She was the rock of the Unti family, one of the most paramount figures in all of our lives. She could, without effort, command a room, and anyone who knew her has countless memories of the way she made you feel loved, the way she made you laugh, the way she made life good. As illogical as it is, I truly never imagined my life without Grandma. Every aspect of who she was allowed me to believe that she would always be here, that we would find ourselves sitting together, cashew dish between us, coffee in hand, a crime show on TV as background noise during our hours - long conversations, for the rest of my life.
When we gathered as a family last Thursday, my cousin Sean mentioned how likely I had something special to say - something English teachery - and truth be told, I spent most of my quiet time since that awful Monday evening doing exactly that. I imagined what I would say if I could have just one more conversation with my grandma, what I would say about her so that everyone understood just how profound a loss this was for us all. I daydreamed of times we spent together and I stared at the postcard I picked up in British Columbia, the one I was going to send to her with news of all the fun we'd been having. I came up with a million things to say, I came up with nothing that seemed just right. But the reality is this: there will never be a perfect way to encompass the legacy my grandma built over her 83 years of life, and there will never be a way, not through any words, to bring total peace and comfort to this time in our lives. Yet, I feel I must say something. Here it is:
Marion Kroll Unti was more than a mother, a grandmother, a wife. She was more than a sister, an aunt, or a friend. She was a presence, a force, a beacon in the lives of all those she knew. She was my Melvsie. She was a friend, and a very funny one, as much as she was a grandmother. I could tell her anything, absolutely anything. She loved the sun, good books, her family, crime shows and scary movie. She loved the water and entertaining. She raised six children, all of whom have gone on to raise some pretty wonderful kids of their own, and she'd often grab your cheeks before she gave you a kiss hello or goodbye.
My grandma and I used to watch Dirty Dancing together, and we got really good at reciting the lines and recreating any number of the dance scenes. As I was thinking about the times we'd dance our way down to the lake, I couldn't help but see parallels between that movie and life right now. As the movie comes to a close, Johnny returns to the resort, despite objections, to dance the final number of the season. Viewers are supposed to recognize that this decision is as much about all of our lives as it is about Johnny's dancing. In the end, and there must always be an end, we all must be prepared for our last dance, our legacy, and we must be sure we've made it one worth remembering well after the music stops. I'd say my grandma did just that.
None of us wanted to say goodbye to my grandma, none of us. We all envisioned her with us - talking fashion, suggesting we put out some cheese and crackers while we visit - for years and years to come. There would be advice we needed from her, weddings to dance with her at, babies to introduce her to. There would be family gathering and stories of all her boys' antics to share. But, as the movie reminds us (and as the reading my grandpa chose for Grandma's service says), it's what we leave behind that matters. And in her six children and fourteen grandchildren, she lives on. We all have picked up on the very best of her.
Every time I smell baby oil or her perfume, see mauve colored nail polish, think about Dirty Dancing or Elvis, feel the warm sun upon my face, or consider ordering a burger or a beef sandwich, I will know that it is my grandma checking in on me, with me in the deepest part of my heart and soul. Until we are together again, you'll be in my heart, with me each and every day. I love you, Grandma, more than words could ever say. Rest peacefully and know you'll be forever loved. We'll take care of Grandpa for you, we promise!