My grandmother, the champion of frugality, never failed to scold me for walking into her house with a latte, when “there is perfectly good coffee right here in this pot!”
Also the champion of labels, with every container in the fridge labeled with the date it was opened in her handwriting, my grandmother could make one box of wine last at least 8 months. You can probably imagine the fear with which I entered their house with a brand new bottle of Italian liqueur in hand.
I confidently set the liqueur down on the counter, poured myself a glass, and offered Grandma Glo a taste. I nervously chattered about its Catholic origins and the funny monk-shaped bottle while I waited for her reaction. To my amazement, the lecture I anticipated never came. Instead, my grandma pointed at the top shelf of the China cabinet and asked me to pour her a glass. Commencing that night, Italian liqueur became our special dessert ritual.
My grandma’s health diminished as the summer progressed, and she passed away last week. It was a good death: slow, holy, and surrounded by family.
In my grandma’s final days, I watched my mom joyfully comfort, feed, and bathe her mother. In each humble act of compassion, I caught a glimpse of the tenderness with which she once served me. Sitting on the edge of my grandma’s bed and gently stroking her hair, my mom softly remarked to me what an honor it was to participate in the well-roundedness of the circle of life. A slow, natural death extended to my mother the opportunity to take care of the woman who took care of her for so long.
The evening after my grandmother passed away, my mom turned to me and burst into tears. I took her for a drive until the tears passed — a trick I learned from her when she would load up the car to lull a crying baby to sleep.
Tears poured down our cheeks that we couldn’t have stopped if we had tried. In a turning point of our relationship, I was the one driving, the one trusted to take the right route, and get us there safely. My mom shared, between choked sobs, the most meaningful experiences with her mother. Stories I had never heard and that I’m confident no else had, either.
She revealed to me the character of a woman made of grit and the beauty of a heart wildly open to life. She reminded me of the accomplishments of the fierce woman who so delighted in a small glass of liqueur.
For the first time, it was my duty to hold together the pieces of my mother’s broken heart, just as she has done for me from the childhood sadness of a broken toy to the grief of a broken relationship or lost loved one. In this circular right of passage, I saw the strength of womanhood passed down through the generations before my eyes.
When my grandma became too weak to eat or talk, I decided my grandma deserved one more taste of her favorite drink. I poured a glass, explained its summertime significance to all the relatives there, and gave my grandma a small taste. The crowded room burst into laughter when she nodded in response. We passed the glass around, each sharing in the joy of something so simple.
Let us toast to her with Italian liqueur, with homekeeping, and stain-fighting, and the fearless defense of the family. It will be many years before her savor is forgotten. Cheers.
Reagan Cool is a senior studying theology and a columnist on faith and religion.