Grandma Wanda

Grandma Wanda

From Chicken Soup for the Grandma's Soul

Grandma Wanda

Life is short and we have never too much time for gladdening the hearts of those who are traveling the dark journey with us. Oh, be swift to love, make haste to be kind!

Henry Frederic Amiel

In the midst of her long and brave battle against cancer, my mother’s spirits lifted with the arrival of her first grandchild, whom she welcomed as “a child from heaven.” Better yet for Grandma Wanda, who’d been blessed with three healthy but raucous boys, there was finally a girl in the house . . . a beautiful, caring bundle named Kerry, whom Grandma Wanda adored. And Kerry adored her grandmother.

As a single father raising my daughter alone from the time she was two, I was grateful my mother and dad lived just two blocks away from us. It wasn’t long before Kerry had beaten a path to their house for all the cookies, consolation and hugs that a little girl—particularly one being raised without a mother in the house—required of a loving grandmother.

My mother was deeply devout. For more than thirty years, until her illness forced her to retire, she was a church secretary. She took great pleasure on those occasions when Kerry accompanied her to work, where the friendly priests were always eager to hear about their latest adventures, whether it be a weekend journey to the shore, shopping for an Easter dress or baking cookies.

A favorite place for Kerry was her grandmother’s lap, where she would curl up to listen to story after story. Most of all, they talked, just the two of them, endless conversations covering every imaginable subject. And then they hugged. Oh, how they hugged!

When it came time for Kerry to attend parochial school, my mother insisted, although now bedridden, on taking the measurements for her school uniform. Kerry literally stood on the mattress while her grandmother sized her up and down. Beaming with pride, Mother wanted it to “fit just right.” When her dearest friend acknowledged her courageous fight against a disease that slowly and painfully consumed her from within, my mother reasoned, “I can’t go anywhere yet; Kerry still needs me.”

Three days before Christmas, the telephone rang. It was my mother, asking if I’d taken her wrapping paper. “The tea set I ordered for Kerry has just arrived,” she said, her spirited voice as strong as ever, “and I want to wrap it before she sees it.”

I promised to deliver the remaining few rolls of paper posthaste. But before I could leave my house the phone rang again. This time it was my father.

“The nurse just came downstairs,” he said, his voice choking with emotion. “Your mom has only a few days to live.”

This was hardly possible to believe when, moments later, I was watching Grandma Wanda, propped up on pillows, expertly wrapping the tea set before Kerry climbed the stairs and leapt into her arms. It had become obvious that my mother literally lived for such moments.

Christmas Eve arrived, and her condition grew worse by the hour. Still, as evening cast its shadows across her bedroom, she insisted I dress Kerry and continue our tradition of Christmas caroling. I could barely even look at my mother, whose breathing was very labored. Kerry was another story, gently hugging her grandmother and kissing her good night.

“Good night, angel,” Grandma Wanda whispered back.

A silently grieving Santa Claus waited patiently for Kerry to drift off to sleep before placing her well-deserved presents beneath the Christmas tree. Outside, church bells called the congregations to midnight services, and as I filled Kerry’s stocking with North Pole treats, I asked God that the beautiful chimes bring peace and comfort to my mother.

Earlier that Christmas Eve, Mother had expressed the wish to watch midnight Mass on television, celebrated by Pope John Paul II from the Vatican. As the clock struck twelve on this, the holiest night of the year, and my brother was helping my mother complete the Sign of the Cross, her battle ended. Outside, the church bells rang in celebration.

“It’s Christmas, Dad, wake up!” Kerry shouted, grabbing my hand and leading the way to the Christmas tree. The very first present she opened was the tea set. She looked up at me and smiled, and I began to cry. And Kerry knew. She rushed to hug me, just like Grandma Wanda used to do. I knew then that the love my mother had showered on my little girl would always be there, and I was the lucky recipient.

John McCaslin

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