As far back into my childhood as I can remember my grandmother had a “bear cub” cookie jar wearing a green cap sitting on her kitchen counter. It was always filled with homemade or store-bought cookies, candy or other delicious treats.
Those memories reached back into a happy and uncomplicated time early in my life, and I have always felt a special connection between Grandma’s cookie jar and the countless happy times spent with my grandparents. I still remember how late at night after everyone else had gone to bed, Grandma would bring out special treats and share riveting stories of our Hispanic history steeped in superstition and family traditions.
I will always remember one late night in particular when I was in my teens and Grandma took my hand and said, “I’m getting old now, but I’m not afraid to die,” then added matter-of-factly, “but I will let you know that I am okay when I die.” I knew she spoke these words to offer me comfort because she was getting older and we were so very close. And that was that. She said it and I believed it was true without a second thought.
Several years passed and one day while visiting my grandparents on the Texas farm where they lived my grandmother took me aside and asked if there was anything special I would like from her personal belongings when she died. I was a somewhat taken aback by the thought of her dying – ever, but I knew the answer without hesitation – the Cookie Jar. She smiled and seemed happy and amused at my choice.
A few days later when I was preparing to fly home, she surprised me when she handed me her cherished cookie jar carefully packed in a box! She said she wanted me to have it while she was still alive. Reliving that moment still brings me to tears all these many years later.
The years passed and 1989 my beloved grandmother passed away at age 71, following a series of strokes. I will forever remember my grandmother looking so peaceful and youthful in her casket, and the heartbreaking moment when my grandfather broke down at the sight of her lying in state. And I also remember one of the most beautiful skies I have ever seen streaked with brilliant hues of orange and red and yellow and turquoise blue as the procession drove to the small country cemetery where we laid her to rest.
I flew home from Grandma’s funeral feeling a deep empty sadness that went far beyond anything I had ever felt before. My grandfather had given me a special oil lamp that my grandmother and I had loved to sit and watch at night when I was younger. As the lamp heated up, hundreds of little silver “flakes” would begin to swirl around in the clear oil under multi-color lights, giving a sparkling, snowy, Christmas-y effect.
I had the lamp on and as got ready for bed I turned it off and turned to the cookie jar atop the fridge and said, “goodnight grandma,” then turned to leave the room. Almost instantly the kitchen lights went completely off for a couple of seconds, then came back on. After a few moments of surprise, I knew in my heart that my dear grandmother had kept her promise and let me know she was okay from the other side, just as she told me she would many years before.
To this very day I sometimes feel my grandmother nearby or smell the sweet scent of her flowery perfume from out of nowhere and welcome echoes of her stories from long ago as they nudge their way back into my thoughts.
I always tell others to keep your mind, eyes and heart open, because you never know when your loved ones may be nearby. Rest in peace, Grandma. I look forward to a joyous reunion one day.
‘Those whom we love and lose are no longer where they were before. They are now wherever we are.’ -Saint John