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  • Writer's pictureErika Nichols-Frazer

Celebrating a Life

It's never easy to say goodbye to a loved one, but the pandemic has made it even more difficult over the last few years, placing restrictions on visiting someone at the end of their life and gathering to celebrate them. We lost my grandmother Jan on January 9, 2022. For the last two months of her life, she bounced between hospitals and an assisted living facility. In the hospital, only two of us could be on her visiting list at a time and only one of those two was allowed to visit in any given day. This made being with her in her final moments challenging, but, fortunately, at the end she was back in the facility where the family could all visit and we were with her on her final day in this world.

We'd delayed a celebration of her life until things were less restricted and we could have a safe outdoor gathering. This past weekend, many of her closest family and friends came to the house she'd lived in for over 40 years, a house we will soon be saying goodbye to, as well. We gathered on the porch and lawn, where we celebrated my wedding rehearsal seven years ago. Jan was always playing host and opening up her home to any of our friends. She was a social person and I know it would have meant a lot to her to see so many old friends, colleagues, fellow book club members and investment club members, and tennis, skiing, and bridge-playing friends. Family visited from near and far to pay our respects and celebrate a live well-lived. We spread her ashes in the field where her beloved dogs and horses rest, then enjoyed getting to share memories of her with so many folks, many of whom told me things like, "She was always bragging about you" and "she was so proud of her grandkids."

Jan and I were close and I'm so lucky to have had her in my life. My family lived just a quarter mile from her, so I spent a lot of afternoons at her house, drawing with her, baking pies, and eating popcorn while watching Nickelodeon. She was at every one of my games and performances, always cheering me on. When I returned from a semester abroad in Tunisia, she insisted on driving the five hours with my dad to pick me up in New York, so she'd be the first one to hear all my stories. While I was in grad school, we had lunch every Monday and she'd always ask about my therapy session that morning, was always willing to listen. She was kind and supportive of everything I did.

We traveled the world together--Paris, Prague, Colorado, California. She was a great travel partner, always willing to jump in and see and taste and hear everything we could. She loved visiting museums and art galleries, zoos and aquariums, loved art and literature and music, and especially animals. Some of my favorite memories with her involve going to horse shows and musicals with her. On our last night in Paris, we decided to splurge and ate at the oldest restaurant in Paris, dining in the room Ben Franklin preferred when he visited. It's one of my fondest memories.

She was always one of the biggest supporters of my writing and whenever I got a publication or accolade, she'd say, "Now do you believe how good you are??" I'm sorry she didn't get a chance to read my forthcoming essay collection, in which I do talk about what an influence she has had on my life, or my forthcoming poetry collection, which is dedicated to her.

Another favorite memory is sailing during what we called "Girl World," where Jan, my mother, my aunts, my best friend (who later became a captain of a sailboat in the Caribbean), and I would take over my grandparents' boat for a long weekend and spend days on the ocean sailing, swimming, drinking, and dancing. For years, those were my favorite summer weekends (pictured above is of her teaching me to sail). She grew up on the shore in Connecticut and loved the ocean, as well as the Green Mountains.

I still think of things I want to tell her all the time before it hits me that she's gone. I'm so grateful to have known her and learned from her and shared so much with her. I miss her every day. It was touching to see so many folks present to celebrate her life and I thank each and every one of you, and everyone who has shared their kind thoughts with us over the last several months. She touched so many lives. It felt good to get some closure, to spread her ashes (I read a poem I'd written for her 80th birthday), and to say goodbye. Love you, Gram, always.

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