Through the Screen Door

My grandma came to live with us shortly before I turned 8.  She had been diagnosed with a terminal form of cancer, had surgery to help prolong her life, and no longer could live in her house, on her own.

Because I was so young, I didn’t know the truth behind her condition.  Just that she was sick and my mom was going to take care of her.

My mom is an only child.  My grandfather passed away nearly 2 years before I was born, so when my grandma was dying, my mom carried that burden alone.

We had a spare room on the main floor of our house, which my brother and I used as our “play room”.  In preparation for my grandma’s arrival, my parents transformed that tiny room into one that accommodated the needs of a terminal cancer patient.

At the beginning of her stay, my grandma was rarely in her room during the day.   School was in session, so my brother and I only really saw her at night and on the weekends, but I remember her spending time in the family room, talking with my mom and watching TV.

As time passed, I noticed she was weaker.  I have one distinct memory of her lying on the couch in our family room while I sat on the floor, in front of the television.  My mom had gone upstairs and my grandma was very uncomfortable with how she was positioned.  She called me over to her and asked if I could help scoot her up to a higher spot on the arm rest of the couch.

I dug my 8 year old arms under her chest and locked them around her back.  Then I steadied myself for some heavy lifting.

I was shocked at how easily she moved.

* * * * *

We had a veggie garden in our backyard that my mom planted and tended each summer.  Our favorites to grow were the tomatoes.  Oh, there is nothing more scrumptious than eating slices of a juicy, salted tomato, still warm from the sun’s rays!

My mom used to make me tomato salads with the tomatoes grown in our backyard.  Sharing a bowl of tomato salad with some crusty Italian bread is a tradition she always enjoyed with her mom, too.

As my grandma grew weaker, spring was changing into summer.  My mom had her garden started, and one warm spring day, I stood at the back door looking out onto the garden.  My grandma walked up and stood next to me, both of us enjoying the fresh air coming in through the screen.

I don’t remember what we were talking about – or if we were talking at all – but I will never forget the precise moment in time when my grandma, staring out at the yard, said to me, “I won’t be here to enjoy the tomatoes.

Her words cut my 8 year old self to the core.

I stood there for a few moments, unable to move or speak or breath.

I calmly turned around and walked through the kitchen, climbed the stairs, and hid in my room to cry.  I emerged a short while later, never uttering even a word of our conversation to my mother.

My grandma died that summer, right after school let out.

She never did get to see the tomatoes ripen.

Four generations together on my 3rd birthday. I'm sitting with my grandma.


Prompt 1.) A lecture you still remember.

Mama's Losin' It

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82 Responses to Through the Screen Door
  1. ~Debra
    February 10, 2011 | 1:03 am

    Such a sweet but difficult post, I am sure! I am so sorry you had to learn of the evils of cancer at such a young age!

  2. Sherri
    February 10, 2011 | 12:04 am

    Liz, this is one of the most touching things I’ve read of yours.

    The memory you have of this from such a young age is amazing. And it stuck with you so well.

    Cancer sucks, it just does. Especially when kids have to witness it.

  3. d, the undomestic housewife
    February 10, 2011 | 12:11 am

    That is beautiful.. Heartbreakingly so.

  4. Dana @ Bungalow'56
    February 10, 2011 | 12:31 am

    This was beautifully written. You created wonderful pictures. I walked up those stairs with you to have a cry. The moment you understood. The tomatoes. Perfectly placed words. Loved this.

  5. Tim@sogeshirts
    February 10, 2011 | 12:31 am

    Very sad Liz and like Sherri said very touching. Traditions can be so special. Too bad your grandma didn’t get to see one last batch of ripened tomatoes. It’s so nice though that fresh ripe tomatoes will always provide you with fond memories of your grandmother.

  6. Jessica D Torres
    February 10, 2011 | 12:47 am

    How sad to have to learn about cancer and its effects at 8 years old. Such a sad story but it’s nice that you were able to relate it to a positive memory also. My aunt died from cancer about 5 years ago and I’m sad about her passing but I try to remember the time I spent with her and all of the things she taught me. Thanks for sharing your story.

  7. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Tim Sogeshirts -Dave, Bungalow'56 and Sherri Kuhn, bellebeandog. bellebeandog said: New blog post!: Through the Screen Door […]

  8. Natalie
    February 10, 2011 | 1:37 am

    So touching. Liz, this is one that you need to submit to BlogHer. It is so you and has so much feeling in it. Beautifully written, and so beautiful to read.

  9. andygirl
    February 10, 2011 | 1:48 am

    so beautifully told. thank you. <3

    I had a similar experience with my aunt. she died of cancer when I was just 7. she just knew when she'd go. I think we all dreaded it and were anxious for years, but she had a goal of living until her daughter was 12 and she did.

  10. Booyah's Momma
    February 10, 2011 | 1:49 am

    I’m sorry you had to go through that. But what a poignant memory.

    I love that picture of four generations together. That is the spitting image of Kate right there.

  11. Barbara
    February 10, 2011 | 4:12 am

    What a beautiful story. It brought tears to my eyes.

  12. JDaniel4's Mom
    February 10, 2011 | 5:20 am

    Well done! The feelings that pour from your words are so heartfelt and deep.

  13. Laura
    February 10, 2011 | 5:29 am

    Beautiful. Thank you for sharing.

  14. Making It Work Mom
    February 10, 2011 | 5:47 am

    My little brother has a similar relationship with my grandmother who lived with them (I was already in college) while she was sick. I think they had a very unique and special bond. It is something he will always remember just as you do with your grandmother.
    Thank you for sharing.

  15. Amethyst Moon
    February 10, 2011 | 6:28 am

    Oh so very touching. Thank you for sharing, even if it did smudge my makeup a little.

  16. SaucyB
    February 10, 2011 | 7:42 am

    oh! I had to gasp when I read what your Grandma said. A heartbreaking thing for a little girl to hear. You can really hear/feel how much you loved her and how much her time with you meant to you.

  17. Erin
    February 10, 2011 | 6:57 am

    My grandmothers are both gone and I miss them tremendously. Thank you for sharing such a tender story.

  18. Allie
    February 10, 2011 | 7:00 am

    This just made me tear up. My sweet Nanni is still living but her age is really beginning to show and slow her down.

    Cute picture!

  19. Tina @ Life Without Pink
    February 10, 2011 | 7:13 am

    Wow that is a touching story. Its amazing what sticks with us at such a young age. What a special little tradition that you had with her and your mom….sometimes they are the things that still keep those alive in our memories :)

  20. Kristin @ Peace, Love and Muesli
    February 10, 2011 | 7:22 am

    Little Liz looks just like Kate. It’s wonderful to have those memories of your Grandmother.

  21. Jen
    February 10, 2011 | 7:33 am

    This is a very beautiful post. I could just taste those tomatoes the way you described them.

    Also, Kate looks so much like you in that picture. :)

  22. Kimberly
    February 10, 2011 | 7:36 am

    Ugh…thanks for making me cry Liz.
    It’s amazing how are wee little minds can hang on to a memory so vividly. I’m sorry that she didn’t get to taste them tomatoes :(

  23. Jenny
    February 10, 2011 | 8:45 am

    Liz…such a touching post. brought tears to my eyes. there is nothing like a grandma and her words.

    yours girls look so…much like you!!

  24. Mrs. Jen B
    February 10, 2011 | 7:57 am

    Wow. So poignant. Really touching. Well done. My heart breaks for that little girl.

    That’s really the most I can say about this right now, you’ve stirred some feelings in me for sure. Made me cry a little.

  25. Jill
    February 10, 2011 | 8:37 am


    Thanks for sharing.

    (BTW- Are you sure that’s not Kate or Maddie on the couch? Too cute.)

  26. BalancingMama (Julie)
    February 10, 2011 | 8:42 am

    That was lovely. Although it made you cry at the time, what a tender moment to remember.

    My 99-yr old grandma wished me “a very nice life” back in November. I’m hoping to get back up there to see her again… But in a way, she told me goodbye. Strange feeling.

  27. Heather
    February 10, 2011 | 8:56 am

    THank you for sharing this. I always love hearing about Granny’s. I miss mine too.

  28. Shell
    February 10, 2011 | 9:01 am

    Such a heartbreaking moment from your childhood.

  29. klz
    February 10, 2011 | 9:03 am

    Oh, Lizzie bear. I don’t know what to say. I wish I had a tomato for you.

  30. Stacey
    February 10, 2011 | 9:11 am

    That made me cry. What a sweet post.

  31. Missy
    February 10, 2011 | 9:25 am

    Liz – wow – you did a fantastic job with this post! Such a touching family portrait. I cannot imagine being 8, and having the reality of death handed to you that way.

    And I love the picture, too. Thank you for writing this!

  32. CK
    February 10, 2011 | 9:43 am

    Oh my goodness, you look just like your girls in that picture. You are so beautiful, with a beautiful soul. What a touching, vivid story.

  33. Pop
    February 10, 2011 | 9:56 am

    Wow. Just wow.

    I feel like this could be some kind of Hallmark moment line: if only grandma could’ve seen how you’ve ripened.

    Though that doesn’t sound nearly as good as blossomed/bloomed.

  34. Khara
    February 10, 2011 | 10:15 am

    What a touching post. I know that must have been so hard, especially for such a little girl but how very special and precious to have wonderful memories of your Grandma.

  35. Hope
    February 10, 2011 | 10:19 am

    Ooof. What a gut punch.

    I know people didn’t really talk about these things back then like they do now, but I wonder if your parents should have said something.

  36. Lori @ In Pursuit of Martha Points
    February 10, 2011 | 10:28 am

    Oh…Your grandmother needed to say those words out loud.

    But…such a earth-shattering thing for an 8 year old to hear.

    Much love to you.

    And how much does Kate look like you at that age!!!

  37. Mad Woman behind the Blog
    February 10, 2011 | 10:36 am

    Oh Liz, this is so beautiful. The tears are streaming down my face. My grandmother died over Christmas but I lost her many years earlier to dementia. Your post is reminding me of the special moments I still cherish. Thank you for reminding me of them.

  38. Living the Balanced Life
    February 10, 2011 | 11:03 am

    Such a wonderfully moving post Liz. You have such a way with storytelling! And I know usually I get laughs when I come here, but you are just as gifted at moving us deeply. Of course then I read Pop’s comment about how you’ve ripened and almost spit my coffee!
    I lost my dad to cancer, I can so relate…
    How to finally reach the finish line

  39. julie gardner
    February 10, 2011 | 11:04 am

    That was lovely. What a tribute, so beautifully written and remembered.

    Her words, at the time, must have taken your breath away. Perhaps they still do. How could she have been so sure? I suppose sometimes, love knows when it’s time to say goodbye.

    I’m sure she’s enjoying all the tomatoes now.

    And also that her love still knows.

  40. Betsy
    February 10, 2011 | 12:07 pm

    Wow, what a life lesson to learn at 8!

    Also, can I say that you look exactly half like Kate and half like Maddie in that photo? It’s eerie!

  41. Leighann
    February 10, 2011 | 12:25 pm

    I sat very still after I finished reading this.
    Your writing is powerful, heartbreaking, honest.

  42. Theta Mom
    February 10, 2011 | 11:26 am

    Heartbreaking…thanks for sharing mama.

  43. 30ish Mama
    February 10, 2011 | 12:32 pm

    Not only did I get goosebumps, but I have tears in my eyes, and I have never been described as “emotional” by anyone. A truly touching memory, beautifully told.

  44. Jessica
    February 10, 2011 | 11:37 am

    Such a heartbreaking and tender post. Thanks for sharing your grandmother with us.

  45. Sheila @ Pieces of a Mom
    February 10, 2011 | 11:38 am

    Very touching. As confusing as it may be, experiencing loss at a young age can give us a greater appreciation of life when we are older. I’m sure you savor the summer tomato salad with fond memories.

  46. Julie
    February 10, 2011 | 11:49 am

    What a story and memory. It cuts to the core and reminds me of stories and things that my grand father said (speaking of which… I think you just changed my writing post for today.) Thanks for the reminder – even through the tears.

  47. Cheryl @ Mommypants
    February 10, 2011 | 12:01 pm

    Beautiful memory, Liz.

  48. Megan (Best of Fates)
    February 10, 2011 | 12:10 pm

    Beautifully written and heart-wrenching.

    Also makes me want to try home grown tomatoes. But that seem inappropriate to comment on.

  49. Miel Abeille
    February 10, 2011 | 12:17 pm

    Oh, Liz! What a memory! Somehow, I suspect that every tomato reminds you of your grandmother.

  50. Anne
    February 10, 2011 | 12:19 pm

    This was beautiful and poignant, Liz. Such a heartbreaking, and sad moment for an 8 yr old! Thanks for sharing.

  51. When you’ve been told…
    February 10, 2011 | 1:02 pm

    […] I read Liz’s post for today and it changed everything I was going to be writing about. It was almost as if I needed […]

  52. Lori
    February 10, 2011 | 1:09 pm

    What a moving story, Liz. It sounds like you have some beautiful memories of your grandmother to share with your children.

  53. Alexandra
    February 10, 2011 | 1:26 pm

    This was so beautiful.

    Promise me you’ll send it in to BlogHer.

    It is beautiful, and I don’t think I’ve ever read anything quite as lovely.

    Could be b/c I”m partial to gramma’s, but the setting of those final words was so perfectly tuned in: first, being able to lift her so easily, and then on to the future, with the garden devoid of her.

    How you remember.

    Just thinking about that part in this post, and my eyes fill with tears again.

    It’s beautiful.

    P.S> sorry, if I’m a screw up, but have you sent this in to In These Small Moments? It’s gorgeous.

  54. Kelly
    February 10, 2011 | 2:16 pm

    Exquisitely written. I didn’t grow up with a grandma, but this post still spoke to me. Brava!

  55. Jacki
    February 10, 2011 | 2:49 pm

    Wow. What a powerful memory. Thank you so much for sharing it. Thank you for also reminding me to hold on to the special moments that I remember with my grandmothers.

  56. L. Eleana
    February 10, 2011 | 3:20 pm

    Such a heart-wrenching story! It’s amazing how clearly we remember certain events in our lives. Those tomatoes are a southern delicacy, at least in my family they are, LOL!

  57. Rachel {at} Mommy Needs a Vacation
    February 10, 2011 | 3:21 pm

    What a beautiful post. My grandmother, who just turned 81 was just diagnosed with cancer last week. I am very lucky that she has been around for all of my life so far.

  58. Kate
    February 10, 2011 | 3:22 pm

    That’s so sad. I’m very close to my grandparents, my grandfather has said things like that to me. It’s heartbreaking every.single.time.

    Beautiful post Liz!

  59. Amanda
    February 10, 2011 | 4:39 pm

    Liz, this is heartbreaking. I’m so sad you had to experience death so close to you so early in your life. Glad that you told this story…it was very touching.

  60. Stefanie
    February 10, 2011 | 6:02 pm

    What a beautifully written post. It made me tear up!

  61. Natalie
    February 10, 2011 | 6:28 pm

    I love when you write pieces like this.. The ones that show a more vulnerable side. I’m sitting here, crying for the 8 year old Liz. And for the younger version of me that knows exactly how you felt when I knew I would lose a grandparent.
    I was a little older at 12, but those last few months will stick with me for the rest of my life. With each birth of my children and my wedding, I’ve wondered if she was looking down on me.

  62. Natalie
    February 10, 2011 | 6:30 pm

    And Maddie is the spitting image of the little you..

  63. gigi
    February 10, 2011 | 6:45 pm

    Lovely post, Liz. We made wonderful tomato salads with our tomatoes and my Grandma’s tomatoes as well!

  64. Crystal
    February 10, 2011 | 7:10 pm

    That’s an amazing memory! I hope you have that priceless picture framed…because it’s beautiful. I’m sure that was a scary moment in your 8 year old little mind. I can’t imagine losing my grandma so early in my life.

  65. Lula Lola
    February 10, 2011 | 7:28 pm

    You told this story beautifully. I have a book that I read with my boys. It’s about a native american family. The grandmother lives with them and weaves rugs. She says she will be finished with her life once the rug is done. The granddaughter unravels it every night after everyone goes to bed. It breaks my heart every time I read it. Your real life story really reminds me of that book.
    Losing people we love it hard.
    And you were a cutie patootie!

  66. Carri
    February 10, 2011 | 8:01 pm

    Great memory, Liz. I’m sure your grandma watches over you every second!

  67. Mrs.Mayhem
    February 10, 2011 | 9:15 pm

    Simply heartbreaking. And I love the family photo.

  68. Amy
    February 10, 2011 | 8:33 pm

    Ok, that was absolutely beautiful but once I saw the picture all I could think was: Your daughter looks exactly like you at that age!!!

  69. Kristin @ Ellie-town
    February 10, 2011 | 10:28 pm

    Oh Liz! I can’t imagine and you wrote about it so beautifully.

    And wow do your girls look just like you!

  70. Dawn
    February 10, 2011 | 11:02 pm

    What a touching story. Difficult time for an 8 year old to experience. But at least you got to spend that extra time with your grandma. Thanks for sharing.

  71. Surferwife
    February 10, 2011 | 10:27 pm

    Love this picture, Liz. Love, love, love. You look just like your mom and your grandmothers are beautiful.

  72. Ashley
    February 10, 2011 | 10:57 pm

    This brought me to tears Liz. Beautiful story and it’s special you have such clear memories of your grandma. xoxo

  73. Elaine
    February 10, 2011 | 11:11 pm

    Loved this. I’m sure that was hard for you when you were a little girl. I’m glad you have good memories with her too though… xo

  74. Glamamom
    February 10, 2011 | 11:38 pm

    Lovely Liz. Carrying on her memory is the best tribute you can pay.

  75. Melissa (Confessions of a Dr.Mom)
    February 11, 2011 | 4:25 am

    What a memory Liz. You tell it beautifully and with love. This brought tears to my eyes. XO

    And oh my, your daughters are mini replicas of you :)

  76. Yuliya
    February 11, 2011 | 10:43 am

    Ignoring your blog boycott day to catch on this amazing piece, hope you’ll forgive me.
    Liz this was gorgeous, I had tears in my eyes but also a smile for the memories you did get to share with your grandma. This kind of writing is a whole new side of you, and I can’t wait to see more of it. Truly lovely.

  77. Practical Parenting
    February 11, 2011 | 9:46 pm

    What a beautiful post, Liz. Incredible writing, I could picture the whole story before seeing the picture. My Nana lived to 91. She was incredible, and I still miss her a lot. It’s amazing what an impact a grandparent can make.

  78. tracy
    February 13, 2011 | 5:34 am

    So beautiful. I was 38 when I lost my gramma and it hurt me deeply. That relationship is so beautiful.

  79. Charlotte
    February 13, 2011 | 6:08 pm

    Oh, this is just so beautiful. Makes me think back on my summers with my grandmother in Germany and how even when I was young, I would often ask myself it it would be the last one with her.

    Hold on to these memories always.

    That photograph is lovely. *HUGS*

  80. Amy
    February 14, 2011 | 1:09 pm

    I have tears in my eyes. what a wonderful post and memory of your grandma. my daughter is just 8 and I can’t imagine her carrying that burden of knowledge alone.

  81. Leigh Ann
    February 23, 2011 | 10:26 am

    I’m very late in commenting on this, but it’s so very touching. I remarked to the Twitterverse yesterday that talking on the phone to my grandma, who called to wish her great grandbaby a happy birthday, just isn’t the same anymore. I’m lucky to still have all 4 grandparents, but I know it won’t last. I’m especially close to my mom’s parents, and I don’t know what I will do when they aren’t here anymore.

    This was very touching. Excuse me, I have something in my eye. *sniff*

  82. Waiting | in these small moments
    March 13, 2011 | 11:08 pm

    […] story here, please go visit her on her blog. Don’t miss some of my absolute favorites: Through the screen door, How Twitter is like first base, and Warning: Mama Bear […]

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