A Nomad's Notes: I still call her Elaine

What I remember most about Thanksgiving 2012 was my grandma’s silence. She sat at the head of the table, blonde wig on, wearing what I believe was a pink outfit, staring at something not quite in front of her, as everyone around her laughed and acted like it was any prior Thanksgiving. And I’m sure she eventually chimed in and tried to put on a happy face for us, but I don’t remember any of that. What i remember is the look of sadness on her face—almost something below/deeper than sadness, whatever that is.
Because my grandma knew this was going to be her last Thanksgiving.
I’m not one for sugarcoating. Anytime I have to be poetic, even in these columns when it’s only slightly poetic (AKA coherent) it feels forced and not me at all. Anytime I can be vulgar or barebones honest are the moments when I feel most like me. So I don’t try to block out my grandma’s face that day. I saw her when she was at her weakest, when the cancer had just about won, when she couldn’t even put her lips together and was apparently mentioning the names of people in her family long dead. My sister told me the last time we saw her alive she told her to “Pray it’s over soon.” And it was the very next day. The chair she passed away in is right behind me. I sit in it probably more than I lay in my own bed. I want to be honest about my Joan Kriz, cause honesty was what she was all about—sometimes to the point where we were like, “Damn, grandma.”
I don’t mind reflecting on all those moments cause I know she’s fine. It’s the cliche thing to say but I say it with absolute certainty, because if there’s an afterlife of some sort I know she’s fine, and if there’s nothing she’s still fine and feels no pain.
The woman was a badass.
Apparently there was a time when she and I didn’t get along very well, but I barely remember it, if at all—and not for lack of trying. It was at a time in my life when I was very angry about divorce in my family. To this day I can’t pinpoint specifically what made me so angry, though I have theories. But with maturity comes a greater sense of calm (just ask anyone right before college and just after their first year of college), and I was always the grandchild in the family who reached out the most, so we had a special bond. And even though I hate those moments in life that feel poetic and movie-like (just like my dislike of flowery writing from me), I did have one with my grandma when I got some alone time with her in October 2012 right after we learned she had stage 4 ovarian cancer. To say we were absolutely aghast was a disservice to the word—heart disease runs in the Kriz family, not cancer. And when we had that special moment she said as much: “We have a special bond, don’t we?” Yes, we did. We still do. I then gave her a teddy bear with a balloon and she named him Franky Baby after her favorite crooning man, Frank Sinatra. I still have that bear and balloon in my guest bedroom. The balloon is mostly deflated but not gone just yet. Franky Baby still smiles.
Of course I miss my grandmother, but most of the time I’m content with what happened because I know she’s OK and I know her life was no tragedy, despite the ending being a pretty tragic one. But once in a while—about two times in the last couple years—I’ll recharge my old phones and listen to voicemails from her. And every time I literally collapse on the floor and just sob like my bones are going to break. There’s something about hearing her voice that destroys me now. I could chock it up to missing her, or thinking back on how sad she was in the end, and I’m sure it’s a combo of those things, but I feel it’s also a third thing that my language capacity can’t describe.
But most of the time I typically smile or laugh when I’m thinking about her or talking to her out loud when no one else is around. One thing I do is still give her grief about her real name, which was Elaine. She apparently hated it, and had it changed to Joanne (JoAnn? Not sure) and then eventually to Joan. I told her I didn’t like Joan as much because it was an old woman’s name. I now realize that was because she was basically the only woman named Joan I knew personally. So at one of her birthdays I made a rhyme about Elaine being anything but plain which made her do the equivalent of a sigh conveying, “Oh, you jokester,” and at her funeral I talked about it too. I didn’t like that speech—it still felt like some cookie cutter fluff in a Lifetime movie, but sometimes those moments are inevitable in life, I’ve learned, and now I embrace them more.
I think another story involving grandma also helped me to believe in the concept of a soul even more than I did. She and I were at O’Charley’s (I miss that—Shallotte, please get one) years ago and she was trying to figure out what was one of the main ingredients in a Manhattan.
“Vermouth?” I randomly said.
“Yes! That’s it!”
“I don’t know how I knew that!”
And I don’t. Unless it was buried in the recesses of my mind somewhere from years ago (which I doubt), it was like I had pulled a Harry Potter patronus move—I knew I could answer it, because I’d already answered it. I’ve had those moments happen quite a bit before and since then, but that one always stands out. It was like a part of me was .35 seconds ahead of me, and the rest of me had to show up. So thanks grandma, for the weird sci-fi moment.
On December 14 it’ll be five years since she’s been gone—the same day as Sandy Hook. It was an awful, awful day. That night my sister and I were treated to a show of Mannheim Steamroller, and we cried silently the whole time. These days I don’t think I talk about my grandma enough with family, so that’s something I want to do more. And I think I need to talk to her more, too. If my vermouth story somehow proves there’s something beyond just our bodies, then I’ll definitely be seeing her again. I did get a chance to visit her in Chicago back in August. Her cremated remains had been finally buried years before after making a home in my aunt’s house in Kentucky for so long. And I let myself sink into another Lifetime Movie moment when I burst into tears right there and told my aunt about the Thanksgiving story. There’s something about people knowing their end is near that immediately puts my tear ducts into over time. They’re working overtime as I type this.
But my smile muscles are pulling a decent shift too, and my voice box is producing some good laughs as I think about the moment that I’ll see my grandma again wherever we go after here, and exactly what my first exclamation will be: “Elaine!”

Lindsay Kriz is a staff writer for the Beacon. Reach her at 754-6890 or lkriz@brunswickbeacon.com.