Rumbling With the Truth of My Grandmother’s Life and Death
Way back when, she was just this annoying person—someone my mother seemed to hate, someone I didn’t respect much, someone family members rolled their eyes about, someone who was mostly cold and remote. She was not a grandma, even though that’s what I called her.
She’d had extramarital affairs. She said mean things. She hit people. She hit me. She’d slap my hand away. She was hypocritical, selfish, and haughty. Maybe a narcissist.
I don’t say this to disparage her. I don’t say it to be judgmental because I can say almost all the same things about myself.
I say it because in the end, I loved her.
What started out as me semi-blindly taking on responsibility for her entire life as an obligation, turned in to me choosing to show her unconditional love, and realizing that maybe I am the first person to ever do that.
Her husband, my grandfather, didn’t treat her well (and I don’t say that to denigrate his memory; it was the times, it was what was passed down, it was cultural). She, in turn, didn’t treat him or others well. They divorced in 1980 after 41 years of what was, by most accounts, a pretty miserable marriage.
She had complicated relationships with her children, especially my mother. I, in turn, have a complicated relationship with my mother.
Mostly, she was anxious and she medicated with booze and Xanax.
She also sometimes snorted when she laughed (just like me) and her sense of humor, when she let her guard down, was wicked.
Grandma: What’s this? (holding up a dinner roll from her lunch plate)
Me: It’s a roll.
Grandma: A what?
Me: You know, a piece of bread. A roll.
Grandma (after thinking for a second, with a glint in her eye): Have you ever had a roll in bed with honey?
Even though she was too frail and her mind too gone to remain at home, I feared our conversations at the nursing home. She would ask me pointed questions in an annoyed tone of voice about going home.
I was told it was better to lie. “We’ll cross that bridge when we get to it,” I’d say, slightly holding my breath.
I had nightmares in which I’d be at her house (the house I’d finally cleaned out and sold) and she’d be standing there, her mind and her body completely restored, angrily asking what the hell had I done.
I also had fantasies about telling her, while meanly shrugging my shoulders, “Too bad! You’re not going home again! I’ve sold your house and have gotten rid of all your things!”
Over time I learned how to have truthful, loving conversations with her.
When I was no longer afraid, I learned that I could be an effective and fair advocate; that I could have hard conversations; that I could manage the business of someone’s life (even though I had proof that I’d screwed up my own many times); that I could love someone who wasn’t very lovable. I had the courage to extend myself in that love.
About a month ago I noticed her spark had dimmed and she wasn’t as interested in talking or eating. When her doctor called to tell me that she’d stopped eating and drinking, I was content to say, “Let her go on her terms.”
In the days following, she was restless, bending her legs at the knees, up and down, up and down, pulling at her clothes and bed sheets. We didn’t talk much and she didn’t want physical contact with me. She was annoyed when I fussed over her. Her resolve and determination were apparent. She didn’t want to be distracted because she was focused on leaving.
So I sat across the room and every once in a while she’d glare at me.
She pulled her gown off and lay there naked, covered by a sheet. The next day, after she died, it occurred to me: she came into the world naked and wanted to leave the same way.
Please don’t tell me that you’re sorry for my loss. She died peacefully and purposefully. I am happy for her. I am glad that my last words to her were, “I love you,” and that hers to me were, “I love you, too.” This is the way to go, on your own terms with at least one person loving you deeply.
I helped her rest in peace before she died, and she helped me do the same. I am proud of what we were able to accomplish together.
“You are the one you’ve been waiting for. Healing the wounds of your family is a great honor. Take that leap and you will be free to create the life you want.” ~ Sonia Sommer
Previously published on https://kclanderson.com