Today we laid my Grandma Izzy to rest.
Izzy passed away a few weeks ago. I happened to be in Portland that weekend for a writing conference and was fortunate to be able to spend the evening with her before she passed. She wasn’t conscious and I knew she was in pain. The hospice staff were great and worked hard to keep her comfortable. While there, I held her hand as she slept, kissed her head, and said goodbye from my family. I also told her that I wouldn’t remember her that way; I would choose to remember all the amazing moments we’d had together.
One of my favorite memories is when I was a little girl. Before we were old enough to fly by ourselves, Katie and I used to visit our grandparents together. They would make us breakfast every morning. Papa Ray used to give us vanilla ice cream and tell us it was just ‘cream’. He would tell us about how when he was young, they would milk the cows and make their own cream to have with breakfast every day. One day when Izzy was making pancakes, she got distracted and burned them. Katie and I were in the other room when she waltzed in, said “Catch!” and threw one at us. “If we can’t eat them, we might as well turn them into frisbees,” she said as we ran around the house, tossing pancakes at each other, until they fell into pieces.
As I got older, I graduated to traveling on my own. By that time, it was just Izzy and me when I visited as my Papa Ray had passed a couple years earlier. When I was 14, we decided to go see a movie. “You pick,” she told me, “…anything you want.”
I was so excited as I’d just heard about a great new thriller called Wild Things. As we sat in the theater I got more and more embarrassed with the sex, nudity, and even a threesome. I was sure at any moment, Izzy would lean over and tell me we had to leave. But she never did. When the movie ended and we got up to leave, we were both silent for a moment. “I’m sorry, Grandma…I didn’t know it was going to be like that! I never would have suggested it if I had known,” I rambled. “It’s fine,” she responded. “I told you to pick whatever you wanted. I just figured if that’s what you wanted to see, then that’s what we’d watch.”
That’s the thing about Izzy: she was uncommonly empathetic. She may not always understand someone’s background or why they’d made certain choices. But she valued everyone’s right to exist in a way that was comfortable for them.
I think this basic principal is part of why we were so close. We lived very different lives in many ways, but she always encouraged and supported me to go after what I wanted. When I was in high school, I found my love of travel. I visited Spain, which is where my great-grandparents were from. The one dream Izzy didn’t accomplish was to travel to her family’s homeland. So when I started learning Spanish and took my first trip there, she couldn’t have been more enthusiastic.
That mentality continued as I moved to New York and then traveled across the world. She always missed me. I would keep in contact the best I could while I was overseas but our contact was often limited. But she also would tell me how proud she was of me, and how I should always go after what I wanted in life. She never wanted anyone or anything to hold me back.
When I returned to Idaho several years ago, I was actually the closest geographically I’d been to my family in a long time. I had the opportunity to visit her at least once every year and I began calling her every Sunday. We’d always been close but our relationship strengthened and flourished during that time.
She even supported me as I began to advocate for the LGBTQ+ community. During the writing process for my book, she reassured me when I experienced self-doubt or was nervous about where the endeavor would take me. She would always tell me, “You have to hurry up and finish it so I can read it before I die.” When my memoir was published, I drove to Vancouver, just to give it to her in person. The video of her shock and joy with the surprise trip and seeing my book in print for the first time still makes me smile.
Some people say that you can’t teach an old dog new tricks, but I don’t believe that. My grandma was born in 1929 but learned in the last decade how to use email. She would get up in the morning and one of the first things she would do is check for the daily baby pics that my cousin would send her.
She would also write emails. She could never quite figure out how to move the cursor from the Subject to the Body. And usually she would forget to hit the Send button. So once a week when my uncle came to check on her and prep her meds, he would open her email and send whatever was in Drafts. I would always laugh when I would get her emails with the note that said ‘no content’. And I’d open the blank email and hover over the Subject to read the 8 lines she’d written.
I’m grateful that after so long of trying to figure out my own sexuality, I got to come out to her in person last year. There was comfort in knowing that it wouldn’t matter to her. But I still wanted to talk to her and have her know and understand that part of me. Even at 90, she was incredibly open minded.
Losing Izzy has been like a seismic shift in our family. Our matriarch is gone. My cousins and I are dealing with the reality that our parents are getting older and need more assistance. So much of our lives are changing, and this loss has definitely created a hole that I’m not sure can ever be filled.
As I work through my grief, I’m also thankful. There are so many people in the world that will never understand what it is to have a family like mine. Or know what it is to feel loved unconditionally. I have been truly blessed. Being Izzy’s granddaughter is one of the greatest gifts I’ve had in life. She’s given me the courage to keep fighting for what’s right and has inspired me to keep following my dreams. I can only hope that if I continue to follow her example, one day when I’m gone, people will remember me as fondly as I will always remember her.
Natalie, what a beautiful memoire for Aunt Izzy!!! She really was a remarkable woman! Thank you so very much for writing this wonderful piece to honor her.