Grief Doesn’t Knock. It Just Lets Itself In
When my grandmother died, the first thing coworkers asked was, “Were you close?”
That’s a complicated question to answer. Three of my grandparents died when I was young, so my grandmother took on all of their duties.
Out of my siblings, I believe that I spent the most time with her. She gave me crayons and coloring books. She baked cookies and took me swimming. Frequently as a child, I had sleepovers at her house. She lived right by the highway, and at night, the rushing cars sounded like ocean waves.
When I was older, she schooled me in gardening and nutrition, business and psychology. She encouraged my writing, but not in the “write, but have a backup plan” way other people did. She believed that I could make a career of it, and told me so.
She was a voracious reader, and my brother and I still have many books she gave us. I still have her letters somewhere, in a bundle. I wish she’d written a book. I’d like to read it.
She had a stormy temper, which I inherited. She said whatever was on her mind, and so did I, and the two of us were like gunpowder and a match. But she helped cultivate a fierceness in me as well as a softness. Sometimes, she knew, you have to argue to get what you want; sometimes, kindness goes a long way.
She moved far away when I was a teenager, and due to the distance, it was like a door closed between us. I observed, as if through a keyhole, how her memory started to fade.
In a way, she died twice. Once, when I she forgot who I was, and the second time, for good.
In her final days, she had to be in a nursing home for round-the-clock care. I made the drive see her a few weeks before she died. My grandmother was thin, but she opened her eyes when she saw me.
“How are you?” I asked.
“Fine,” she replied. She looked content, but tired.
She didn’t remember me, and oddly enough, it didn’t bother me. She always acted like I was an old friend.
I thought for sure that she’d bounce back. She was on hospice, but people could be on hospice for months. She had already survived so much. I made plans to visit her again.
Then I got the call: She was gone.
I was shocked by the news but felt fine at first. I went to bed thinking, Shouldn’t I feel sad? My grandmother died, and when I woke up, the grief was there, waiting for me. Grief doesn’t knock, you see. It just lets itself in.
It was like a fog had settled around me, giving everything a gray tint. Picking out a funeral outfit suddenly seemed insurmountable. I went through my closet, and realized I’d given away my black funeral dress, and even my back-up navy funeral dress, in a closet purge. I guess I was under the impression that no one was ever going to die.
A trend in funerals is to make a collage of photos of the deceased. I highly recommend that, because while I was sad at first, sifting through endless photos for the few recent pictures I had of my grandmother, as I kept digging, all the memories came flooding back. For a few days, I felt better.
But at the wake, I burst into tears. I couldn’t understand it. My grandmother lived to an old age, and was ready to die. Why couldn’t I let her go?
We placed pink flowers on her casket. Everyone touched it and whispered something. “See you,” I said.
I was angry for a while, but finally, when my coworkers handed me a card filled with their handwritten well-wishes, I felt better. As if the card contained all of the emotion, and I could finally let it go.
Someone asked me about inheritance, which I thought was a little rude. I didn’t need nor expect anything. My grandmother had dementia for years; all of her savings was spent on her care.
But the small possessions remain. The things that didn’t sell.
A relative dropped off a measuring mat for sewing. It allows you to make precise cuts of fabric. Kind of an odd item, but everyone else who would want one, had one, so it came to me.
One day, I started using it to sew a blanket for a future baby. Isn’t it strange, how life works? Even though she’s gone, my grandmother is still guiding my hand.