Grandma's Hands

My grandma passed away on Christmas Day. A month before her 99th birthday, her entry to Heaven was a final small paring in the whittling away of who she had been. I saw her on one of the last days. With no ability for conversation, all I could do was sing to her the old hymns we both remembered and to hold her hand.

One of our favorite family memories, Grandpa & Grandma watching as the rest of us played a family baseball game.

One of our favorite family memories, Grandpa & Grandma watching as the rest of us played a family baseball game.

Grandma’s hands were always cool, and, like so many of our grandmothers, always busy. Grandma saved and repurposed everything. When I lived with my family overseas, Grandma would send care packages, wrapped in fabric for the six-month journey by surface mail, and hand-stitched closed.

Grandma and Grandpa bought me my first bicycle, a blue cruiser that was far too big, but I learned to get a running start and push up onto the seat from the pedal. I could call Grandma on the phone, and pedal a mile toward her house, and she’d meet me on her bike and we’d pedal the last mile together.

Grandma cooked the Mennonite food she’d grown up with, and we learned to love vereniki, borscht and paska. I never did bring myself to try pluma moos, that fruit soup that I thought looked like mice had drowned in it! Grandma was too frugal to be an exceptional baker; she would skimp on ingredients or add extra water to stretch out the quantity, and so we learned to love dry cakes and hard cookies, somehow at Grandma’s house even dry baking tasted delicious!

When Grandma and Grandpa retired from farming and started going south to Arizona for the winter, Grandma would take craft classes, coming home to teach the grandkids how to make sparkly Christmas trees from beads or how to stitch on plastic canvas. She took an oil painting class and fell in love with painting the landscape; the mountains of Alberta that she loved, wildlife and desert scenes. She gave me my first painting lesson.

That day before Christmas, I held Grandma’s hand for the last time, and the only thing I could give her was the gift of my touch. When you are losing someone, maybe there is nothing we can give that feels like enough. Maybe it was more of a gift to me than to her, to pause to love when love is all we can give.

It’s hard to know if this is something I should share. Grandma’s life was not lived only for me, and her children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren remember her in different ways. I spent this weekend wondering if I am loving enough the people entrusted to me to love, and fearing love a little. It’s one thing to say that we love; actually sharing our lives with people requires more than living in the same home. It is far too easy to hide behind tasks to be done, emails to be written, or a cell phone screen than to open up and let yourself be known, flaws and all. I get this wrong a lot.

This is a blog about art, and I had intended a completely different direction for this post, but in thinking about how much I advocate for authenticity in art, being willing to allow yourself to be open and vulnerable in your work, I am realizing how easy it is to be honest here on social media, and yet be hiding at home from the family I love.

I don’t have an answer, just a conviction that I want to do better. Authenticity in art comes from being “in the moment",” being present with what is happening on the paper and trusting that if I place the brush stroke that feels right, right now, the next step will reveal itself in the process. Maybe life is much that way as well. I can’t do much more than commit to the next moment, to enter the studio of life to be present. To put the mask (or screen, or to-do list) away and connect with the life that is happening around me. What is the right thing to do, right now? The outcome is out of my hands, but each moment I get choices, and the right ones err on the side of love.