What's Going On

Life has once again done that thing where it changes everything on you all at once, and I find myself in the strange peace that descends after a storm. My grandma passed away about a month ago, while I was thousands of miles away on business, and I haven’t quite known how to write about it.

Ever since I was little, I was crazy about my grandma. “My Ma, nobody else’s!” I used to say when I was little, and hug her hard around the neck. Then I’d run off to play in her amazing closet, piling on the jewelry and dresses and furs. We had an easy and lovely relationship my whole life, until she got old and needed me, and it got a lot more complicated.

Don’t get me wrong -- the rational part of my brain and the loving part were both so happy that I could be there for her these last ten years, and especially the last two, since she got really sick. But there was another part of me, too, that resented the encroachment on my freedom. And this conflict meant that I generally was trying to manage about ten different emotions, from fear to empathy to exasperation, all at the same time.

I’m not a person who’s drawn to caretaking, or who particularly enjoys it even. But there my sweet grandma was, older and more helpless with each passing day. She really did need someone to take responsibility for her, so I made the choice that I would. I’d help as best I could. I would not leave her to face the end of her life alone.

Of course, she was alone at the very end ... but she always hated being fussed after. So, maybe some part of her wanted to slip out while we weren’t looking. There’s no way of knowing, but either way, I have no regrets. My grandma knew I loved the heck out of her, even with all my teeth-gnashing and eye-rolling, just as I knew she loved the heck out of me even when she was cranky and short-tempered.

None of us are perfect ... But we try our best to do what’s right, to do what we said we’d do. And somehow that ends up being enough, I think.

When I think things like I’ll never wake up on my birthday morning and hear Ma sing to me ever again, I feel sad. But I’m also feeling … how to say it … complete? Like I had a job to do, and I did it decently well, and now it’s done.

What I don’t feel is despondent or depressed, because Ma had an excellent life, and living until age 90 and having a family that adores you is no tragedy.

And she was ready to go. She talked about death all the time, anticipating it, even getting annoyed that it was taking so long to arrive. The last few years were brutal for her. She was stuck in bed, in constant pain, and pissed off about it, as any of us would be. She didn’t see the point to it. She wanted some rest. I get that.

And then there’s the fact that I’ve already been grieving her, for a long time -- every little loss of mobility, of memory, of independence. I was with her for every bump down the mountain, and if you add up the hours I’ve spent crying, it must be weeks by now. Honestly? I’m all cried out. There may be more yet to come, but right now, I feel peaceful and calm. Ready for what’s next.

It’s going to take some time to sink in, I think, that our family's slow-motion emergency of the last two years is over. And it’s funny how it had sort of driven out a lot of my other memories about my grandma, from before she got so frail.

But as I was going through her apartment, I found the blue dress with gold medallions that she wore to my First Communion … the glow-in-the-dark rosary that she used to let me pray on when I came to visit … her enormous collection of trashy books with prayer cards and recipes stuck in the covers.

And with every artifact, memories flooded back. Like how she loved to cook for us, barbecue brisket and chicken cacciatore and buttery Yorkshire puddings that puffed up like magic … and how she loved going to the race track and drinking a couple beers and yelling for her favorites … and how she watched Oprah every single day and always called her “Ofrah.”

She was a real dame, my grandma -- tall and classy and down-to-earth and glamorous and hilarious and unbelievably warm. I can’t imagine I’ll ever meet anyone as sincerely sweet, and I’ll always miss her. But most of all, I’m glad she’s now at peace.