My grandma is dead. It was a Saturday, around lunch time. (In my family, we tend to measure time by the meals, not the hours.) She looked like herself, just hooked to machines, and there was one that wouldn’t stop beeping, which provided the humor my family survives on.
I was holding her hand, swollen with medicine, pushing dimples into her knuckles, remarking on her thin nails, and fingering her medical bracelet.
After they removed the ventilator, it was a long thirty something minutes of the sounds people make when their last breaths are pushing out of their lungs. You aren’t ready for what these sounds are, because death is very different in movies and on TV.
Death was watching her eyes that were not watching anything. Death was praying she was reaching for the angels, and that she felt no pain. It was crying because my dad was crying. It was watching a heart rate monitor go from 60 to 14 beats per minute, until the nurse shut off the machine. She was pink, and then blue, and then grey. It was quiet sniffles, and barely hugs. And then not knowing what the hell to do with ourselves when it was over.
This all happened about two weeks ago. I’m a person who processes through writing; I’m 100% more likely to text you something lovely than actually tell you something lovely. I don’t know how I feel about something until I’ve written it down and made it real to myself. I think it has taken me this long to write about it happening because it doesn’t seem real.
A grandparent dying is one of the stages of “growing up” that I haven’t had to go through yet, as my parents were so young when they had me. My grandma did not age well – she stopped taking care of herself a few years ago after a car accident. Then she was placed in a very nice home in Rossmoor about two years ago, where she hated the loss of her independence and the change of environment, probably never quite realizing how much help she really needed.
In the past few years, as will happen, she stopped being the grandma I remember, and became an old person. It was hard to talk to her or hang out with her, because it was so different than the grandma in my mind.
One of my first memories of her, I think I was four, is waking up in her house when I was spending the night, I think I was scared, and I ran to her and my grandpa’s room. She called me her “little darling” in the special voice she always used with those words, and let me sleep with them. That is the only memory I have of my grandparents married.
We used to sit at the kitchen counter while she made cookies, and she would give us bowls of brown sugar and chocolate chips. We learned to swim in her pool; I remember her wearing mumus and swimming in bathing suits with flowers and little skirts on them. She would swim laps of breast stroke – careful not to wet her always dyed hair – and the way she would always spit out water as she swam. She sewed us jumpers and flower girl dresses and Christmas pinafores. We used a lot of puff paint and completed a lot of puzzles and learned a lot of card games with G’ma <— she always wrote her name that way.
She traveled the world and collected spoons, of all things. She was in Australia when I was born, and in Russia when I graduated high school. She was very proud of her family heritage, traced back to the Mayflower (I don’t even know if that’s true, but if G’ma said it, I wasn’t going to argue!). She taught 1st and 2nd grade for 30 something years in poor areas of Pittsburg and Antioch, and had such a heart for the kids she met there. I remember visiting her class when I was young. She loved and was loved.
She was so proud of her grandchildren. She loved coming to see me in musicals – she always made me a photo collage afterwards. I’ll never forget how she cried when I received scholarships to go to college. She loved hearing about my travels and talking to me about teaching when I began my career in education. She always kept toy blocks at her house for the various little kids we brought over.
Even as she got older, shaky, forgetful, she could be so sassy. This summer, I was somehow chosen to be her “bathroom buddy” and get her in and on and out of the bathroom, and we would spend twenty something minutes in my aunt’s bathroom – her on the toilet, me with a glass of wine, just shooting the breeze.
Her eyes never lost their color, and her eyebrows could still arch at you and she’d nail you with a smartass comment about just anything.
She bought me my first guitar, hung homemade stockings for every child and grandchild every Christmas, and called her car a brown M&M. And I’ll never forget when for my birthday one year, in my twenties, she gave me the VHS copy of a movie that I had probably watched a thousand times at her house between the ages of 7-13. I don’t know why she kept it so long. It’s still on my shelves. Who even has a VCR anymore.
When someone dies that you don’t see every day, it’s easy to pretend it’s not real. I’ve cried, but not too much. It’s just when I scroll through my phone and see her number that I’ll never dial again, or come across a random picture, or think to the next family holiday, that I realize the role she played in our lives.
I know she’s walking comfortably for the first time in years, and arguing politics, and telling stories that never seem to end, and always feature three or four women named the same thing, and sewing, and doing the crossword puzzle from People magazine, and dancing with Jesus and her parents up in Heaven. And there are no more tears, no more pain.
And we will meet again.