I was 17 when my grandmother died. We always had a special bond, and I was sad and angry that she was gone, that she wouldn’t see me graduate high school, or acting in my first musical. I cried constantly; hot and bitter tears of loss.
Dad, my brother, and I went Up North as soon as we heard the news, Mom was there already having been at the hospital when the decision was made. We stayed at my other grandparents house (my parents both grew up in the same small town in northern WI) and tried to pretend that this was somehow normal. I spent a lot of time visiting with relatives, and a lot of time sneaking off by myself to be angry at the world.
The day before the first funeral home visit there was a large group of family sitting in what had been my grandma’s kitchen. Now it was Uncle Steve’s kitchen, though none of us, not even him, was used to that yet. (He and his wife had lived there with Grandma R for a few years prior.) We sat in the kitchen telling stories.
Grandma R was an amazing woman – to this day she is my standard for the concept of unconditional love. In the kitchen the story was told of the day Grandma invited a 12 piece Navy band home after they had played an evening concert at the VFW, because they looked like they could use a home cooked meal. That story was usually told by my mother – who was home from college the weekend of the concert and asleep on the couch in a nightgown when the dozen men walked through the living room to get back to the kitchen. The story was told of her house being full every prom night with girls getting ready and waiting to be picked up by their boyfriends, even if none of her daughters happened to be juniors that year. That story was told by my Aunt A, the youngest of the siblings, who grew up watching the social life of high school swirling around her from the time she was little. Stories were told about when she still waitressed at the bar and knew the name of every regular who came in; stories about how the entire town started calling her “Ma”; stories about her taking in a foster child after her youngest moved out ‘because the house felt empty’; stories about her always being ready with a kiss and a hug for us all.
They are wonderful stories of her love and compassion. But I was still mostly angry at her for leaving, so I couldn’t hear it.
Then the phone rang. Uncle Steve answered it, and we all quieted down so he could talk. To this day I only know the side of the conversation I heard.
“Hello.” (shortish pause)
“I’m sorry, she’s unavailable.” (another short pause)
“No she can’t come to the phone, she’s dead right now. Uh huh.” (slightly longer pause)
“Thank you. Good-bye.”
The room stayed completely silent while Uncle Steve hung up the phone, as we all processed what he had said.
Then the room exploded with laughter. I laughed until I cried, but this time it was okay. The tears weren’t just angry and bitter anymore, they were joyous too, and grateful. The people in the room when the phone call happened told and re-told the story for the next few days and always we laughed. (Grandma R would have thought it was hysterical.) Having that moment helped me get through the very difficult days of the viewing and the funeral.
I still get sad when I think about Grandma R being gone too soon, and I still miss her. But I also smile to remember everything she brought into my life. And after all, she’s only dead right now.
@@@This is my entry for week 15 of LJ Idol – the topic is ‘cracking up’. Per usual, I'll post a link to the poll on Friday once it is up. Thank you for reading.@@@