When I was about 23 years old and visiting my grandparents, my grandmother with whom I had always been especially close, took me aside and asked me if there was something special I would like from her belongings when she died. I was a somewhat taken aback, but I knew the answer immediately – the cookie jar. My grandmother had?a smiling bear cub cookie jar with a cap for a lid. The cookie jar was always filled with delicious homemade or store-bought cookies or candy when I spent summers with my grandparents in the small town home where they their large family.
Oftentimes late at night, after everyone had gone to bed, Grandma would bring out a stash of cookies or other goodies from the cookie jar. Then she would tell stories often steeped in old-world tradition and superstitions, or we would snuggle up together and watch old movies until she often nodded off next to me.
This continued into my teen years when one night out of the blue my grandma took my hand and said, “I am getting old now and I am not afraid to die.” Even then I knew she said it more for my sake than her own, to give me words of comfort for what would be inevitable. Then she added, “I will let you know I am okay when I die.” And that was that. If she said it, I believed it was true. It was that simple.
That span of my life is a much cherished era, and so, I felt a special bond between the cookie jar and happy childhood memories spent with my grandparents. And when I left to return home from my visit the next day, my grandmother had packed up the cookie jar and sent it home with me, saying she wanted me to have it. I didn’t protest too much, and still cherish it today, nearly 20 years later.
In 1989 my beloved grandmother passed away after a series of strokes and complications due to diabetes. For as long as I live I will remember every detail of that day… My grandmother looking years younger in the casket. My grandfather breaking down at the sight of her. The long drive to the small country cemetery in Texas where she is buried. And the most beautiful sky I have ever seen streaked with brilliant hues of orange and red and yellow and turquoise blue, following a brief spring rainshower. And I will remember the familial unity as?our clan gathered to say a heartbreaking goodbye.
After the burial, I flew home feeling empty and sad beyond anything I had ever felt before. I was in the process of moving into a new house with two roommates and things were a bit hectic, yet I felt as if I was just going through the motions of daily life, devoid of happiness.
Then late one night a few days later I unpacked Grandma’s special cookie jar and carefully placed it atop the refrigerator, then as almost as an afterthought I said “goodnight Grandma” and turned to leave the room. Almost instantly the kitchen lights went completely off, then came back on a second later and I felt a kind of energy surrounding where I was standing. Needless to say, I excitedly woke up my roommates and probably a few neighbors, too.
I believe my grandmother kept her promise and let me know she was okay from the other side, because she told me she would. Now, all these years later, I often feel her close by, and I fully understand and appreciate the words spoken by St. John, “He whom we love and lose is no longer where he was before. He is now wherever we are.”
John PeteTags: grandparent loss, grief, hope, signs and connections