My grandmother, Catherine, 1918-2013

This is apparently not a good week for people born in 1918. Just as Mr. Mandela passed away earlier this week, my grandmother passed away tonight, at the age of 95. I had my computer all cued up so I could write a blog post…then the phone rang, and I guess I won’t be writing the post I thought I was going to be writing.

She was peaceful and tucked into bed in her pjs. My parents had arrived just a few minutes before she passed, so they were able to sit with her as her body eased into the next stage of life. Some say that death is the final stage of life, but really, who knows. I’ve got an open mind about the whole thing.

It’s a little bit of a drive out into the county, from where we live, to get to the nursing home. So there were are, my husband Sonny and I, driving out along this dark road…and right before you come upon the warmly-lit complex where the nursing home is, we see a deer in the road in front of us, standing there, calmly waiting to greet us. She peered at us intently. A second deer joined her, and they crossed the road together. Eerie, and beautiful. See what I mean? Open mind.

I had the chance to lay my head down beside her for a little while, and I loved every second of it. She was warm, and soft like always, and it was reassuring to spend time with her. Her hair was long, white, straight –  it used to be curly. Though she was not particularly ill in any way, she was a very elderly person, and had aged quite a bit in the past handful of years. She’d grown more petite, her face thinner. But her skin was always very soft. Tonight, it was whisper soft.

Once, when I was a teenager, I’d flown out to visit her, and when I walked into her bathroom, I was confused to see my own makeup sitting on on the counter, when I hadn’t unpacked it yet. It was my grandmother’s. We had the same colors and the same retro brands in the same awesome retro packaging. We shared both a pale complexion and fabulous taste in cosmetics packaging, apparently (and a few other things, too).

I loved hugging my grandmother, when I was a child. She was very plump then, squishy, hearty, ready with an olive loaf sandwich if you needed a snack. I looked forward to those hugs all year long.

A theme, throughout my life, was one of missing her.

When I was a very small child, barely four years old, we moved, and left nearly all of our family behind, on the East Coast. Every year after that, we flew out to visit our grandparents and whoever else happened to be available. We primarily stayed with my mother’s mother and father – but they would drive us over to visit Grammy, my father’s mother, during our trip and we would stay for a week or so. My grandmothers always took this opportunity to swap romance novels. By the boxload.

I always missed my grandmothers and my grandfather. I simply adored all of them.

Grammy Brown, in particular, was a storyteller. Sometimes I would ask her to tell me stories and she would say “stories, why do you want to hear those” and sometimes she would have to search for a minute to decide which story to tell, but once you got her started, there was no stopping the vivid detail, and the big, chortling laugh.

And there were so many things to tell stories about. She had 15 children…and traveled around the country as a Navy wife. There were stories from when she was a little girl, like the time she cut off all of her hair, and her mother thought her father would be angry, but he loved it. Her long, curly, blonde hair. She’d chopped it off in the heat of a Massachusetts summer. There were stories about her and my grandfather – like the time she told him to shave off his moustache and he refused, so she waited until he was asleep, then took a straight razor to the half she could assault before he startled awake to stop her. There were stories about my father and his siblings. There were stories about her mother, and there were so many stories that there was never enough time for all of them. And any time of day or night, if you needed her, or couldn’t sleep, she always seemed to be awake, reading her romance novels. Like this was completely normal for a person to seemingly never sleep.

In her later years, probably the last 15 years or so, she had varying levels of dementia. Sometimes she recognized me and sometimes she didn’t – but I understood this, and accepted it. When I was much younger, I worked in nursing homes, with people who had dementia, so I knew how this went.

But even when you know how it goes, it’s still hard to feel completely peaceful about. I guess the thing is, it’s not that I’ll miss you now. It’s that I’ve missed you for so long already. The missing you has flowed under the surface of my every thought about you for a decade. The flood of emotion would surface only on particular occasions, and then submerge again. Like the time a few years ago, when Uncle Laurie put you on the phone to talk to me and he told you it was me on the phone – and I heard recognition in your voice for the first time in years, and I silently cried while you talked, because it felt so good in my heart, to really hear you know me, and to hear that you were happy to be speaking with me. Or the time that I came to visit you last year at the nursing home and I wasn’t sure if you recognized me, but it didn’t matter as we walked around the halls for a long time. Then you told me you needed to go to the bathroom. I helped you get to the bathroom and then called a nurse to assist you. I sat out of sight in your room, just around the corner, while I waited for you. And when you were done, I heard you say to the nurse “where did Katy go?” and my heart warmed to know that you knew who I was, and you wanted me there.

I have been slowly, and quietly missing you, even as I have seen you, and visited with you, and touched you, and hugged you, I have privately missed you. Now that you are gone, this missing-you will only continue, but wide, and rushing, and alive. There’s no need to peek through the keyhole, when the door is flung wide open. And though I am sad, it feels more appropriate, more sensical, to miss someone who is dead, than to miss someone who is still alive.

In a way, I feel closer to you now. Now that my feelings and reality have synched. Though my feelings are heavy, and sad, they are free. And so are you.

grammy n beth



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