Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Dorothy Coleman Rademaker and Leo Carl Rademaker

My Grandma died 5 years and one day ago.

It happened somewhat quickly. Three years or so before her death, she noticed a lump in her breast. Apparently, she talked to my Grandpa about it, but they both decided that they didn't want to have invasive surgery or radiation treatments, so they kept it quiet and didn't go to the doctor or anything. They certainly didn't tell their children or grandchildren.

As much as this saddens me, I can't blame them. They wanted to feel in control of their situation and I know that all of their offspring would have been most vocal in pushing them to do everything they could to beat cancer. Grandma didn't want to beat cancer; maybe she was scared, maybe she was confident that her life already meant so much that she didn't need to. I don't know. Maybe when I'm in my 80s, I'll understand it more. Then again, it doesn't really matter if I understand it.

I didn't really notice my Grandma's decline. I was busy with a doctoral program in Alabama and my grandparents were in Indiana. My grandparents were always supportive; they would always BE supportive. I knew that death happened, but they were my grandparents. They were just always ALWAYS.

In August, she had lost a lot of weight, and my uncle made an appointment and took her to the doctor. On the car ride, she confided that she had had a lump in her breast for a couple of years. It all kind of happened quickly. The doctor confirmed breast cancer; my grandma declined treatment and went rapidly downhill; the news of Grandma's condition rapidly spread to everyone.

On, October 6th, I received the news of Grandma's death. I had been planning to visit my then-boyfriend, Adam, at his new place in Virginia for Alabama's fall break. I talked to my parents and Adam and decided to drive  (with my dog Oliver) up to Virginia, then drive with Adam to Indiana for the funeral. I left early in the morning on the 7th, intending to get on the road and get going. It was a drizzly day and, right before I got on the interstate, a car careened on past a stop sign, skidded across the lanes, and smacked into my car. My little, light Saturn spun over the median, across a lane, back again over the median, across two lanes of traffic, and into a ditch. Neither my dog nor I were hurt. My car was totalled and I had to wait 3-4 hours to get a loaner car and deal with that mess.

Oliver and I made it up to Virginia after a long day. Adam, Oliver, and I made another long drive to Indiana. I was glad to be there with my family, but it was hard to have the whole extended family there and be missing my Grandma. It was especially devastating to watch my Grandpa deal with the loss. He had always assumed the he would go first and I know he wasn't really ready to be without my Grandma. Ever. It was a beautiful love.

At the end of October, I got engaged to Adam. A month and half after that, the Ph.D. program that I was in dropped me due to my preliminary exams (I may write more about that sometime in the future). Three months after that (March of 2010), I married Adam. My extended family, except my Grandpa, came to the wedding in Virginia. My Grandpa had been feeling poorly and decided not to make the journey. I understood, though it hurt. He called me on the morning of the wedding and that conversation is still one of the best conversations I've ever had. It was lucky my make-up hadn't been done yet.

Two months after that, as Adam and I were leaving on our honeymoon, we gave my Grandpa a catch-up call. He chatted with us and was excited to hear about how we liked the Dominican Republic. That was the last time I talked to him. He passed away in June....more of a broken heart than any other ailment.

So, in less than a year, a lot happened. I am certainly happy that I married a wonderful man (and that my grandparents had gotten to meet--and approved of---him). I felt much negativity toward my experience with my doctoral program and my adviser. But the loss of my grandparents was staggering. Five years later, I find myself thinking "Oh Grandma would love this funny story about Latham" or "Grandpa would be so proud of Notre Dame football." But, most of all, I miss that they just aren't there. I know that they are looking out for me (helping to keep me safe during car wrecks, helping to keep me sane during my frustrated episodes, helping me navigate marriage and parenthood), but it isn't the same. I wish they had gotten to meet my son. I wish they knew I was having a second child.

I'm glad to have so many memories of them. So many crazy, wacky, weird memories. But my favorite memory is the children's book "Make Way for Ducklings." Since it was about Boston (my Grandma's hometown), we read it often. Grandma would say all the place names in her Boston accent; Grandpa would praise my reading ability as I grew to be a more capable reader. Sometimes, even as an adult, I would look at that book on their living room shelf and feel happy. I have a copy now that I read to Latham, and I know Grandma and Grandpa appreciate that. The ending consists of Mr. & Mrs. Mallard and their ducklings searching for peanuts and food in the Boston Public Garden every day, and when night falls, they swim to their little island and go to sleep. It's a comfortable, comforting image.