I knew I was going to fall off of the writing wagon eventually, but I can’t believe I haven’t done anything in a whole month. Thankfully I just completed a couple of writing projects for work, but it’s nothing compared to what I should have been doing. For shame, for real.
A topic heavy on my mind lately is the recent death of my grandmother. She lived a wonderful life up until the age of 86, but recent mental and physical declines simply proved too much for her body. On the morning of March 14, I was glad to be in the room with her and my mom and aunts and uncles as she took her last breath.
There was no daycare for my sister and I when we were little: there was simply Grandma and Grandpa’s house. Thanks to all this valuable time spent, and the fact that my mom never moved away from home as her siblings did, we were able to form a very close relationship with both grandparents. While I miss them dearly, it’s a relief knowing that they are now both chilling out together upstairs.
My grandfather passed away when I was 16, but this time I was struck by how different it is to process this type of death as an adult. I found myself aching not only for Grandma, but for my mom, who was Grandma’s primary caretaker. Here she was, used to spending every Saturday with her, the whole mother-child relationship now in full reversal, faced with the loss of both parents. If one thing became crystal clear the last couple of weeks, it’s that I’m in no way prepared to lose my parents, and I can only hope to take as good of care of my mom as she took of hers.
The week that Grandma died was sort of a blur. From the late-night phone call that prompted my drive home, two and a half hours across Wisconsin in the total emptiness of a black Friday morning, to 20 hours waiting and wandering in a hospital. 24 hours without sleep, busying myself with household chores that I didn’t want my mom to have to deal with when she came home. A trip to Madison and back to get my sister from the airport. Scads of family arriving from all parts of the US (birthing six kids eventually results in a whole lot of people, turns out). A drive back to Milwaukee to tidy up the house, check on the cat, pack up our funeral clothes, and work a half-day. Back to mom and dad’s, where even more family had arrived, people dropping in and out so frequently that it felt like my brief trip back to Milwaukee hadn’t even happened. So much food and beer, I felt like the recycling men were going to seriously judge my parents that week.
I’ve never been appalled or frightened by death, and my grandma’s was no exception. It’s easy for me to say of course, but I was at peace with the parting. I had been home almost once a month as of late, and I know the last thing I said to her, that she could hear me say anyway, was that I loved her. We always left each other with a hug and that same sentiment. Most family will attest that Grandma was a crier when it came time to say goodbye to anybody, but she had stopped doing that in the last year or so. It was like she was becoming detached. The last afternoon I spent with her was when I was home in February, cleaning out my parents’ basement, going through old photos and school projects, reflecting on childhood. It seems fitting now.
Goodbyes are hard enough without having to do them over and over again. We say goodbye to Grandma’s body in the hospital bed. And again at the wake. Again during the funeral, and at last when she’s lowered into the ground. I understand that some people need that time, but somehow, it felt like she was already gone and the rest was just theatrics. The sorest spot was thinking of my mom and how she would adjust to life without her mom.
But I was glad that my sister and I were there. I was glad that the last night we spent at home that week was just the two of us and mom and dad. A family of four, like the old days. I was grateful for all the time spent with nearly every single person on my mom’s side of the family. Even the time spent just sitting around the kitchen table. All of that time matters and now that Grandma’s gone, I hope we’ll find happier reasons to all hang out again soon.