See, me and you, our relationship was different. Calling you my ‘grandma’ almost devalues it. Like you were merely some lady I visited every other summer. But you are the woman my father took me home from the hospital to, the person who raised me, the ONLY constant in my life and essentially… you are my mother. Although your other grandchildren, each of them having their own special relationship with you, are in just as much pain as I am, they still get to go home to their moms and have that maternal guidance. Your actual children; though they could have never been ready to lose you, had the privilege of embarking on adulthood with the support only a mother could provide. But me, I’m at the ‘in between’. Where I’m just too young to be losing my mother. And I just feel so robbed.
Because when that time comes, I can’t call on you to find out how you make your laundry smell like perfection. Or how to cook a Thanksgiving dinner fit for a king. There is no one to make proud. And the thought of having children without you there to show me how to be half the mother you were is downright unbearable. Every woman gets help from their mom when they have their first kid. But I won’t. And honestly, if my children have to be deprived of your gentleness, then I don’t want any. Even now, I am so conflicted about the direction my life is going, and I know you’re the only person who would listen and guide me the right way. You used to sing to me ‘the best has yet to come’, but it’s hard for me to believe that, Grandma. Because no matter what I accomplish or how much of the world I get to experience, it will never compare to the times I had with you. That was ‘the best’… and it has already passed. I’m 20-something and I already believe there’s nothing to look forward to.
I’m grieving the loss of my mother, except the world isn’t as forgiving when the title is ‘grandma’. The same friends whose aid I ran to when they lost their parent, the same ones I listened to cry in my ear for hours on end about their hurt, were nowhere to be found when I was bedridden and not eating for three days. I wasn’t granted the 2 weeks ‘bereavement leave’ allotted to those who lose their parent at work but was expected to be there, smiling and greeting. I had to save my tears for the train rides home. And it hasn’t even been a month since you’ve been gone, yet everyone is treating me like I should be over it by now. But really, I just want to fall out on the floor, kick my feet and throw a tantrum over your absence. I feel guilty for even continuing to live in a post-you world. There are even times when I’m downright angry at you for leaving…. and I hate myself for that. But most of the time, life just feels like this surreal lucid dream that I’m waiting to wake up from. Because… this, this can’t be real life. My psyche just won’t even allow me to grasp the concept that I will never see you again.
People tend to romanticize things when they lose someone they love, but I don’t even have to. Sometimes just reminiscing about you hurts because it brings me back to a time when life was damned near perfect. My childhood with you was truly magical. The way I’d go to sleep on Christmas Eve in a tree-less house certain that the next day would just be another regular day and wake up with an 8 foot, fully decorated Christmas tree surrounded by a train and a plethora of toys. The way you’d have a glass of cold milk waiting by side when I’d randomly wake up in the middle of the night. The smell of your house during the summer. The taste of the tomatoes you grew in your garden. The sounds of the pool in the backyard. The comfort I felt whenever I was in your presence. I knew that I was in the presence of someone who truly and utterly wanted what was best for me. No expectations, ulterior motives or egoism. This was someone who loved me unconditionally. It was nurturing. You were my safety net.
Even when my father would move us away from you, you remained my best friend. Until I reached middle school and became old enough to make the decision to stay with you for good. It didn’t matter if my father and brothers moved a few blocks away, to the next town, or to Georgia, I stayed with you. We were inseparable. I grew into the type of teenager who would prefer to stay in on Friday nights with you, talking or perusing your music collection. And then your disease came. Except, none of us recognized it for what it was. I remember when you first started hiding stuff, misplacing money, and lashing out. I once told you, ‘I never know how if you’re going to wake up angry at me or laughing with me.’ I didn’t realize that all of this was a part of your disease but I regret that I didn’t. Maybe I could’ve stopped it.
Once your Alzheimers got to a point that you couldn’t remember my name, I was heartbroken. But there were times… these times when you would talk to me thinking that I was Aunt Endi or one of your sisters. It allowed me hear stores you never shared before and to know parts of you I had never known. Which felt good. The last day I saw you, I immediately broke down. You were in so much pain and it killed me. I started apologizing for every little argument and telling you how much I missed you and needed you. You stepped out of your dementia, looked at me, cried and said ‘I love you’. I was in complete disbelief. It was exactly what I needed to hear. And even in your final days, you were still protecting MY heart. You were hurt by MY hurt. You were so selfless.
Your memorial was the hardest day of my life. Just seeing the family, the pain in their faces and realizing what we were all there for made me burst into tears. I barfed twice before we even got to the eulogy. But hearing what everyone had to say about you, Grandma, truly warmed my heart. Everyone talked about how you had an open door policy, how many kids you raised, how you’d take in a stranger, how you accepted everyone as they were, how you had a way of making each and every person feel like they were special and just how significant the impact you had on their lives was. They weren’t just idealizing you because you were gone… because as their stories of how you impacted their lives unfolded, I remembered….
I remember Rory coming to stay with us when he was facing adversity and how the two of you would stay up all night playing cards and talking. I remember Uncle Arthur stopping by every couple of weeks just to sit on the couch and have a talk with you. So many people did that. People around the neighborhood, distant relatives, even my friends, would just stop by our house to talk to you because your spirit was just that uplifting. I witnessed you take in complete strangers. I saw you stick up for the underdogs and love the outcasts firsthand. People didn’t have to embellish because you really lived that way. Not because you wanted some sort of recognition. Not because the bible told you to. Not so that they would return the favor. Because that was just your nature. And to think that all I’ve witnessed was only ? of your life…
I love you Grandma and I yearn for you every second of every day. While I work. While I eat. While I play. While I sleep. It just never goes away. I literally can’t go a day without recalling something you’ve taught me or said to me. But even your passing makes me stronger. Because the thing I feared more than anything in the world has already happened to me. Everything that is good within me, from my inner egalitarian to my free thinking comes from the values you instilled in me. Not by telling me, but by genuinely living that way. I can’t even believe someone ever even loved me as much as you did. But I’m honored to have felt something so pure and unconditional just once in my life. If you’re desire to be with your mother is as strong as my desire to be with you, then I’m happy for you. I love you.