We Always Root for Overtime

The car clock says 7am as I turn right on PCH, Aaron in the passenger seat next to me, on our way to school. We are tired from sleeplessness related to this unconscionable heat wave, and to Grandma Lilli dying.

He says, “I don’t know why I haven’t really cried since the first night,” the first night being Sunday, October 22, when he walked into my bedroom to say he couldn’t sleep because he kept thinking about Grandma Lilli, his great-grandmother. We had been with her earlier that day, and we knew she was on the threshold of death. He did not yet know that I had just been on the phone with my sister Marni, who had told me that she was now gone.

When I told him, he cried out and crumpled onto my bed. I put down my journal and pen (once again Lilli was acting as my muse), and we talked about life, and about death, this experience bringing mortality to his mind.

“I can’t believe I’m already 16,” he said. “It goes so fast.”

I know, I said. I told him that when I felt panicky like that, I ran through the chapters of my life – way back to pre-school, then little kid, pre-teen, high school…and on and on. “So many chapters and each so full… all before I even met Daddy!” We did the same for him. I wanted him to feel how much a life could hold, even one just 16 years long.

We turn onto Topanga, the temperature deceptively, temporarily cool, the day’s promised heat still to come. “There’s no right or wrong way to feel,” I tell him. I am telling myself, too.

My sorrow has been less intense than I expected it would be. I wonder aloud about the reasons for that: Gratitude for her long life, I think, and for its quality. Her recipe: show up with joy and enthusiasm; believe you can do anything; see miracles everywhere; laugh a lot, and love unabashedly, and loudly. One tiny example of “love unabashedly, and loudly”: Every time I called her, and said, “Hi, Grandma, it’s Laura,” I’d receive an effusive, “LAAAAAAAAAAUUUUUUUURRRRRAAAAAAAA!” in response, as if nothing better could have happened in the world at that moment than a phone call from me. (And I know she had the same, authentic response when any of her family called.)

“You reap what you sow,” I explained to a friend who marveled at our family’s devotion to Lilli when she learned that my sister, my cousin, and I each gladly spent a night in the hospital with her a couple months ago. Lilli planted the seeds of our devotion with her own.

So I tell Aaron, a basketball player, my theory about why my sorrow is tempered: “We left it all on the court with her.” The showing up with love for birthdays, graduations, his basketball and baseball games, his brother’s MMA classes, his cousins’ plays and dances; the enjoyment; the I love you’s. We left little room for regret, and maybe regret is where sorrow lives.

Aaron is quiet, then adds his own sports-related observation. “I think Papa loves overtime and extra innings so much because it’s like a little bit of immortality.” My heart catches, thinking about my father, my son, their relationship as close as mine with my grandmother. My dad has much in common with his mother Lilli — the showing up, the love for his family, his youthful exuberance, his dogged pursuit of his favorite pasttime (for her dancing, for him football), long past the time many of his peers have set theirs aside. He always roots for overtime. More important than the outcome, even, is the chance for more of what he loves.

“I feel like all the time I had with her, my whole lifetime, was her overtime.” I think of my husband, whose own beloved, incredible grandmothers died, respectively, twenty years, and more than thirty years ago, way too soon, so much time left on the clock.

Oh my child, yes. With intense, outrageous, cheer-at-the-top-of-my-lungs gratitude for the miracle of Lilli Diamond’s overtime. All the while knowing with a touch of melancholy, that even overtime comes to its bittersweet end.

 

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There is something about a grandmother’s love.

I had dinner with my grandmother last night, with my husband and our sons.

It was her birthday. I can’t say her age. It is not allowed. But it doesn’t matter, does it? What matters is I had dinner with my grandmother last night. Here I am, a woman with a husband and a high schooler and a tween, my own half-century mark in the oncoming headlights, and I still get to soak in my grandmother’s love. I am not the 7-year-old girl sewing pink satin overalls for her teddy bear with her grandmother, or the 11-year-old practicing tap dance routines with her grandmother, or the 14-year-old swimming in her grandmother’s pool “performing water ballet” and imploring her to watch my handstands. I am a grown up. But she is still, as ever, her.

There is something about a grandmother’s love, and a grandfather’s. These days I identify mostly as the Mom, the middle generation, so when I think of grandparental love I think of my kids with their grandparents. I think of my parents and my husband’s parents, and the way their faces beam when they play with their grandchildren, and teach them, of the way they comfort and care.

My sister reminded me that for both of us, our vivacious redheaded grandmother is not just a model of positive attitude, but a source of solace when we are blue. I don’t know what her magic is, but I’ve always known I could find some relief on the other end of her telephone line when I needed it. When, at 15, I had just received the ugliest haircut ever, I dialed her number and she said, “Laura, it’s growing even as we speak.” That did the trick. I stopped freaking out, and she was right: it grew. When I felt lonely, without friends, I called her and knew that even her answering machine would tell me, “I really want to talk to you. Please leave a message.” I called back to hear her recorded voice say it again. It’s not just what she says, it’s how she says it. There is something in her voice that reassures, “everything is going to be okay.” She believes it, so I do, too.

There is something about a grandmother’s love. Even today, my sister, cousins and I feel it. On a phone call, I know that after I say, “Hi Grandma, it’s Laura,” I will receive the gift of hearing, “Laaaaaaurrrraaaa!” in response. As if the whole world is brighter because I am in it.

There is something about a grandmother’s love. It tells you: everything you are is enough.

“Happy birthday,” we say, and we each hug her goodnight. “I love you, Grandma.” I hope she knows how much.

 

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The Fabulous Grandma Lilli

 

And the next generation of grandmothers…

Grandma Joyce (aka "Jujee")
Grandma Joyce (aka “Jujee”)

 

Grandma Fran (aka "Nanny")
Grandma Fran (aka “Nanny”)