When I met my husband, I was happy to learn that he had children - I did not have any of my own and really wanted to be a stepmother. I was also pleased to discover that his grandmother, Matilda, was still living. My own grandmothers were gone and I missed that special relationship.
I remember the day I met her. She lived in a giant senior complex. Her apartment was lovely and extremely neat (she loved to clean). There were many treasures on display she had collected on her travels. I was instantly charmed. She was not at all anything like my own grandmother, but I could not wait to get to know her.
I was blessed enough to be able to spend time with her and to get to know her. I learned a little about her early life - about her beloved husband Sam - and about how strong a love story can remain, even when one partner is gone. I learned about her family's journey from Poland to South America then to New York. Matilda had the most wonderful New York accent -- I could never get enough of it and sometimes asked her questions just to listen to her.
When Brad and I got engaged, we decided we would have a small wedding, with my folks, his mother & stepfather, our officiant Sandra, her boyfriend Steve, and Matilda. Initially, we weren't sure where or when we'd get married. We did set a reception date for July 2011, but our wedding date was up in the air.
In January 2011 Matilda's health was a little off. We decided to have the wedding as soon as we could pull it all together, because having her there was so important to us. We also decided that having the ceremony and dinner afterward at the complex where Matilda lived would be just the thing to do. No having to worry about her traveling - she'd pretty much be home. It was easier to plan than I thought. I was home dealing with a herniated disk and wasn't able to dress shop. An internet purchase, a few calls with the catering manager of her complex, a flower order and we were good to go.
On a pretty April afternoon, we got married in the chapel at Brooksby Village in Peabody, Massachusetts. During the ceremony I could see outside the chapel a bunch of Brooksby residents watching us and waving and smiling -- it was so sweet. We had dinner in a small private dining room there and it was wonderful. We were so glad we did things the way we did them.
In addition to loving the sound of her voice, I loved Matilda's attitude. She was always a lady. She wouldn't speak badly of people -- even people who didn't deserve a kind word. She would recognize that they must have something to deal with that makes them the way they are and you really just have to feel badly for them. She also had a silly side and boy did she love to break some of the rules at Brooksby. Residents weren't allowed to bring food from the dining room up to their apartments. They have take-away services, but when there was a brunch or something, no food could go up. Once when we were there for brunch, Matilda nudged me and handed me something under the table. It was brisket wrapped in a napkin. She told me to hold onto it until we got upstairs. Compliance person that I am - I was horrified. I reminded her of the rules and she just gave me that heart-melting smile and told me not to worry so much.
Another thing she did all the time was to tell people she loved them. She had no trouble mouthing it across the table, or just saying it. She wanted to make sure you knew. I find it sad that so many people can't share how they feel. Not Matilda. I loved most when she'd take my hand and put it against her cheek and say "I love you very much". I can hear her now saying it.
Over the last couple of years there were more health issues. Heart, lungs...walking went from slow to infrequent to hardly ever. We used to go out to eat with her, off the campus, but then it became harder for her to go out. She also told me she felt safer inside her apartment. I hated seeing her slow down like that, but she was getting tired.
A few weeks ago she had a fall inside of her apartment. She ended up in the hospital and doctors determined she would not be going home again. We spent the weekend visiting with her - really saying good-bye. And she knew that. She told us she was glad we had the chance to say good-bye because not everyone does. She was ready to go. Her husband had been gone for so long, and she missed him. The night before her move from the hospital to hospice, my husband went to see her. She was awake a bit then fell asleep, so he sat next to her holding her hand. As he was getting ready to leave, she woke a bit and said "whoever is holding my hand, I love you" before she fell back to sleep.
The next day, she moved to hospice. Her doctors medicated her so that the trip would be tolerable and she remained that way from Tuesday until Friday April 4th, when her journey ended. It brings me comfort to know that the last words Brad heard from her were about love.
If you have special people in your life - I say to you - let them know how special they are, because you are not guaranteed to always have them around to tell them.
Sleep well sweet Matilda. I love you and will miss you forever.