My grandmother would have been 80 years old today. She lost her life back in September and, since then, I’ve been struggling to find the words for the grief I’ve felt. Years before she died, she made a simple request of me. She said, “Say something beautiful about me after I’m gone.” I’ve struggled with this simple request. It seems too finite to offer something akin to a eulogy and I wouldn’t have the time or the forum to offer my every thought about her wonderful life and its influence on me and our family.
Rather, I’ve taken a moment each day since her passing to reflect on this request and share a memory each day to honor her life. She was the matriarch of my family and held us all together with an ease that only a saint could possess. She was deeply devoted to her faith and her family, and never shied away from expressing her love for both, which gave her life a deeper meaning. This is the first of her birthdays that I’ve experienced without her, and I would like to take some time away from the usual content of the blog to tell you about why she meant so much to me. She was my Gigi.
Gigi was my constant, from day one.
From the time I was born, throughout my childhood, and into my teenage years, I spent a great deal of time with my grandmother. My parents were young and still had a lot of living left to do before they settled down and raised their son.
Gigi would watch me while my parents worked or took some much needed time for themselves. When I got older, I often turned to her for anything that I needed that my parents couldn’t provide. This was usually when I was angry at them or my bratty self wasn’t getting my way.
She always happily picked up the phone, talked to me for hours, or offered to come pick me up to spend the weekend with her. In fact, there are very few weekends that I remember where I was at home. Most of them were spent with Gigi, my brother Justin, and my cousin Michael. We would fall asleep in her living room atop pink foam mats, but not before watching TV until the early hours of the morning, giggling uncontrollably. Whenever we got too loud, Gigi would shout from her bedroom “stop that giggling!” and threaten to come into the room and pinch us until we shut up and finally went to sleep.
Gigi offered unwavering guidance and support.
It was always such a comforting feeling that, whenever the world wasn’t giving me what I needed, she was there. Down the street, or just a phone call away. It became easier to go to her when I was a little older because we lived just a few blocks away from her and even lived with her for a period of time.
I think back on those days when we lived in her house and reflect on all of the things I accomplished while there. I started my first band. I dated my first girlfriend. I drank my first beer. I listened to some of my favorite albums for the very first time. In short, those were the years that shaped my life and Gigi was right there, supporting everything I did. She bought me my first electric guitar and made sure I was under her supervision when I drank my first beer. She frequently gave me a little extra money to buy CDs and constantly checked in with me to make sure I was treating my girlfriend right.
Gigi gave me strength when I feared there was none.
I think back on my life and all of the moments I went to her when I needed someone to lift me back up and tell me it was going to be okay. But out of all of them, I remember one specific instance that I’ve never shared with anyone.
In middle school and high school, I was battling severe depression and would often call her and have her talk me out of the depressed downward spiral that adolescence was taking me through. I relied on her to help me until I met my first girlfriend and, sadly, became almost too busy to bother Gigi with all of my woes and sorrow. Very quickly, I wasn’t as sad as I used to be.
This girl and I were still dating when I went away to college. During this time, Gigi would call me frequently and lecture me on how I shouldn’t be spending all of my time drinking in between telling me how proud she was that I was going to school. The distance between myself and my girlfriend posed to be a strain on our relationship and, after almost five years, we split up. Before this point, I thought I had life figured out. I relied, perhaps, too heavily on my girlfriend and her family to support me through such a difficult transitional time in my life. And here I was, alone in a place I had never been before, surrounded by people I barely knew.
When I picked up the phone to call someone for help, I instinctively dialed Gigi’s number. As soon as I heard her voice, I started crying. I couldn’t stop. I was so unhappy. I couldn’t even tell her what had happened and how horrible I felt because I didn’t have a clue where my life was headed, and how everything I thought I had loved was gone forever.
Gigi listened to me sobbing on the phone for nearly an hour and cried right along with me. She felt my heartache without the need for me to say a single word and, somehow, by the end of the call, I felt better. Just knowing that someone out in the world could understand me without my need to explain what I was thinking or feeling was all of the strength I needed. And, at that moment, I realized I had always needed her more than anyone else.
Gigi was my biggest fan, supporter, and spoiler.
When we were all younger, my siblings and cousins and friends would often congregate at Gigi’s house where we knew she would have Pepsi at-the-ready for us the garage, a good conversation just waiting to happen, and a willingness to take us anywhere we needed to go should we ask.
She would always ask about who we were dating, how our parents were doing, and how we were really feeling about things. She was always interested in hearing what we had to say and would patiently wait until the end of the conversation to provide her thoughts or wisdom.
On weekends and during the summer, it was common for Michael, Justin, and myself to go to her house and camp out for weeks on end. She spoiled us rotten and gave us anything we wanted – even calling our parents upon finding out we weren’t getting what we wanted from them.
She took it upon herself to devote her energy on supporting the things we enjoyed such as an early Star Wars and Michael Jackson obsession (the latter she passed on to all of the younger grandchildren) or the brief fad we all had with Beanie Babies and wrestling. The trade off usually consisted of us being forced to watch hours of telenovelas (soap operas) which she insisted on translating for us and updating us on had we missed any. We would often order pizza, watch movies, and stay up late when staying the night at her house.
Gigi was the glue that held us close together.
The last day I saw Gigi alive and well, we were having a birthday party for my younger brother, Tristan, and myself at my mom and dad’s house, where Gigi had been living for some time. My mom was in the hospital that day, due to some complications from a surgery the week prior, and, in the days leading up to the party, we had contemplated calling it off.
I got to the house a little early, as I often did and went straight into Gigi’s bedroom to check in with her and see how she was doing. We talked for about an hour and the conversation mostly focused around my uncle Bob and my cousin Jason being in town from Portland and how my mom was doing.
I asked her directly about whether we should still be having a party considering the circumstances and her weakened state, and she offered that having the family gathered is exactly what she wanted. She wanted to see everyone together and knew that the party was the easiest way to do it.
When I think back on this last exchange, I realize just how often she wanted us to be close, and I think she knew that she wouldn’t live much longer. She wanted one last moment where the family could all be together and laugh and stay up late and have fun like we did in those days gone by. When Gigi was younger and had more energy, she would often be the one to try and get the family together for a dinner, or just to visit. She loved having her family all in one room and was so incredibly proud of everything that we had become.
Since Gigi left us in September, we have all tried very hard to stay close and have done so with moderate success. I realize that this is the one gift we can continue to give Gigi now that she is no longer here to be the center of it all. She wants us to forget, forgive, and to love one another like we did when she was in our lives to help ease the tension that happens between us all so frequently.
She saw hope and love in all of us, and I know she wants us to carry on her devout belief in the beauty in all things, regardless of the ugliness in the world.
To my family that reads this, I want you all to know that I will be trying a little harder to make the time to see you. I also want you to know that I love you all, like Gigi loved us all. It is so hard for each of us, in our own ways, yet we all hurt the same. Nobody hurts more than anyone else, and we all express this hurt so very differently.
Gigi loved us all equally and would want us – so desperately – to simply take some time to tell each other that we still need one another. She wants us to stay close. That is all she ever wanted.
I love you, Gigi.
For years, I told my grandmother that she needed to write a book about her amazing life. One of these days, I hope to put to paper some of the stories she told me growing up, so that everyone can experience the incredible woman we lost last year.
Perhaps this is the way I can accomplish your request of “saying something beautiful” after you’ve gone. Until then, Gigi, this is my first attempt at telling the world about the lasting impact you made on my life. I hope it was beautiful.
You are so missed.
I love you,