I lost my Gramma almost 11 years ago. She passed away suddenly on May 10, 2003, in a hospital while being treated for cancer. She died after having come to some kind of terms with facing cancer, the thought of losing her hair, the thought of getting sicker before she got better…and the thought that she may just not get better anyway. It seems almost cruel to put someone through all that and then whisk her away.
She died suddenly — we think it was an aneurysm. I’m not sure if that’s Irony or Mercy. I’m not sure it “worked out the way it should” or if it “happened for a reason.” I’m not sure if God blessed her with that trial and didn’t give her more than she could bear. That’s what happens. We are constantly given more than we can bear. That’s how we learn and grow. That’s how we learn to make decisions and appreciate living “happily ever after” that particular trial is over. Or, conversely, that’s how we learn we do have some center of strength which we use to pick ourselves up after a horrible decision and attempt to glue the disconnected shards of our lives back together and sometimes, attempt to find all the pieces of ourselves that were blown apart when our lives exploded and piece them back together well enough to find room in our broken hearts for love of ourselves, of our fellow humans, and finding enough of ourselves and of Love to share it with our children, families and maybe someone new.
I couldn’t bear losing Gramma. Time does not heal all wounds. Time does not deaden the pain. Time does not lend perspective. Time becomes a Hell of its own.
Gramma died shortly after my daughter Charity was born. Charity doesn’t remember her. Gramma died before the births of my last two children: Chayton and Abigail. She missed my divorce and breakdown. She missed me finding someone new who didn’t mind my newly formed rough edges or worn down sense of self. She missed my recovery. She missed getting to know the person I am now. She missed the chance to be proud of me for who I am, for who I’ve become, for the fires I’ve walked through. She missed the opportunity to give me advice, to cry with me, to laugh with me, to pour me a drink. She missed our dogs.
Gramma always wanted a pet and never had one. After she married Grampa he sort of forbade it so she kind of loved them from a distance. She would have loved some of our dogs. She would have shaken her head at others. She would have praised them for learning tricks (much like she did with my brother and me), and shook her head when they did something dumb. (Again, much like she did with my brother and me.)
She missed the chance to show me how to not kill off my houseplants. I have no idea if she knew how to can fruit. She missed the chance to try all the different foods and desserts I’ve come up with on my own just because cooking reminds me of her. One of the first things my new man and I did was visit her grave and sit beside her telling her what was new, and that I missed her very much. My guy held me there in the grass by her headstone as I cried. That sealed him into my life for certain.
Gramma missed me finding someone who appreciated all of me…not just the perfect working, clear headed, semi-intelligent parts…but the parts that wanted to try new things like writing, who wanted to rediscover my old love of photography, parts that were broken and couldn’t find the energy to trust, or try new situations, that were too scared to leave my house and make the attempt to function beside other members of society. He loved the part that couldn’t look other people in the eye and had trouble holding up my end of conversations. He was in it for the whole package, not just for what I could do or what he wanted me to do for him. Because of him, because of that depth of love I emerged fro my shell. I look people in the eye. I stand up for myself. I push myself into new circumstances. I show confidence even when I feel like I’m over my head. She missed that.
Gramma hardly ever left her corner of the world. She was born in northwestern PA and her life ended in NY state. Her life was mostly contained in a circle of a few hundred miles. No matter where I am I want to show her my house. I want to take her to yard sales and show her how to reupholster chairs. I want her to help me pick out paint. I even want to see her wrinkle her nose at things I’ve chosen because she can’t see how they’ll work in a room.
I want her to be in the same room laughing at the same stupid jokes. I want her to get tipsy on Thanksgiving and not be able to stop giggling because everything is suddenly funny. I want her to gasp and make faces when one of my kids surprise her with a sour candy. I want to sneak up on her and get a picture of her laughing. Most of our pictures of her are sort of posed. Where she knew a picture was coming. She is still, straight faced and sometimes mid-blink. Most of what we have to document her life are photos of her doing various things with a DMV worthy expression on her face and that isn’t who she was at all.
I miss her refusing to wade because the water is too cold. I miss her being over-protective while we’re being over-confident in ourselves and the world around us. Sometimes we got hurt. Sometimes we had personal victories. Sometimes all of us walked away shaking our heads, but always Gramma was there.
I didn’t realize until after Gramma died that I’ve gotten most of my physical features from her. My father is Native American. I assumed that what didn’t fit in my small framed, light skinned, blonde mother’s life came from him. I have Gramma’s high forehead and Widow’s Peak hairline. I have Gramma’s whacky eyebrows, her defined cheekbones, her coloring. Everything I had attributed to my mystical Native American father I found in my Polish-American Gramma.
I can’t remember addresses of places I used to live or email addresses I used to have, but I can still remember her phone number, although I no longer try to call. It’s been long enough that I don’t think or say “I need to tell Gramma this.” I no longer fumble around my house and say, “Gramma had a (whatever), I wonder if I could borrow it.” Time hasn’t healed anything…it just prevents me from looking like a moron.
Right now, Spring has come to Alabama. When all my relatives in PA and NY are still being snowed on or snowed under, I have set out furniture on my front porch. I’ve already mowed twice this year. My house plants are on the porch. Well, house plant. There is only one lone survivor. Today it isn’t too hot and the sun is out. The sky is blue with fluffy white clouds and I find myself wishing I could pour some sweet tea and invite Gramma to come sit with me on the porch while we watch Abigail (now four and a half) play in the yard.
I miss her like hell. I hope I’ve become someone she would be proud of. Wherever she is, whatever happens to us when we leave this earth and our bodies become this earth I hope there is a place I will see her again because I never got to thank her. And because she left so quickly, I never got to say goodbye. I want to hug her and say, “You left without me. I missed you.”