I try to remember exactly when it was that I last hugged my 96-year-old grandmother Bubby, what I said or what she wore. But my memories fail me.

Because Bubby always lived in Southern California, she was the grandparent we heard from regularly but rarely saw. When I was growing up, she would send envelopes stuffed with random news clippings that smelled of mothballs, scribbled with notes. She sent hand-painted porcelain dolls that she had made at the senior center or a box filled with a random collection of hotel soaps and perfume samples.

Growing up, we only visited her a handful of a times. She’d tell stories about what it was like to grow up during the Great Depression or her memories of working in a factory in Pennsylvania during World War II. She’d tell us about her three brothers who fought in “the war” and the one brother who didn’t come back - the pain was still evident, a lifetime later.

Bubby was a head-strong, determined woman who knew how to get her way. But she was also someone who loved her family deeply, despite the distance.

After my dad moved out to California when I was in college to help take care of Bubby, I was able to visit California more frequently. By then, her mind was starting to fade. There was the time she demanded I wear one of her dresses from the 1940s while we went to eat dinner at the Sizzler.

The first time I brought my boyfriend - who would later become my husband - out to California, Bubby had gifts for us, which we later realized were items she found around her house and had wrapped. As we opened the gifts, she excitedly asked, “What is it?” It was as much a surprise for her as it was for us. My father received a 1970s cookbook, I got a silver butter dish. My boyfriend received a 18-inch Jesus doll, which had arms spread wide with hands wrapped in bubble wrap. Welcome to the family, I thought jokingly at the time.

Over the last decade, as Bubby became frail and bedridden, every time I saw her, I’d say goodbye and try to make it count. I never knew if it was the last time. Even though she became painfully quiet in her old age - she was never one to hold back her thoughts in her prime - I’d try to share my life with her. I’d introduce her to my three children, to my husband and show her pictures of our life in Alabama. Sometimes, she’d nod or give a quiet smile. Other times, I’m not sure she even knew who I was.

Still, I’d try to continue, looking into her eyes, which were a mirror of my own, trying to burn details into my mind, the fact that she had remarkably good skin and few wrinkles for someone in their 90’s, or that her nose looked uncannily like my own.

In late January, we got the call that Bubby had been taken by ambulance to the hospital from her nursing home. At first, it didn’t seem to be too serious. She was awake and more lucid than usual. But then word came that her body was finally giving way.

“It’s time,” my father said as he choked up over the phone, standing her hospital room. I wasn’t sure if she’d be able to talk, but I wanted to say goodbye. Dad held the phone up to her ear.

“Hello?” she said, as clear as ever. I told her I loved her and she said it back, repeatedly. I told her she lived a good life. And then she said goodbye. The last goodbye.

It was a short conversation, but possibly the most words she had said on the phone to me in years.

My father said that after she said goodbye to my sister and me, she spent the evening repeating the Lord’s Prayer, sometimes intermittently repeating the nursery rhyme “One, Two, Buckle My Shoe.” Within a few hours, she was gone.

Last week, my 9-year-old daughter and I sat in a garden with overlooking the Pacific Ocean, only yards from the church where Bubby once sang in the choir. The surrounding hills were unusually in bloom due to the amount of rain this spring, and through the coastal haze, you could almost make out Catalina Island.

My daughter sat in the front row of folding chairs, fidgeting with a gold necklace around her neck, one that once belonged to Bubby. On that row sat three generations of women in our family - Bubby’s granddaughters, great-granddaughters and great-great granddaughter. As the minister read a few scriptures as part of her memorial service, I thought about what to say. But then I realized, I already said what I wanted to say to her. She knew she was loved, and that it was her end.

For me, that was enough.
Lydia Seabol Avant writes The Mom Stop for The Tuscaloosa News in Tuscaloosa, Alabama. Reach her at lydia.seabolavant@tuscaloosanews.com.