Monday, March 07, 2011

29 and not so fine...

Today is the 29th anniversary of my grandmother's death. It is a day where I will remember almost every detail to that day. It was a Sunday. We went to church and then took my father out for lunch - his birthday is the 6th. On the way home, my mother wanted to stop by the nursing home where my grandmother lived and visit. My dad said, "You just went yesterday for a visit. Just call when you get home."

(Just a note on that: That moment made me keenly aware that there is a plan and purpose to everything. Normally my father wouldn't have minded stopping by... but had we done so, we would have walked right in on her death itself.)

We got home to find the phone ringing -- the home calling to tell us to get to the hospital post-haste, that my grandmother had had some sort of episode. My brother and I stayed at home while my parents went flying. About a half-hour later, there was a knock on our front door. It was Granny B, my next-door neighbor..... "Children, I have some bad news. Your mama just called...." And I didn't need to hear anything else, even though she continued. I remember crying and crying and crying. I must explain: I was her oldest grandchild, only granddaughter, as my mother is an only child. My grandmother lived with us until I was 7, at which point she self-referred to a nursing home. Oh, my granny was something else, let me tell you.

People streamed in and out all day. People from church, local family, friends and neighbors alike. One I remember out of the entire blur was Mrs. Metz, who made this completely TDF caramel-frosted cake. Tee was another .... she came over to offer her friendship and care, and sometime about 6:00 (I think) I looked at her and said, "Oh yeah, what did you come here for?" (thinking it was flour or sugar or you know.... something on that line). She gave me a strange look and said, "Hunny, your granny died." I looked at her and went, "Oh yeah. Sorry."

I went to school the next day. There wasn't a thing I was needed for at home, and I needed to get my mind off things. I remember telling my 5th period teacher, "By the way, I won't be here tomorrow. My grandmother died yesterday, so...." Turns out her husband's grandmother lived at the same nursing home; she didn't know. That night was the viewing and receiving friends. Neither my brother nor I went. I had a lot of resentment about that for years. I thought my mother didn't want us there so she could soak up all the sympathies. I found out later that my mother didn't even know we weren't there. She had no idea, no memory, that she'd asked Tee's mom if we could stay with them that night until they got home.

Tuesday morning was her funeral, a little graveside service at 11:00. Again, another incident where my mother didn't let my brother and I take part in one thing, and I had great resentment. We didn't get to ride in the family car (from the funeral home), but some stinkin' distant cousin got to (bear in mind, I was 12). Oh, was I furious. Instead, we rode over with her best friend. I remember stomping through the cemetery to get to the tent, to have one of the funeral home people give me this look like "Family Only." Even then, I was a master of snark and said, "I'm the granddaughter," turned on my heel and went under the tent. I was in a mood, to be sure. And again, much later on, I found out that my mom had no idea of the details or the anger I felt about being "left out." She didn't even realize what had happened. Guess things really are a blur when it happens.

We came home to a wonderful spread by the Methodist Church and a houseful of relatives, laughing and joking and yukking it up..... and I wanted to unleash my verbal assaults on every last one of them. I could not wait for them to get out, leave us alone to our grief, and stop this madness. I didn't realize the healing that laughter and good memories could bring. I was young and even then a navel-gazer, and all I wanted was to wallow in the sadness. She was my granny, not theirs. It was me who had shared a bedroom with her when I was a child. We had the matching beds. It didn't matter if she was already asleep when I went to bed, she had the love and patience to tell me bedtime stories -- usually the stories of things that happened in her childhood. It was a flippin' miserable day, and I didn't care how long they'd known her as "Aunt Aurie".... "Aunt Aurie" was not the same as "Granny."

It took me many years to unpack the grief I stuffed away that day. My mother was so lost in her own grief and sorrow, that I felt I didn't have much choice except to stuff it and help her through. I'd deal with mine later..... and I did: six years later, then another six years later, and again this past spring. I shared the story of Granny's passing as part of a talk I did for a retreat.... and even all this time later, it still choked me up so much. I sit here now, big lump in throat, runny nose, misty eyes.

But I should have known this would loom large in my life. I was six years old when I had a horrific nightmare about my grandmother's passing. In the dream, my brother and I were on the couch, my parents in the kitchen, and my grandmother went to the bathroom where she collapsed from a hemorrhage. Our neighbor Ann heard the commotion and came flying up to help. I remember in the dream seeing the ambulance back up to our front porch. I remember seeing my grandmother's blood on her dress. It scared the absolute crap out of me at that very tender age. I woke my dad up screaming.... don't remember if I woke Granny up or not. I'm sure I did. I couldn't tell them my nightmare, other than there was a certain hymn that was part of the dream that I never wanted to hear again. I swear, I'd hear it in church for years, and I truly would suddenly have to go potty. It still scared me. In real life, in 1982, Granny collapsed in the bathroom of the nursing home. The nurse on duty? Anne. My brother and I stood in the kitchen as my parents answered the phone near our couch. Too many parallels and I never put it together until I was in college. When I did put the pieces together, I got totally freaked out. I mean, shaking freaked out.

And to this day, there are times I wish I had my granny here. There are things I'd love to ask her, granddaughter to grandmother, knowing that she would love me and simply love to be with me. Grannies are good for that sort of thing. I'm sad knowing that my mom probably isn't going to be a granny herself, at least not biologically so from me. She has two wonderful children whom she "nannied" for a while and who call her Nana or Nanny..... not the same. My mom lives vicariously as Granny through other people's children. Again, God has a plan and purpose to it, so one day we'll all understand.

Grannies. Nothing like them. And if you can still call yours, do so post-haste, for those of us who can only dream of it.

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