I lost my beloved grandmother on Monday – she passed away peacefully, quietly, in her hospital bed, with my mom and dad by her side. She was 92.5 years old – sooo close to 100, poh poh! I would joke with her about reaching 100. “Come on, poh poh! Only 8 more years!” and she’d frown at me with a “Hell no!” expression.
2015 so far has been a real piece of work.
However, in between the piles of poo that my family has been swimming through, there is respite – we hang on to the side of the poo pool for a moment and there is still laughter, beauty, a pretty vase of flowers, a good snack. There is love and happiness. There is kindness from friends and kindness from strangers. There are jokes to be made and jokes to be laughed at. Then, we slip back in, front stroke, index finger first into the poo sludge, swimming upstream against tears and sorrow, fear and anxiety. But I know as we swim against the tide we will eventually get through.
I know not everyone is as close to their grandmother as I was. Sometimes grandmas live far away, in other countries or states or provinces. Or maybe they live in the same cities but their lives are far removed from ours – while we bustle around busy-bee style, cramming as much as we can into 16 hours of daytime, rushing from playdates to meetings to work to coffee with friends or out for a dinner at a new restaurant, the oldies are chilling. Tea time and entertainment at 3pm, dinner at 5pm. Turtle-stroll with walker back to the room, still able to undress and get into nightgowns and creak into bed while the sun has just set, leaving streaks of dusk in the sky.
I miss my poh poh so much.
She was born in a house just a few blocks from where I live now, in Vancouver. The house still stands – a few years ago it was painted a dark navy blue. I can walk by and look up and still see my grandma’s bedroom window, stained glass. It amazes me that this was her house and I always wish it was mine now – but it would be impossible to own at this point. My poh poh told me she always wished she lived in Chinatown, which was where all her friends were – instead she lived close to Commercial Drive, a mostly Italian-populated neighborhood. Her mother died when my poh poh was only four years old, and her dad eventually remarried a stepmother whom my poh poh was not close to.
Photos of my grandmother as a young woman – so tidily and smartly put together, so slim and pretty, ivory pale skin and a wry smile. My poh poh was a lover of books, and a librarian, and a writer in secret. She had written a 300 page book about her family but ended up burning it because she didn’t want to offend anyone. She was an incredible cook – Chinese dishes and “regular” dishes. Dinner at her house meant steamed pork and rice and vegetables and piles of hot noodles, or meat pie with peas and carrots and ketchup. She made lemon meringue pies, her famous Christmas time only chocolate chip butterscotch cookies and cherry flips. She also loved the ease of Jello and Cool Whip, and frozen raspberries and ice cream. She was a feminist before her time, quick witted and very funny beneath the graceful skirt-suit exterior. Deeply loyal and was not one to mince words.
She had one child – my mom, Linda. From Linda came her three granddaughters – my sisters and I – and subsequently, six great grandchildren. Not a bad haul. She loved each of us so much, in her own way. She tolerated my changing hair colours, piercings, tattoos and my changing views of the world. She bought me Doc Martens if that’s what I wanted, Archie comics, Sassy magazine. Nan Goldin books for my birthday. She tried teaching me how to sew (she was an amazing seamstress) but I sucked at it … but she showed me how to make cherry flips and how to use a mixmaster. She gave me my own mixer, my pink Kitchen Aid, as a wedding present in 2007. Without that Kitchen Aid, Coco Cake Land would not have become what it is today – (um, a tiny one woman operation of baking insanity)… She supported and accepted everything my sisters and I did and was so very proud of us.
She was a breast cancer survivor. I never told her I had breast cancer – she went into the hospital shortly after my diagnosis, and never came out. I visited her and held her frail hand while the sun streamed in her hospital room window. She died on her own terms with her daughter and son-in-law by her side. My sisters and I got there soon after she had passed and we sat with her body. It was very hard to leave. The sun was setting outside, glints of gold on the puffy cherry blossoms of the season. It seemed right that it had been a beautiful spring day. Death, rebirth of her spirit. Rising up and meeting my grandfather, I can imagine how tightly they hugged, reunited after 12 years apart.
I will miss my poh poh so much. But I was very lucky to have known such a cool woman, a woman who helped shape the person I’ve become.
My poh poh and I, with the raspberry buttercream cake I made her for her 91st birthday – the last cake I made her, as we were away for her 92nd birthday.
Rest peacefully poh poh – I love you!
In Memory Of John Dumont
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Maximum Overdrive Birthday Cake