My grandmother passed away on April 26th with my mother’s arms wrapped around her. Our whole family had surrounded her for days, rubbing her back, feeding her, taking care of her like she had always taken care of us. Saying goodbye was a reality I really had not believed would come. My grandmother was a fighter. Even at ninety-three, she wanted more. She was never ready to go, and we were never ready to let her go, which seems selfish I know, but we loved her. For the last few years, she always set to meet one more milestone, and when she did, she pushed for another. She wanted to see her ninetieth birthday; why not her hundredth? A week before she passed, she was confident she would hold my sister Michelle’s twins when they are born in October, and I believed she would. She never conceded. That appetite to live and to fight is exactly who she was, and exactly what she instilled in all of us. Carpe Diem. Seize the Day. Leave no stone unturned. Writing this final goodbye to my grandmother has been hard. How do I summarize forty-one years of memories? How do I write our final conversation when I still don’t want it to end? I’ve learned in the last couple of weeks that saying goodbye to someone before you lose them doesn’t make it any easier than not having said goodbye. It’s the actual foreverness of not seeing someone again, of not hearing them laugh, of not holding their hand, that’s the hard part. But my son Logan says not to be worried because our bond with my grandmother is eternal, and our love will keep us united always.
So, Grandma Sandy here are my last words to you, someone I loved very dearly. . .
I’ve always known you as Grandma Sandy, but I forget there were so many different versions of you before there was a me. Before our cheap dates of fish sandwiches, small Diet Cokes, and apple pies that vanished so quickly no crumb unfinished, “gone with the wind,” you’d say, you were a young girl growing up in the Depression and during a World War. Your parents and brothers called you “Sister.” You had blonde hair and blue eyes, and a strawberry birthmark on your face. Margherita Gude. Named after a dancer your mother had liked. You were a teenager who helped in the war effort, who organized dances and took out sailors to tour New York City, and changed your name to Sandy.
You got married like everyone expected you to, only to divorce shortly after your second child was born. You were better off, you said. A single mother on your own in the 1950s. How brave you were. You tried to buy a car on your own only to be told to come back with your husband or your father. Times were not always easy. How did you manage it all? A career as a nurse like your own mother, a path your daughter would follow years later. Single parenting. Being an impromptu handyman when needed. But you never let anything hold you back from giving your children the world. Every day an adventure. Balloon rides for birthdays. Cross country trips. Girl Scout Leader. The memories you made for your children they’ll carry with them always.
And then there’s the mark you made for the world. You marched for NOW to advocate for women’s rights. How young you were to be so bold, so courageous. Fighting for equality for others, an equality that you had been denied. You had come from a long line of patriots. Your ancestors setting foot on this soil before the country was even formed, fleeing persecution. Sons of Liberty. Your mother was a member of the Daughters of the American Revolution, but you told me you didn’t like going to the meetings. You weren’t a conformist. No social constructs could confine you. A trail blazer. You always fought for the underdog.
A whole generation of women stand on your shoulders. Your granddaughters stand on your shoulders. The day after you died, I did my first call as a JDRF advocate for type 1 diabetes awareness with the healthcare representative for Senator Marco Rubio. I cannot expect the world to change if I am standing still. I have to fight just like you did.
I met you at a time in your life when you were older, but I never thought that. You were effervescent and doing triathlons at sixty, traveling around the world. You picked us up every Saturday and took us to McDonalds, to the park, on hay rides, on any adventure we could find. How lucky were we to have you?
When my father died, it was your hug that was one of the most comforting. I cried in your arms uncontrollably for an eternity. You offered no judgment just support, something you had always done. When I was awkward and felt out of place at eight years old, you told me I had a smile that lit up the world and no one had a smile like me. And I believed you. I never had self-doubt because I had you pushing me forward. Always encouraging. Never criticizing. Every child needs someone like you. That voice in their head telling them yes instead of no.
You stood with me when I graduated high school, and traveled 1,000 miles to see me graduate law school. You held each of my newborns. There’s not a moment in my life where you weren’t by my side, that you weren’t by any of our sides. What would I have been without you? I only stand so tall and set the bar so high because you showed me how.
Nothing could hold you back until one day we looked up and you were in your 90s. Your vision gone. Your hearing fading. Your mind still running marathons even though your body couldn’t. Even then you still lived on your own, refusing to concede. I admired that about you. Independence was a hard habit to break. But eventually you required more help than you wanted. We all took care of you the best that we could. When the pandemic hit, we all panicked, but you were calm. You had lived through a World War and a Depression. You said, “Things like this had happened before, they just had not happened to us. This too shall pass.” To be safe, Mommy took you home with her. She had to take FMLA from her job, and when that ran out, she retired early. She couldn’t risk leaving you at the assisted living facility. While home with Mommy, she cooked your favorite meals, brushed your hair, changed your sheets, woke with you at night when you screamed for her. In one of the last conversations we had, you told me that “Linda saved me. She took me in during the pandemic and that no one ever in my life took care of me the way she did.” Which is true. Never did a daughter take better care of their mother.
I have spent so many Sundays and Saturdays with you Grandma Sandy; I don’t know what it will be like now that you are gone. A month before you passed, I was standing in the sunlight and I went to say goodbye, and you took my hand and said you could see me, which you haven’t been able to do in years. I jokingly asked if I looked young and beautiful, and you took my hand in both of yours and said, “You have a beautiful soul. You are beautiful inside and out, and it means so much to me that you sit with me and hold my hand.” I will carry that with me always in my heart, and when times seem dark, I will remember your words. You thought I sat with you for you, but I selfishly sat with you for me.
Because I love you, and you have always loved me.
This time I have spent with you has been a privilege. Sometimes you’d tell a story and I would finish your sentence and you were surprised I remembered. I remember every detail, every story, every second of your life that you shared with me. I’m so grateful that my sister Michelle spent all those hours with you recording your life in your memoir. What a life it was. What a souvenir we have to share with our children.
When I read it, I always think I wish I had been born sooner, to have known you longer. To have held you close and kept you safe like all those times you did for me. But you didn’t need anyone. Not you Sandy Margherita Gude Rogers.
You worry that you’ll be forgotten. And that one day you’ll just be an old lady in my pictures. But that time will never come. We will always speak your name. My children will know your face and your achievements. Your granddaughters will stand tall with you as their spine. Margherita Gude Rogers you did not go gently into that good night. You raged against it. Just like you did your whole life. You were a fighter. I whisper your name into the wind so the whole world knows that you were here, and that you were loved, and that you will never be forgotten. Our children will always know that you came, you saw, and you conquered. Rest assured my dear sweet grandmother you will never just be some old lady in my pictures. This isn’t goodbye. It’s just see you later.