Over the course of my forty-one years there haven’t been very many funerals or memorial services that I have felt compelled to attend. For one reason or another, not knowing the person at all or hardly knowing them, something about attending a solemn occasion where friends and family mourn the loss of their loved one, never seemed like a place I wanted to be. If I can offer my condolences without having to go, then that is the avenue I would choose. Call me un-supportive if you want too but everyone has their thing.
Thinking back, there have been seven, maybe eight funerals that I have been to and only one that stands out in my memory more so than any other. When I was a toddler, I’m not really sure of my exact age at the time, my mothers grandmother passed away and oddly enough, I remember being at this funeral service. My memories may only be a tiny little snap shot of the day but I remember being there, my mother holding me in her arms, walking down the center aisle of the room, looking into the casket at a woman I hardly knew. Every time the memory comes to me, in a dream or what not, there is always a yellow-ish tint to the picture in my mind. My rational explanation for this yellow-ish tint is because I feel like when I’m remembering this solemn occasion, I reminded of looking at one of those old discolored photos from decades ago. Vintage. Or maybe I’m just crazy… which is possible. In any case, the other funerals that I have attended were that of family members or close family friends and while I remember those, none are as vivid as that first one.
Some years later, when I was in high school, I was in a car accident as the passenger in my friend’s car. We were turning left to cross the on coming traffic lane going to my house when we were rear ended by a two ton dump truck with a full bed. The driver of the dump truck wasn’t paying attention and was speeding, her trunk ended up in her back seat, my seatbelt broke and I hit my head on the dash-board. After opening my eyes from what felt like a blink, I remember looking over to my right, into the parking lot of the gas station, and seeing an elderly woman standing next to the building. There was no noise what so ever; people were moving around but the woman stayed where she was, smiling she kept watching me and said “it’s not time yet” and that’s when I came to. My friend was freaking out because she thought I was dead, the firemen were using the jaws of life to get me out of the car and the shrill sounds of the ambulance as we took the short ride to the ER were all enough to give a person pause and to thank the lord but, despite all of that, all I could think about was how the old woman I saw looked exactly like my mothers grandmother.
This past Thursday night, my paternal grandmother, the last of my grandparents, passed silently during the night. She had fallen, breaking her hip, couldn’t move, was on morphine, stopped eating, drinking and speaking. Grandma had reached the point where she was done. Grandma was ready to go home and be with Grandpa.
It is one thing to know that someone you love is dying but its an entirely different thing to know that they have died and to be left asking yourself how you say good-bye to a woman you hardly knew?
I grew up in Cali, my grand parents lived in the South. When we moved to New England my grand parents lived in GA. Thinking back, I can remember only a handful of times that I saw, or remember seeing, my grandmother in person; when we visited my cousins as a small child, when we had the Japanese exchange student in Cali, when I graduated High School, when 9/11 happened they were visiting us and at maybe four of our family reunions. Less than ten times in my forty-one years of life. How sad is that?
Whats even sadder to me, is that my daughter only saw my grandmother once outside of the four family reunions and she is seventeen. It gets worse because I hardly knew anything at all about this woman I called grandma. Sure I knew her name, where she was born, that she was a housewife for the entirety of her married life, she had five kids, she was an amazing cook and that’s about it. Ask me what her favorite things were and I would have no clue. Ask me about her family, no clue. Ask me about her life before my grandpa, no clue. Ask me about the things she hoped and wished for as a young girl, no clue. You see where I’m going with this. In fact, I will be completely honest when I say that I blame my dad for this and I hold a little bit of resentment for my cousins who all know her as a grandchild is supposed to know their grandmother.
Yes my dad was in the military so we moved to other parts of the country and yes he didn’t have the happiest of childhoods so it makes some sense that we barely saw his parents but it still stings all the same. Maybe it really isn’t my dads fault but I feel like if I would have had the benefit of knowing my grandmother like my cousins did, then maybe I wouldn’t feel such a disconnect with the family on his side and at the heart of it, this disconnect is what is making it hard for me to figure out how to mourn and how to say good-bye to my grandmother.
When I got the group text from my dad telling me and my brother that my grandmother had died, I immediately cried and buried my head in my arms on my desk at work. My first instinct was to leave work and come home to comfort the masses. Then I remembered that the masses are a twenty-one hour drive west and there is nothing I could do for anyone if I left work early. So I stayed. There has been no talk about my grandmother and the life she led. There has been no sharing of memories. There has been no more crying and it took until I asked on Sunday, for anyone to even mention what the plan is for a service. “I think they are waiting until the June reunion“… And with that, life moves on.
Two of my biggest regrets in life are that I did not know this woman more intimately and that my daughter never got the opportunity to know the woman who started it all.
I suppose that I could ask my family members to tell me stories about her and her life but then wouldn’t I run the risk of becoming even sadder about my situation because I don’t have those memories? Come to think about it, I don’t even have a “my grandmother once told me” story. Although I do have a few of her secret family recipes.
Again, I say that I feel disconnected from my family and it took my grandmother passing away for me to realize it.
Despite the state of my relationship with my grandmother, or lack there of, there is a lightness to my heart knowing that she is home, looking down on her legacy, watching as we all say goodbye in our own way. It occurs to me that maybe this is my way. Maybe this admission of disconnection, resentment, and path to find out about this mystery grandmother of mine is how I say goodbye to the woman I hardly knew but loved with all of my heart regardless.
Until next time!