Julia Allison’s grandmother Marilyn Baugher
Updated: December 24, 2012 6:30PM
I took this photo of my beloved grandmother Marilyn last Christmas. There she is, an elegant and witty 88-year-old (fourth generation Chicagoan, as she was fond of reminding us!), smiling and laughing with the snowflake pin I had given her pinned proudly to the front of her bright green blazer, and my little nine-year-old Shih-Tzu Lilly at her feet at my parents’ home.
She never missed an opportunity to coordinate her outfits with themed holiday colors (something I inherited, much to the amusement of my cohorts). She lived in the same house on Elmwood Avenue in Wilmette, just a few miles from where my parents lived (and still live), so we were very close when I was growing up. We talked about life, friends, family and love. Always love.
We all have intuition. We don’t listen to it enough. The truth was, that entire Christmas I had this odd feeling in my gut — this foreboding — the holidays were never going to be quite like that again, with all of us together and healthy and happy. I pushed the feeling away.
We ate pancakes and chocolate, played piano, laughed and sang, talked and opened gifts and wore matching Christmas sweaters. My grandmother asked me if I had found the love of my life yet, someone who made my heart go “pitty-pat,” as she liked to say. I had not, sadly, and was disappointed to tell her so.
A little more than three months later, my father drove to my grandmother’s house to take her to Walker Bros. pancake house, a Sunday tradition they had continued for nearly 50 years. On that day, she felt dizzy. He took her to the hospital. She never returned home.
I visited her at Midwest Palliative and Hospice CareCenter, and ever in high spirits, she told me to find out if the nurse had a son for me to date.
We lost her on May 9, early that morning. I met the love of my life that evening. I don’t believe in coincidences.
I don’t know how many more holidays I have with my parents, with my brother and sister-in-law, Shih-Tzu Lilly and Devin, my boyfriend. I pray we have many. But I know that isn’t how life works, because if it did, I would be wrapping a present for my grandmother right now. I would be bursting with joy to tell her I had finally found love, something she wanted for me more than anything else in the world.
This Christmas, I’m doing things differently. I’m going to spend time asking my parents about their values, about their history, about their past Christmases. I’m going to focus on what Christmas really means: a time of reflection and gratitude, of joy forloved ones still smiling around us and deep longing for those family members no longer with us.
My grandmother is still on speed dial, and I don’t intend to ever take her off. When I really miss her, I will look at her phone number, and then have the conversation anyway. Just because she’s not here, doesn’t mean she’s not listening.
Today, honor those who are no longer with us — and then honor those who are still here — with your presence, your good humor, your patience and your love. Life can change in an instant, and the memories you make could be more precious than you realize.
Julia Allison donated her fee for writing this column to Unlikely Heroes.