Isn't that a universal response? When you miss a bunch of calls from your family? Yeah, of course. So I thought my dad had died. He's been sick and so it's sort of expected (not to be grim, but dying is part of life...I know, I sound like an old pro at it, but I'm not).
Anyway, I called my mom and she said my sweet little grandma died in her sleep the night before.
That was expected too. She was ninety-two, exactly sixty years older than me (my mom is exactly thirty years older than me . . . there's some kind of mystical connection, I know there is, like the seventh son of the seventh son . . . hush, I believe in magic).
But still. It's weird. To know I'll never see her again in my life. When someone dies, it's then that I feel strongly that all our lives ARE a tapestry—we are threads woven through it—and when one of us goes, the whole fabric flexes and moves and we sense something has vanished. Something important.
It's ok. My grandma was ready to go and she lived a long, good life. It feels right to let her go. It's when someone is young that it doesn't feel right.
Allow me to believe that my grandpa was there waiting for her. Let me entertain the notion that my uncle Clair—her son who died in a work accident at twenty-eight—was also there waiting for her. And my uncle Wallace, who died too soon as well. She had a whole bevy of beloved family members waiting for her. I know she did.
She was the kind of woman you couldn't help but love. I aspire to be like her. It's weird, but I think that's what happens. When you're a kid you love people like your grandma unconditionally. And then, when you get older, you either love them that way or you realize they're kind of a jerk.
My grandma was never a jerk. She had opinions, but she was never a jerk about them (actually, they were most usually delightful in one way or another). She laughed a lot and somehow she was able to pierce to the heart of things with her eyes or her heart or her spirit. I have loads of relatives and my grandma loved them all. At Christmas she somehow managed to think of every single person under the sun who had anything to do with her brood and she gave them a little present.
Even the people who, through divorce or separation, were no longer legally considered "in the family." The gifts were never given with strings attached either and you could be sure they were just for you. She put thought into them. She knew you. That's how you felt getting a gift from her. And sometimes they were made with her own hands. A scarf, a hat, a quilt.
She had a way of lifting her chin to regard things that meant she was hiding something. An "I love you" or an "I can make it no matter what, I lived through the Depression and the War. Don't mess with me and put those toys away right now or else . . . ." She was Victorian. It wasn't until she began to sense herself drifting away from this world, longing more and more for the next (I think), that she let herself share her feelings. I think.
Few things could make her cry. I knew her after she'd weathered a lot of the blows life can deal. Clair's death was one of those sorrowful things (which I didn't understand till I got older). Because it was truly horrible. No parent should have to bury their child, they say, and I agree.
At some point in the past several years she learned to tell us that she loved us. You know it's hard for some people to say those words. And there are ways around it. "Love you." Is an easy one. It's kind of non-committal. Adding the personal pronoun makes it more personal. "I love you." And the person you're saying it to knows it. Even more powerful is adding a name at the end, "I love you, Nik."
You can't call me Nik. :) But my grandma did. And I hate to be selfish and say that I wish she would have stayed around for my whole life, always down there in Spring City with the rope swing in the huge cottonwood and the old dusty chicken coop full of cool junk, saying goodbye or hello, waving to us as she paused on the dirt path to her house with the sunlight filtering through the towering pines onto her red-gray hair looking, for all the world, like a Raphaelic angel. If Raphael had painted grandparents.
I hate to be selfish, but I do wish that. Because I'm selfish.
But life is full of goodbyes. Isn't it? That's what it really is. So get all your love in while you have the chance. That's what my grandma would say. And she did say that to me on a number of occasions, I'm sure, because I've often been the spoiled brat. I aspire to be less of a brat. I want to be like her.
Desire counts for something, doesn't it?