My Grandmother Was The Most Glamorous Woman I Know

I learned from her that taking care of yourself was one of the easiest and comforting things you could do. Even when things weren't going well, you could get your hair done.
Publish date:
September 22, 2011
death, family, role models, grandparents, memories

My grandmother, Vivian, on her wedding day.

My maternal grandmother passed away on September 6th, 2011. I called her "Nanny." She was the last of my living grandparents, and the only one I had ever been very close to. She lived in Nova Scotia, a two-day drive away, and I hadn't seen her in two years.

I called her on her 87th birthday, August 16th, to wish her a happy birthday, but only got the answering machine. Luckily, a day or two later I was able to talk to her. "Do you want to talk to your mother now?" she asked; my mom was visiting. "No! I want to talk to you!" I replied. I am so grateful to have had that last, small conversation.

My mom returned around the end of August and told us that my grandmother had been in and out of the hospital for her entire visit, suffering from various ailments. She wasn't doing very well. I told her I'd like to fly down for Christmas and visit her.

Then a week later my aunt called and told us my grandmother had cancer, again. Four years ago she'd been diagnosed with, and beat, cancer. But now it was back and she was much too frail for them to really do anything. So they didn't really do anything. It was just a matter of time.

And so I waited. I had plans to fly to New York on the 8th to visit the staff of this website and do work for New York Fashion Week. But the phone calls were getting less optimistic, and my mom kept praying that nothing would happen while I was there, that I'd make it through the trip and we could deal with everything after.

But on the morning of the 6th, before I was supposed to leave for work, my dad told me that my Nanny was gone. I dutifully phoned work to tell them what was going on, then my sister to let her know and then crawled into bed and went to sleep. I didn't want to deal with it; it wasn't real.

My grandmother was so incredibly important to me. A mother of five, my mother the youngest girl, she raised her into the most incredible woman and mother I know. They got by on little, but the stories from my mother, my aunts and uncles' childhood are hilarious, warm-sounding, perfect little bits of nostalgia that I wish I could be a part of.

"Nanny" and her sister Doris.

My greatest memories are of visiting her when I was little. I slept on the green pull-out couch in her living room and every Summer, I would sleep until noon. I'd wake up to a breakfast of canned fruit cocktail, something she bought when she knew I was visiting simply because she knew I loved it. Along with some fried balogna and cinnamon toast, I'd sit in front of her TV and watch "The Price is Right" while simultaneously shushing her and my mom as they read the newspaper at the kitchen table.

In the evening, I'd creep into her room and sift through her drawers, playing dress-up. I found my grandmother to be incredibly glamorous. She owned multiple silky nightgowns in pastel colours. I'd put them on and feel like a movie star. Then I'd move over to her jewelry, wearing as many pieces as I could at once, draping necklaces over my head and putting too-big rings on my bony little fingers. She never scolded me for rifling through her stuff. She encouraged it. She thought I was so funny, so odd and imaginative. She had photos of me in the nightgowns, wearing the jewelry, with her curlers in my hair. Photos that embarrassed me for so long, but now I'm grateful for them.

I'm just grateful for her. If I hadn't been exposed to those little bits of glamour as a girl, spraying her heady perfumes, slathering on Clinique moisturizer, coating my nails with iridescent polish from tiny bottles she'd order in the mail -- maybe I wouldn't be this girl. Maybe I wouldn't be a beauty writer, maybe I wouldn't find comfort in a perfume bottle, or get excited with a purchase of a new tube of lipstick. I learned from her that taking care of yourself was one of the easiest and comforting things you could do. Even when things weren't going well, you could get your hair done.

I miss her so much. With my birthday looming, I'll miss that yearly card, her familiar handwriting. At Christmas we'd receive a box full of gifts, gifts she'd gone out and selected herself, even when walking was painful and shopping was difficult work. She'd wrap each one individually (and beautifully) with her soft, frail hands and send them to us, the long-lost, far-away family. That's when you know you're loved.

Dealing with this these last few weeks, I've realized the impact she had on me. I've realized that we're only who we are because of the people who have influenced us, for better or for worse. I've also realized that I can't simply sit and wallow all the time; she'd hate that.

After her funeral I sat through a two-day drive back to Ontario, unpacked and repacked my suitcase, slept a few hours and then flew on a plane for the first time in my life, going to New York. Of course I thought about her, and my family, the entire time I was there. But I couldn't put my life on hold to feel bad about this. I knew that she'd want me to live, to work hard and to be a good person.

Even if you're not close with the women in your family, you've had women impact you. Strong women. A teacher, a boss, a babysitter, a friend. I've told you all about the ones most important to me, now I want to hear about the ones most important to you. And if you can, get up and give them a call, or send them a card. People don't send mail enough anymore, and it means a lot when they do.

This isn't all I wanted to say. I'll probably never be able to write everything. Every day is going to bring about new memories, new reminders. The other day I went to put on pajamas and realized the ones I picked out were the ones she'd bought for me last Christmas. But what I do know is that the memories will always be happy, the reminders will always be bittersweet, and I'll always be grateful for the time I had with her.