“Nicole, it’s Grandmother,” her voice says into my ear. “I have tacos, both hard and soft. Let me know what you want, all right? Bye, now.” I hit the play button as soon as the recording ends to hear her voice again. It’s not that I didn’t catch the information the first time around. I memorized the words months ago from that voicemail left on Sept. 22, 2017 at 1:19 p.m. It’s the last voicemail my grandmother ever left me.

A hundred days later she was gone. Claire Mercier died on New Year’s Eve, just a few minutes past midnight. I had always thought she was invincible. Not in the “she’ll cheat death” way, but that she would have at least been around for major milestones in my life before she died: the day my house was complete, the day I got married, the day I had my first child.

But other forces were in control, and I’ve had to come to terms with the fact that she won’t be around for those happy and joyous occasions. And as I look back now and reflect on the time I did have with her, I realize how incredibly lucky I’ve been.

For the past four years I spent every lunch hour during the work week with her, and my grandfather before he died in the spring of 2016. She would make me lunch. We would watch daytime talk shows. She’d comment on my attire for that day — heavily hinting if she thought it was too scandalous, but never saying so outright. She’d tell me how she slept the night before, what she watched on TV, what she made for dinner. She would regale me and my Auntie Paulee, who also got to enjoy her lunch break with us, with the same stories each day. Old age will do that to you. She’d tell me about the Mass she had watched that morning and whether or not she enjoyed the priest. She would give me life advice. She’d complain about all the emergency vehicles in the summer and the biplane that flew overhead. She’d watch the weather channel and fill me in on what to expect in the forecast. We would argue politics — sometimes it would get heated. But no matter what, before I left, we would do a little handshake and she would laugh and tell me she loved me.

It was like clockwork, those lunch hours I spent with my grandmother. And then it all changed.

She got sick and was in and out of the hospital. Our lunch dates abruptly ended. The routine we both loved was over. I would visit her in the hospital and sit there while she slept and hold her hand. And in those quiet moments as I listened to her breathe in that long, slow way someone in a deep slumber does, I would think of all the memories I had with her as I grew up on Martha’s Vineyard.

As a child, my grandparents’ house was a hub for me. Located a stone’s throw away from the Edgartown School, it’s where I would walk after the day to hang out, and most of the time ruin my dinner by snacking. Their house was where I spent numerous Saturday nights with my cousins for sleepovers — and Sunday mornings when we ate my grandfather’s famous French toast. I cultivated my love for Wheel of Fortune and Jeopardy! there. It’s where the Mercier clan would congregate as one huge family for Thanksgiving, Christmas and Easter meals. Tables in the living room, dining room and kitchen would barely fit the number of people that would cram into that cozy home for a delicious home-cooked meal.

The house on Cooke Street is where I would dance with my grandmother in her kitchen. What a Wonderful World by Louis Armstrong was her all-time favorite, but Mambo No. 5 by Lou Bega could be heard at times too. It was in that kitchen, almost a year ago now, where I sang Happy Birthday to her the day she turned 86. I held her, my chin resting atop her head, and we swayed back and forth as I sang and she hummed along. If only I had known it would be the last time.

Sickness changes people. One minute I had a vibrant grandmother who loved to laugh, the next I had a grandmother who wouldn’t talk or look me in the eye. She felt betrayed with how her body was failing her. She knew her time with us was ending. She became stubborn and out of anger and sadness she stopped talking to all of her loved ones.

And then a Christmas miracle happened. How cliche, I know. But it’s true: On Christmas day she was awake and talking to each person who came to visit. I fed her breakfast and we watched a movie on the Hallmark channel. When I left to let other family members have time with her, I told her I loved her, just like I always did. And after weeks of not saying it, she finally said it back. Six days later she left this life to be with my grandfather in heaven.

It’s hard coming to terms with the fact that I didn’t get to say an actual goodbye. Just a few minutes between us where I could have told her just how much she meant to me would have been enough. I should have really been doing that my whole life. But who thinks to do that when you believe you still have an unmeasurable amount of time left with a person? It’s a lesson I’ve had to learn the hard way.

But I still have all our memories together, and I still get to hear her voice. I’ve saved just one other voicemail from her. “I’m calling to let you know that I will be looking to see you,” her voice will tell me forever. “Love you.”