Wednesday morning. I’m at my on-campus job, talking about weekend plans with some co-workers, discussing something, but it’s not important what. In the middle of the conversation, my watch starts buzzing. Then my phone is ringing from somewhere in my backpack. Then my computer recognizes what’s happening.
“Kathy Kooda (mom) calling…” I knew something had to be up. Most of the family had taken a much-needed vacation, and was spending the week in the Dominican Republic. My co-workers voices blurred out, I fished my phone from out of its hiding spot, and answered.
My sister was on the other end, blubbering, “Sissy?” Something was definitely up. I couldn’t understand much, but I had gotten all I needed. “Grandma died.”
I’ve written a few things. I’ve deconstructed Elton John (among others), reviewed and criticized countless music groups; being a student, I’ve written some pretty lengthy papers on various businesses and a handful of marketing plans. I’ve turned to my blog when we had to put both of our dogs down; when I didn’t get a very competitive internship (all three times), and almost every time I’ve been through the ringer emotionally. True, I didn’t publish most of those things, but the intention was there. This time is really different, though.
Throughout the last few days, I’ve had scraps of what I wanted to write in remembrance of my grandma… but every time I turn to this word document it goes away, and I turn back into a blubbering mess.
I guess maybe in the back of my mind with all of those other writings, I knew that my grandma would be one of my handful of readers, and she’d bring up something from those posts every time we talked on the phone. In one of our final phone conversations, she told me she hadn’t had the chance to read through all of my articles yet (I think it was a week I had a blog post published, and another on Atwood), but she was looking forward to reading them. I could always count on my grandma to pull through and help me whenever I needed it.
While I was growing up, my grandma and grandpa would travel to Grand Rapids for every major event. Performing in the children’s program on Palm Sunday? Grandma and Grandpa were there next to mom and dad, probably wincing at the ridiculous thing I had said in the children’s sermon. First Communion and confirmation? You bet, without a doubt. High school graduation? OBVIOUSLY. The time the Great Northern Radio Show traveled to Larsen’s Barn? Grandma sat through the whole two-hour show on a wooden bench.
And although they haven’t been able to be present physically at many of the things I’ve been involved with in the last few years — like my college endeavors at Columbia, my drum corps performances, or seeing my students perform — the support I receive is still endless. They made a huge contribution to my travel funds when I went to Ireland for a J-Term class, and the early graduation/Christmas present I received this year not only saved me from total and immediate financial ruin, but is funding my final practicum course so I can get my Bachelor of Arts degree this spring, and march my age-out with Spirit this summer. Grandma also gave me a box of gels for marathon training, so I’ll be sure to save one of those to get me through probably the last few miles of that crazy feat.
One thing that stands out that my Grandma did for me that makes the tears well up in my eyes every time I think about it most of all is that she would sew the patches onto my corps jacket at the end of every summer. Grandma never got to see me perform in person with Spirit of Atlanta, and that probably wouldn’t have changed this summer, but she is still endlessly entwined with that huge part of my life. I know she didn’t completely understand why I am so involved with the activity, or why I work so hard year-round to just work even harder under the hot sun all summer, but she still supported me and remained involved.
I always looked forward to that day I’d spend at Grandma and Grandpa’s when she was sewing on those patches. It seemed to be one of the few things that helped me transition back into the “real world” after traveling all summer, and it’s been wonderful to have a piece of her with me on the road ever since. I’d be taken back to the days when I was younger and discussing if snickerdoodle or peanut butter cookies were better. I remember learning how to sew, and making really bad pillows. I’m thankful she helped me fall in love with hot ham and cheese (maybe that’s where my endless love for sandwiches stems from). I’ll never forget having sloppy joes or meatloaf when we’d spend the night, or right before heading off to the Wisconsin Dells.
I was thinking that this year would be a lot of lasts. My last first day of a semester of undergrad. My last spring training. My last class at Columbia. My last performance with Spirit of Atlanta. My last spring break. My last J-term. But now… all I’m seeing is firsts. The first time I’ll come home after tour and grandma won’t be sewing my final patches on my jacket. The first time I won’t send grandma and grandpa a postcard from San Antonio. My first birthday without grandma. The first holiday season without grandma.
I’m determined to make her proud, though. I’m determined to do all of these last things and all of these first things the same, and if not, better. Because there’s so many of these things yet to come that she’s already made possible. I’ll cover South by Southwest because of her; I’ll march my age-out because of her; and I’ll complete the Chicago Marathon because of her.
The amazing thing is that you’ll hear the same thing from all of my cousins like this. There’s six of us girls that all have so many things going on in our lives, I have no idea how she not only kept up with all of us, but also supported us so full-out.
My last “original content” post on Facebook before she passed away was a picture thanking her for gel, and sharing that I completed my first 18-mile run. She commented on the photo on Tuesday “You my dear granddaughter are my inspiration – so very proud of you!” It’s so hard to believe that, in the scheme of things, one minute she was scrolling through social media… and the next, I’d never get a notification that “Nancy Kooda commented on this” or “Nancy Kooda liked that.” It’s really weird to realize I’ll never see that again.
Especially on this post.
In addition to that, I received some major news on Thursday that is the first that my grandma won’t know: I’ve been accepted to Loyola University in Chicago for the Digital Communication & Storytelling Master’s Program. I’m not sure if I’ll go or not… but I can’t even talk to my grandma about it and hear “oh honey, that’s so great! Congratulations!” or get her advice and perspective on it.
That’s it. There’s a song that croons “the first cut is the deepest” but I wish I could alter it to “the first blog post you publish that your grandma won’t read is the hardest to end,” or “the first major life-changing news you can’t tell your grandma is the weirdest” but that doesn’t roll off the tongue the same way.
So I guess I’ll cap this off: with a simple thank-you, Grandma. Thanks for being so wonderful throughout my whole life, because some people aren’t so lucky to have had such a long and great relationship with their grandmother as I got to have with you. I love you, and miss you greatly all the time. Here’s a cookie for the road, and watch for deer.