Saturday, September 1, 2012

Letter to Grandma Liz

Dear Grandma Liz,

Nice trick, dying on your eighty-eighth birthday.  A nice symmetry to that.  And the two eights, like infinity symbols. Very cool. I’ll have to remember that when my time comes.

I kind of wish you could have taken the very end more slowly, and let my mother arrive at the hospital. She was at my house, where she’d been helping take care of my kids, your great-granddaughters, in the week before Kindergarten started up full time for the youngest. She was at the airport, two hours from your side, when she got the news. That was hard.

When it’s time, it’s time, I guess.  I wouldn’t have wanted you to suffer, but Mom would have liked to have held your hand and heard your voice one last time.

She’s staying really busy right now, sorting your belongings and papers, making sure the money and legal details are in place. She’s really pretty amazing.  You’d be proud of her, I think. She’s stubborn like you.  And like you, she’s fiercely proud and doesn’t want to let us help her.  (We’re making her let us help, though).

I miss you, Grandma. I’m glad I got to see you so recently, even if you were kind of angry at the world that day. I can definitely understand being angry. I think I’d be angry, too. Getting old sucks.

There’s all the things you didn’t do yet and it was becoming clear that you were running out of time. Your body wouldn’t do all the things you wanted it to do. And there’s all the things you knew we were going to do that you wouldn’t like. That feeling of not being in control of the things you wanted to be in control of. As you thought back on your life in those last weeks, I hope you thought about the happy things, too, and not just the slights you felt you had received.

I was at your house today, helping sort things and clean up, making it into the space it will next be.  You wouldn’t like the changes we made. We got rid of your gray rug.  We took the pictures off the walls (we’re planning to scan the old ones for all to share and let your children take the ones that apply to them).  We took down about half of the draperies and let the sunshine into your front living room.  I think it looks pretty good!

I hope you understand that none of that was a lack of respect for you.  I think you’ll be happy to know that your old house is going to be home to two young couples in our family as well as to your youngest son.  I’m happy that it’ll still be lived in by people I love. Letting your old house become something different makes it less sad, makes it possible to be there without wanting to cry.

We all really do want to cry. Some of us are holding it in. Some of us don’t hide it as well.  

Looking around at all your pictures today made me both happy and sad. How much you loved us all really showed. After all, you wanted images of all of us around you all the time. So much so that you couldn’t really see the walls at your house for all the smiling faces framed on them. You found something to be proud of each one of us for, and the evidence was everywhere.

Mostly, I liked finding the pictures of you. You as a teenager, taller than the other girls in your class picture, your head ducked down. I had a feeling you got caught about to laugh.

You as a young not-yet-married woman with flowers in your hair, and lipstick on. I imagine the lipstick was red, even though the picture was black and white and I couldn’t really tell.  

You with two babies on your lap, one of them my mother. Already they were pulling in two different directions, my mother and her oldest brother, and you were trying to hold them both at the same time.

You with the big sombrero on. You were so beautiful, and glamorous.  

The ones where you started to look like the Grandma I remember from childhood, your dark-framed glasses and dyed red hair, more orange than your natural red had been, before you decided to let it go white. I liked the one from someone’s wedding where your hair was a big Jackie-O type helmet all around your head.  You were grinning. You must have approved of the match.

And that one of you and me and Mom sitting at Grandma Lena’s grave and eating fried chicken.  That was such a good day.  One of the first ones when I felt like a grownup, included with the other grownups, all three of us missing your mother together.

It was a pretty amazing life, Grandma. I know you sometimes lamented the timing of your birth. That you wished you could’ve had a career like me or my sister and had more independence.  You should know though, that your belief is us is why we can.  We wouldn’t be the women we are if you weren’t the woman you were.

We were lucky to have you.

Enjoy heaven, Grandma. Try not to raise too much hell up there.


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