Grama’s unworn dress stirs up memories, reflection


JULY 31, 2022 6:00 AM

The dress we ordered for my mom to wear to my daughter’s wedding in May 2020 still hangs in the spare bedroom at my house. It is a dusty blue that brought out the lovely blue of her eyes. The only other full-length dress I’d seen my mom in over the years was for her own wedding. She agreed to wear such a fancy dress because her oldest granddaughter asked her. Of course, we ordered a matching jacket because my mom never went anywhere without a layer.

Due to COVID, none of our family except my daughter and her new husband attended that “first” wedding. They were married in a tiny ceremony with just the church staff and the photographer. Instead of using Zoom to share the event that weekend, the couple spent time with family on the phone before the ceremony and we all agreed to gather for a renewal of vows and reception-like celebration once it was safe again. The photos from that day were lovely, though they seemed a little empty with only the bride and groom.

Earlier this spring, when we began to think we finally could gather to celebrate with the couple in July, I went to pull out the dresses we’d ordered for myself and my younger daughter for the wedding. There with the others was my mom’s dress. She would not be wearing it to the wedding. My mom died in December 2020 shortly after she was diagnosed with widespread cancer.

My mom loved being a mother, but she adored being a grandma — or to use her own personal title, Grama. She found delight and freedom in doting on her granddaughters that was just not feasible decades earlier as a mom raising her daughters. As Grama, one step removed from the parenting responsibilities, she quietly spoiled her granddaughters, ran interference for them, and advocated for them. She cherished them and always took their side. She baked, sent cards, dropped off little gifts to mark occasions or milestones, and found creative ways to gift them money at holidays. Being Grama brought my mom great joy and brought out the best in her.

It still stings that my mom didn’t get to go to the “second” wedding this summer. She would have enjoyed the storytelling and toasting the couple. She would have loved seeing her oldest granddaughter in her beautiful dress, looking so happy surrounded at last by friends and family. Grama would have been a little self-conscious about all the photos, but she surely would have found it easy to smile standing with the happy bride and groom.

I wasn’t sure how it would feel to be there without her. It was certainly simpler to have one less 80-something grandparent to look out for. She wasn’t an easy traveler. The oppressive heat would have been tough on her. Still, I really missed having her there in her long gown. I would have loved to see my mom’s blue eyes shining with the love a Grama has for her precious granddaughter on her wedding day.

Alicia Anderson lives in Lemont with her husband and Siberian Huskies. She has served as campus minister for Lutheran Campus Ministry at Penn State since 1996. This column is coordinated by, whose mission is to create educational and conversational opportunities for meaningful intergenerational exchanges on loss, grief, growth and transformation.

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