Today especially, I celebrate the life of my sweet and sassy Gramma. She'll forever live on in my heart, and I fight my battle in honor of hers - my most special fellow cancer warrior.
Gramma (Connie) Brothwell
February 9, 1936 - July 21, 2011
Our Gramma was a spitfire. She loved to zing us, affectionately tease us, and would laugh and laugh at the jokes she’d crack and good-humored tricks she’d pull. This, in turn, was always guaranteed to bring a smile to the faces of all who witnessed her endearing antics. She was witty, confident, sarcastic, and unpredictable in incredibly charming ways. Her affection for her family – both our very small immediate one and her large extended one – was deep and honest and unwavering. That was proven in how delighted it made her to be the first to call each of our family members and sing the “Happy Birthday” song to us on our special day every year – without fail.
The three – now five – of us grandchildren had an open and chummy relationship with our Gramma. We could talk to her about anything and she would give it back to us like it was. We never had to sugar coat things or act stiffly polite. Our relationship was warm, easy, and comfortable. We could be real and raw. She loved us all for who we are and embraced the differences in us.
Gramma loved to keep in touch with everyone. She’d leave long voicemails, sometimes getting cut off by the machine and she would say: “I love you very much” at least three times in each. We each have stacks and stacks of cards, letters and postcards that Gramma would mail us while we were away at college, often including a $20 bill to “do something fun with” or a crisp $2 bill for good luck. The word “From” on the preprinted Christmas gift tags never expressed it right for her so she’d always write “Love” right after it. We came to open each gift from her by reading out loud: “From, Love Gramma.” Same went for the passages in Hallmark cards. She’d underline the words she wanted to emphasize, sometimes with two or three thick lines to show how much she meant them.
Her notes were penned as if she was having a conversation with us: “How are you doing? Good? Good. Glad to hear it.” She wanted to know everything about what we were doing and couldn’t wait to fill us in on her latest escapades. She loved to talk on the phone and could do it for hours catching up with anyone who was up for a chat. She’d doodle while doing so and I’d always marvel at the little white notebooks with pages full of absent-minded etchings that littered her kitchen table.
Not only did she love to chat and visit with family, but with perfect strangers, too. My mom would always come back with some kind of story from the cancer treatment center about how Gramma had the whole room of cancer patients chatting it up and laughing. The nurses and doctors who cared for her always got a kick out of her openness and eagerness to tell and listen to stories. Anytime we were out to eat at a restaurant together she’d flirt with and chat up the servers. Anyone who had the pleasure of being around her became a quick friend. Even dogs loved her – all would nuzzle right up to her and lick her hands furiously in affection.
You couldn’t be around my Gramma and not feel an immediate attraction to her and her incredible people skills. We’ve all been on trips to the casino with her – one of her favorite pastimes – and you could guarantee that if we wandered away from her for a bit we’d come back to find her raising her fists in the air in celebration with three of four fellow seniors. They’d be high fiving each other or leaning their heads in together to chat while the digital wheels of cherries and bars spun.
Gramma was there for every milestone in our lives as well as the every day occurrences. We were so fortunate to have a Gramma just up the street from us to grow up with. A day at Gramma’s full of games of Chutes and Ladders and Trouble was always something we looked forward to. She was there for all of our dance recitals, all of our sport games, each of our high school and college graduations. There she’d be with flowers to congratulate us along with a visible swell of pride. It was very apparent that she loved us grandchildren tremendously by the way she kept such close track of us, squeezed us extra hard with each hug, and always left a lipstick imprint on our cheeks with the kisses she’d shower us in.
She loved lipstick and girly things. It was important to her to take tremendous care of herself. She always did her hair, her makeup, wore her perfume, matched her outfits to her purses and shoes and loved jewelry. She was beautiful. She taught my sister and I how to powder and lotion and would love to take us shopping and have us model clothes for her. She cherished her gold jewelry purchased on her travels to the Caribbean. As kids we’d tell her not to wear it swimming in the ocean because she’d attract sharks, but she wouldn’t be caught without them.
We all vacationed together in Cape Cod and New Jersey every year, she even took the entire family on trips to the Bahamas where we enjoyed shows, beach days, shopping and virgin daiquiris together. Grams loved wallowing on the beach. She didn’t like going deep enough in the water where she couldn’t touch, but she thoroughly enjoyed floating in the shallow waves on her blow-up raft or noodle until she’d wash up on shore with the tide, walk back out and do it all over again.
She was a woman who knew what she liked and didn’t like and went with it. She was comfortable in her skin, independent in her thinking, strong, and did what she wanted in life. She certainly wasn’t bashful. She loved to sing karaoke at my uncle’s for all to hear and couldn’t help but snap along to the music. Two Christmases ago she pulled up all the begrudging males in the family from their chairs for a chance to be her dance partner and swing around my parent’s kitchen with her.
She could play cards for hours against any opponent who was willing to take her on. Most recently Rummy 500 was her game of choice. While we were growing up it was Crazy 8s or Go Fish. At family events, it was Michigan Rummy. She was delighted when she beat her opponent – a highly competitive lady – and if by chance she lost, it meant more games until she could be victorious.
Now, we’ll all carry her in our hearts. Her easy laugh will echo in our memories every time we have a late morning breakfast at a diner, see a bluebird, a poodle, or the movie Pretty Woman showing late night on TNT. We’ll think of her every time we eat a tuna melt, spend a day at the beach, see a lady in Capri pants, go dancing, or catch a rerun of The Price is Right hosted by her “boyfriend” Bob Barker.
Her absence will be greatly felt by all who loved her, but we can take comfort in knowing that after a beautiful, full life capped with a tremendous display of strength at the end, she is now at peace, reunited with my grandfather and causing a ruckus up there with her siblings and best friends whom she so cherished. I can picture her bopping along through endless lines of chiming slot machines with infinite pocketfuls of shiny pennies to drop into them.
Cash out; Cash out, Gramma. We love you forever and always.