My grandmother died. On Thursday. It was not a lingering illness, but neither was it a surprise. She was 90. It was a peaceful end -- she had been only lightly conscious in days previous and on Thursday afternoon, she just quietly stopped breathing.
My dad was with her when she died, which, if she realized he was there at all, probably pleased her. She was closer -- in a buddy sort of way -- to her daughter and my dad's half-sister, but Dad was her "pride and joy."
I was not there. I pondered and even agonized a bit about going down to Florida as her health deteriorated over the last few weeks, but my dad kept saying "no, you won't want to remember her this way." What I finally figured out is that HE didn't want me to see her that way and once I realized that, it made it easier not to go. From all reports, she wouldn't have known one way or the other if I were there. I wanted to go anyway, but I could respect the somewhat misguided desire in my dad's head that I remember my grandmother listening to Tiger's game with us, taking us to the pool, or decorating that hilarious silver Christmas tree (the kind with the light wheel aimed at it that turned it blue, red, and green). I'm pretty sure that I could hold the hand of a frail and dying woman and still remember those things, but if it made it easier on my dad for me to not be there, I could do that too. He needed to tend her and himself; not me.
My grandmother was a funny woman. She was intensely social (which sort of explains my dad, for those of you that know him). She never learned to drive but even over the last 22 years, since my grandfather died, she never had need of a car because of her huge and close social network. She did not opt to think too deeply about the world around her and she tended to take things at face value but that also translated into a very matter of fact approach to life. She liked what she liked, she told you what that was, and she enjoyed it. She liked Rolling Rock beer and intense shades of red (red lipstick, red sweaters, red pants... and often all together, but never the same shade of red, much to my mother's chagrin). She told me once long ago, after expressing a bit of confusion as to why I lived with W but hadn't gone ahead and married him, "I loved to two men and had the good fortune to marry them both." She far outlived both her husbands, something she also took in stride, as was her practice.
She was not a touchy-feeling, deeply involved kind of grandma but she was probably one of the better members of my family in terms of expressing familial connection. Her cards always arrived in time for every holiday and birthday and while they rarely said much, they always said things like, "I love you" and "I'm proud of you" -- things the rest of my family would probably do well to say more often.
After my dad called me with the news of her death, I started to experience the "stress" (not sure of the right word) of dealing with her death as an intense tiredness. I still made it through my days: kids got to school, grant applications got filed, articles got read, dinner was made, and some guests were even hosted. But my overriding desire was to just sleep. I did make it through a family wedding on Saturday. The groom is my cousin from that side of the family -- so he was facing losing his grandmother days before his wedding. I was not originally going to attend this wedding, but the family -- mostly my dad and his sister -- wanted grandma's family (there aren't that many of us) to gather. So I went. And I made it through that -- though still in my zombie-like state. I talked with both my cousins -- particularly the one closest to my grandma. I hugged my aunt and uncle. I had a glass of wine with my dad.
While I felt fairly removed from the happenings of the wedding -- I am not particularly close to that extended family -- I felt good for having gone. And finally, sometime after midnight, the tiredness lifted. It was beautiful outside and I went for a walk.
2 months ago