TC, USA, Grandmothers Death
Memory is a complex thing in certain times. In our youth it tends to skew towards the times in which we had the most fun, met our best friends or future loves, or the unfortunate deaths of our nearest loved ones. The rest tends to fall by the wayside as excess, events leading us to the knowledge we retain today, like so much stowed gear.
My memory is no different, and of the few memories I vividly remember from my childhood those of happiness and entertainment are the brightest. But, the single most vivid and subsequently painful memory I retain is that of my grandmother’s death.
From the time I was born, I was unfortunate in that I never met three of my grandparents. Mine is not a family of sound health and early life ailments claimed all but one of my parents’ parents. My grandmother however, on my mom’s side, was a source of much joy for me as a youngster, because of her ever present, ever spoiling smile and happy smile. I don’t pretend that I can’t remember those happy times or the sad times in which her life started to spiral toward the end.
You see, my grandmother was prone to serious health issues, including mental issues that occasionally led to horrible proceedings, such as the summer of 1993 in which she was gone for two months missing, having left the city in a fit of depression, leaving us to worry for her.
Her return put her in my mother’s care and we were together almost every day, spending our hours in the afternoon, playing video games, reading books, coloring pictures, and making lunches. She was there for us like any grandmother, but I can remember now how distant and quiet she was at most times.
And when she returned to Seattle the next year, leaving us to our own simple lives, it was only three months before the word was passed of her eventual fate. My mother woke us up on a surprisingly warm October morning to tell us that her mother had been diagnosed with a certain kind of cancer, inoperable and likely to lead to her death.
For me, it was not a matter of understanding death, but of accepting it. My brother however was left without the basic understanding of what was going on. As I sat, hoping to forget the pain of that morning’s revelation, of the horrible news that my only grandparent was going to die, I was forced to listen to my mother explain to my seven year old brother exactly what that meant. Was she going to heaven? Did she believe in God? What about her doggy? Was she going to be home for Christmas?
I felt something that morning that I wouldn’t recognize until seven months later; it was the sensation of absolute pain, of feeling the sting of every single word my brother said, as he relayed the questions that I had gained the tact in my years to keep to myself, even if barely. I could see it in the eyes of my mother, choking out her own answers, trying to be strong for us.
I didn’t ask her anything myself. I sat stoically, trying to pretend I was okay, all the while relaying just how broken up I was by the process. I suppose there are some things in life that happen for a reason, but death is never one of them, and for a child it is almost impossible to explain away that lack of sense. My brother asked questions up to the very second we caught the bus to school, and continued to ask them as I sat there beside him that morning. School was not fun that day.
When we finally saw our grandmother, a week or two later, sitting in the recliner in her living room, smoking a cigarette (“I’m dying anyway; why would I quite”) gesturing to the accoutered possessions of her lifetime, dictating who would get what. The concept of a written will, even in the shadow of her own mortality was foreign to her, too final a statement, written in stone as it were.
I didn’t think to myself then that I might never see her again. I didn’t recount the wonderful times that we had together, nor the efforts made to extend that time. I only stared at those walls full of books and the curtains, carefully sewn by hand in my infancy for her last home. I stared at all of the items that made her my grandmother and wondered what would become of them in ten years.
My mother and my uncle argued a lot after that. There was no will and the plans were under debate, everything except her cremation. I didn’t listen to the arguments, only read the books I’d been given; an entire wall of fantasy novels, carefully kept from a life long membership to the science fiction book club. I read them every day that winter, ignoring the world around me. Up to the slopes of Mt Rainer on the way to spread her ashes, I read Dragonmount. On the way to her wake, to meet the long lost relatives I’d never seen before, I read Crewel Lye. I sat in my corner of the mini van that was mine and absorbed the little world that was my sanctuary and ignored as best as I could the pain everyone around me was trying to hide.
The death of my grandmother was a hard time, and as the only one to ignore it for a year or more, it was even harder for me.