I recently received news that my grandmother passed away. Even though she was old, and in a nursing home, and her health was failing, this news still came as a surprise to me. Maybe not a surprise, per se, but a disappointment. I wanted to see her just once more. I had planned to see her again, in April, for her birthday. I wasn’t quite ready for her to die.
She was my last grandparent still living. I suppose I should consider myself lucky. Many of my friends my age lost their grandparents long ago. Instead, I feel as though a string has been cut, that I’m now one generation closer to death.
She also was my favorite grandparent. Yes, she was racist, ridiculously and embarrassingly so. But she also was incredibly kind. And simple. She laughed a lot. She was direct. She made us tomato sandwiches on Wonder Bread. She froze too many leftovers that were never eaten, and saved too many twist ties and scraps of tin foil that were never re-used, a child of the Depression. She plaited my hair and told me stories about dropping out of elementary school to take care of her thirteen siblings, about one of her siblings dying when he got too close to the fire and burned to death, and then going to work in the mills for what seemed like forever. Stories that I heard, but couldn’t quite comprehend. Thirteen siblings? To me, two seemed like too many. Not finishing elementary school? How was that possible? Two generations, yet a world, away.
I wonder what she was thinking, what she was cognizant of, when she died. Had she received my postcard from Laos? If so, did she know who it was from? Did she remember she had two children, five grandchildren, and four great-grandchildren? Did she recognize how much we loved her? Were her last emotions ones of peace or of the ever increasing angry and confused moods?
Grief is unpredictable. When I received my father’s email that simply said, “Please call,” I knew why. Before calling, I tried to convince myself that there were a million other reasons he could have sent an email like that. Maybe they won the lottery. Except I don’t think there is one in NC. Maybe mom fell off a ladder again. Maybe…
As soon as I heard his voice, I knew. I sat quietly as he spoke, tears running down my face. A couple of times I tried to say something and was mute. My voice simply wouldn’t come out. We hung up and then the tears, the sobs, the wailing wouldn’t subside. For hours I laid there, exhausted from the effort of crying, empty from processing this by myself. There was no one to call, no one to hug, no one to share with. Grief is strange. Over the next several days, I made arrangements, I planned, I executed, and I rarely thought about why I was leaving Cambodia early. It was only when I was in the taxi on the way to the airport that the tears returned. And haven’t stopped since.