Lessons from Grandma: Speak your mind, live how you want, and don’t let time slip away

The first time I ever met Jeff’s grandmother was in April of 2000. Jeff’s sister, Colleen, his stepdad, Gray, and I drove from N.C. to Florida for his brother, young Gray’s, high school graduation. We arrived at Grandma Kochel’s house late – probably 9 or 10 p.m.

I walked into Grandma’s house for the first time and saw Jeff snoozing on the couch waiting for me. And beside Jeff, on the end table, was a framed photo of Jeff and ex Gwen at the Marine Corps Ball. Jeff and I had only been dating a few months – it wasn’t unusual for that photo to be hanging around. A few minutes later, I wandered out to the porch. When I came back, the photo was gone, and I never saw it again. I still think fondly on that as I imagine an “Oh shit!” moment followed by a frantic move from within the living room to hide the photo before I came back inside.

Grandma dances with Gray and mine and Jeff's wedding in 2004
Grandma dances with Gray and mine and Jeff's wedding in 2004.

Getting to know Grandma was a pleasure in and of itself. She was a firecracker. She lived in a seniors community, and she was always off on this cruise or that trip, going to dances and parties and events. I do believe she had a more active social life than I! She always spoke her mind, no matter who it might bother. She loved her grandchildren fiercely. She had wonderful stories from the past about Jeff’s mom, stories that remind me of why Caroline is one of the strongest, most admirable women I know.

Uncle Mike gave Grandma a computer, and she learned how to forward emails. Not compose emails, mind you, but forward them. So if you had something in your inbox claiming you had to send it to 15 people in the next 10 minutes or have 7 years of bad luck, well, that was her way of saying she was thinking about you.

She did what she wanted, when she wanted – and we all loved her for it. She combed bazaars for deals on Christmas presents for us, and she always had a nervous chuckle as we opened them, wondering if we would like them. Last year I got a Ralph Lauren nightgown and Jeff got coffee – he laughed that his gift was for both of us, and mine was just for me, but I beg to differ …

Jeff’s cousin, Ryan, called us with the sad news last night that Grandma had passed away. Today has been a flurry of emotions and activity – feeling sad and nostalgic, making funeral plans, and of course, the guilt that comes with the letting time get the best of us – we have been meaning to get down there for months to see her. In fact, we had plans to about a month ago but a hurricane came barreling through. A reminder of how short life is and how each moment counts and how good intentions mean nothing if you don’t follow through. I hope she knows how much our hearts were with her. I know how much hers was with all of us.

You’ll be missed, Grandma.