Sunday, November 28, 2010
How do you sum up a person's life?
My grandmother died Saturday night - peacefully, in her sleep, surrounded by family - after a couple of years of major health problems and some months of off-and-on dementia.
I am fairly certain she would not want me to sit around the house and mope, but I'm at the point where I'm just unsure of what to do with myself. So I've been sitting and thinking.
You know the expression that it's all in the details? It's the details about Grammy that run through my mind.
The fact that 20+ years after I bought her a teddy bear - you remember the Care Bears Grams bear? - it was still on her dresser.
The weird and wacky gifts that she found in the Avon holiday catalog and mercifully stopped sending a few years ago. I remember a hat with attached earmuffs and a wrap-around-your-face-scarf which made for some fun Christmas pictures.
Her key lime pie, which was just a dream to look at and eat. I could have eaten that every day and not gotten sick of it.
Her determination to be out in her garden, despite her arthritis and partial blindness. "I go out every day," she told me, "even if it hurts."
Her conspiratorial tone when she told me to go spend a Nordstrom gift card that she had gotten for my dad's ex-wife before they had separated.
"Now you don't need to worry about fibbing - just go to Nordstrom and tell them you're S-!"
Her lifelong depression, which most people (myself included) just took as needless worrying, until we knew better. Hers was a generation that still largely suffers mental illness in silence.
Her beautifully painted ceramic dolls and figurines, which she could have sold for top dollar had she cared to do so.
Her surviving breast cancer without one complaint.
Her secret smoking in the bathroom for 40 years! Which, by the way, she denied all along.
Her ability to be strong and go on with life after her son, my uncle Bill, died of a rare kind of cancer in his 30s.
Her anger when the far-right tried to determine who was "Christian" and who was not.
She was a pastor's wife, after all.
She underlined the words in some of the religious cards she sent, which we all thought was kind of odd.
She sent me $75 for my 30th birthday - I was unemployed and I felt terrible about cashing it, but my dad said they would be insulted if I didn't.
"I know what it's like to be poor," she told me.
I tried to explain that we weren't poor but she insisted that I spend the money.
"You go out and do something nice."
I feel bad that she would not let me visit over the past few years, postponing it until "I feel better." Pride runs in the family. How much better did she think it was going to get?
It is hard for me to understand the communication style - or lack of it - in her generation. My immediate family is always telling each other we love each other, we don't hide things and for better or worse, we always know where we stand. If a spaceship hit me tomorrow, everyone in my circle of family and friends would know I care about them.
Grammy could only really tell me how much she appreciated my dad; she told him she appreciated me.
Growing up in the dustbowl in the depression, being married to a WWII veteran who suffered PTSD before it was a diagnosis, I know she did the best she could in what was surely at times a difficult existence.
How to close? I admire her strength. I didn't realize until today that I got mine from her.