home base for me. My refuge. She loved me, unconditionally - she proved it with Oreos in cookie jars and a door that was always open.
We lived just up the road, until I was 13. My aunt and uncle and two cousins lived in between us; Gom's house was a quick coast on my bike down the hill. Close enough for me to hear her car crunch the gravel as she turned into her driveway at 11:20 at night, finishing her shift at Polk Center where she cared for those who were institutionalized due to mental health issues. I would stay up late, reading under the covers with a flashlight, waiting for my grandma to cruise through the Pennsylvania night air.
There was something unique and wonderful about growing up so tightly knit. I wonder, now, how all the adults felt about it - but as a child, I thought it was wonderful.
We'd hang out on Gom's porch, watching the neighbors come home, talking about anything and everything. There was always a pot of coffee on and she was always good for conversation.
|Gom and Uncle Dave|
I think that's what I remember most; that there was never a time when Gommer wasn't present. She never shooed anyone away. She never had a book she'd rather read, never needed 'alone time'. I do recall that she loved watching 'Wheel of Fortune' most weeknights and 'Hee Haw' on the weekends, and in her later years she loved 'Ellen'.
She'd sing, "One day at a tiimmmmeee, sweet Jesus..."
'Because He Lives' touched her deeply; we'd sing in harmony.
She would scratch my back, somehow knowing that it was my love language.
She said, "Bethie, you're my favorite granddaughter", and she said the word like "fav - or - RIGHT", which I always found precious and slightly peculiar.
I was her favorite granddaughter. I was deeply loved by her, and I never doubted it. That's a rare thing, I know; to be absolutely sure of an unconditional love. It drenched me, in my early years; and after Lonnie and I moved to Ohio and we could make the two-hour trip to see her, I tasted and saw that love in action with my kids.
|Gom and I, with Sarah, Haley (my cousin's eldest), and Shannon|
I miss her terribly. One of the deepest regrets of my life is that I failed to grasp the seriousness of her illness when she developed cancer. It was immaturity, denial - an unwillingness to accept the notion that this vibrant woman who was absolutely necessary to my life could get sick.
It seemed improbable. Impossible.
But she did get sick. One of my most powerful, later memories of her is on a visit to the hospital, when she was first diagnosed. We made small talk for a while, and then she took my hand.
"Gommer's sick," she said. "Gommer's really sick."
She held the door for me in untold ways, as a strong woman whose influence on my life is immeasurable. She was a safe place as I grew up, the stereotypical grandparent who indulged me and wiped my tears when my parents did their job and disciplined me. She showed me unconditional love that never, ever wavered.
She wrote me letters throughout all my life, her wild cursive telling tales of going to town and fixing dinner, updates on my granddad and the dachshund, Rocco. She opened the way for a grand, glorious love that asked nothing in return. She loved me, just because I was her granddaughter.
She cracked the door open for me when she fell ill, but I didn't know how to walk through it. I couldn't cope. Instead of spending every single possible moment with her, I stayed at home and tried to pretend it wasn't happening.
When it did happen - when my dad called and said, She's gone...Gommer's gone, my heart cracked in two. Processing the loss and grief and ugly reality that death meant forever taught me painful lessons. I'd never lost someone so close, and I discovered the difficult, deliberate truth that you can't hide from death.
I didn't walk through that door with her, but when my dear friend Bob Pino neared the end of his life, I remembered the lesson I'd learned from Gommer. So I stayed. I didn't look away. And when Bob walked into eternity, I think he probably found my grandmother and let her know that I'd learned my lesson.
She taught me well. I miss her, but I'll see her again.
My heart longs for that day.