"She has serenely gone out today."
When I was a little girl, I remember telling my mother one day when we stopped at the bank that I never wanted her to die. It was a time when life should have been so simple. When the scariest thing in a naive 8 year old's world was breaking a toy or not getting dessert. But as soon as I became cognizant of what death really meant at that young age, I remember being incredibly afraid of it. Of dying, and of people close to me dying; that seemed like the worst thing I could ever imagine.
People had died around me for years - parent's aunts and cousins, friend's relatives, boyfriend's grandmothers, but no one close to me had ever died before. Until I was 23 years old. My grandma had been battling Emphysema for years, had various breathing problems and was in the hospital on occasion, but soon fine and back to her adorable, short little Irish self. Until March 22, 2008.
God saw you were getting tired
And a cure was not to be, so He put
His arms around you and whispered
"Come to Me." With tearful eyes we
watched you, and saw you pass
away. Although we loved you
dearly, we could not make you
stay. A golden heart stopped
beating, hard working hands at rest.
It broke our hearts but proved to us,
God only takes the best.
She had been in the hospital for almost two weeks. She had called me and sounded fine. I thought everything was going to be ok, just like always. But then, there were complications, possibly an infection. I was still the baby in my family's eyes so no one wanted to be straight with me and talk to me about it like an adult, so I'm still not 100% sure what happened. I remember things were looking very grim. My father and I drove to pick my uncle & grandpa up and bring them to the hospital; we were going to go to the funeral home afterwards to talk about making arrangements. When we got to the hospital, I asked if I could go up and see her. They wouldn't let me. My grandpa told me that she had all these tubes in her and was totally out of it and that's not how he wanted me to remember her. I remembering being upset about it at first, but I could understand.
My father and my aunt and I sat in the meeting room of the funeral home that I had passed hundreds of times walking the neighborhood when I stayed with my aunt and now, here we were, looking at prayer cards - my father read through the suggested messages and psalms and started crying when he'd finally found the right one - and coffins. The funeral director asked what we wanted in the obituary and my father said he didn't want one; it didn't need to be in the "Irish Comics." When we had finished and my father put down a deposit, we told the funeral director we would let him know when we "got the call". That was a Saturday night. I remember I came home from work and my dad was up and he told me the news. We hugged and he rubbed my back. The wake was going to be held Monday and Tuesday and the funeral on Wednesday so I would have to tell my job that I wasn't going to be in. I pulled black clothes from my closet in preparation, curled up in bed, and cried.
My girlfriend and I went to the wake together. I was so nervous. I wasn't sure what my grandma would look like or what to do. My ex-boyfriend's grandmother had died about a year ago and I remember going to the wakes and the funeral with him. He didn't cry until the pallbearers were carrying her coffin out of the church. It was the first time I had ever seen him cry. When I walked into the room, my aunt and uncles were there, my grandpa, and some other relatives and friends of my grandma's. She was 100% B.I.C. - Bronx Irish Catholic, as my Grandpa would say. . She went to church every weekend and sometimes even during the week.(My dad told me when they were growing up, even if they didn't have enough money for groceries, my grandma always made sure they each had a dollar for the collection plate on Sundays.) She helped out at the soup kitchen as well and was very active in her church community, so she had a lot of visitors
I walked to the front where the casket was with my dad, and I just started hysterical crying. She was all bloated and they put her in this horrible dress that she never would have worn but it was apparently the only thing that fit because of the condition of the body. I had written her a letter and drew a picture of us holding hands, my grandmother with angel wings and a halo. I folded it up and stuck it in the coffin with her. I hated it. I hated this whole situation. My grandma was the one person who mattered most in my entire life. She had always been there for me and supported me and loved me unconditionally. And now, here she was, lying before me. I would never get to hear her soft little whisper or feel her hug me or see her smile. She was gone.
The funeral came and went and my father had collected some of her things from my grandparent's house. She had written out a will back in 1995 after she was hit by a car with her aunt and went to the hospital; her aunt had died. That had been the first wake I'd ever been to. I was 11. I wasn't really sure back then how the whole thing worked, the grieving process. I didn't cry because I hadn't been close to Aunt Marge. I went up to the coffin and made the sign of the cross and said some things about how I would miss her and memories I had of her. She had always been old and senile and a little crazy though, so I'm not really sure what I remembered. I can't even recall anything now. She didn't have much, but my grandma left me a small ceramic music box shaped like a piano that played "Memory" from CATS when you wound it up. She also wrote a note telling me to "always be a good girl, Angelface". That was her nickname for me. She always called me Angelface.
I am still trying to figure out what the whole grieving process is and if it ever really ends. I'm not sure if I ever grieved or not. I know that I cried and I got angry that my grandma, who had devoted herself to God her entire life, had been let down by the "man" she had put all of her prayers and trust and faith in. As I write these memories, tears are falling from my eyes. I remember recalling the times we shared together growing up and getting emotional. Seeing pictures of me and her together. Her birthday was a month after she died and I got her a birthday card, one of those silly ones about Grandmas, and I wrote in it telling her that I missed her and hoped that she was happy in Heaven. I sealed it and stuck it in the bottom of my drawer. Mother's Day was a month after that and I had gotten my other grandmother a card, so I got one for my Grandma too. We used to joke that she was my "Real" Grandma because I always spent so much time with her. (My Mom's mother lived in Las Vegas for most of the time when I was growing up and I only saw her when she would come to stay with us at Christmas.)
That fall, I asked my dad if he had visited Grandma's grave. He told me that he hadn't. One October afternoon, I was in the Bronx doing the Breast Cancer walk with my friends and a guy I was dating at the time and on the way home I told him I needed to make a detour. Absentmindedly navigating using the GPS on my Blackberry, we made our way to the cemetery; through the roads of graves and to the top of hillside where my grandma was buried. She didn't have a gravestone yet - just a small plaque in the ground with her name on it. I started hysterical crying and my date rubbed my back. He left me alone and I talked to her. I was glad that I had come, to let her know that I cared, that someone cared. Then we left and went home. I never told my dad that I went to her grave that day and he still doesn't know.
Christmas that year was going to be my first Christmas without her and my first time going to the house since she died. My dad kind of threw me under the bus and left me to go by myself. It just felt so different, so empty. It had always been Grandma's house and now, Grandma didn't live here anymore. I tried to make awkward conversation with my uncles and grandpa. We exchanged presents and watched some TV. I stayed for maybe an hour and a half, the whole time I was fidgeting and trying not to cry. I told them I had to get going since I had a long drive home. As soon as I got into my car, I began crying again and cried half of the ride home. I knew at that moment I would never be able to set foot in that house again. I just couldn't do it - it was too hard. Everything about even going inside that building reminded me of her. I still to this day can't even call the house either because she would always answer phone and I know that if I call now, she won't be on the other end.
My Uncle Michael died earlier this year too. We half joked that its a good thing my grandma died first because she wouldn't have been able to handle losing him, but it was true. He was the other closest person in my life; He was Mushy and I was Squishy and we were partners in crime. He was always like a big bear. We would play and watch cartoons and he would draw for me. He was a really good artist but he never finished high school or went to college; he was really talented. He loved Lord of the Rings and Native American culture. He would take me to the park or McDonald's or the movies; even to see crappy little girl movies like "The Babysitters Club". At his funeral, my dad and I went up to his coffin and my dad told me that he'd never met two people who were so alike; that we had been cut from the same mold. Michael was his oldest brother and they were always very close. They'd talk on the phone once a week and call each other names and get each other gag gifts for the holidays. When I was little and stayed at my grandparents, as soon as my uncle would come home, I would run to the door. MUSHY!!!!!! and give him a big hug. He was 6'5" so I only came up about half away on him. Once I even wrote a poem entitled, "I am Mushy" to the rhythm of "I am Woman" by Helen Reddy; it was all about him and his loud snoring. He was my favorite uncle.
So, why bring up something as depressing as death? Well, I am in the middle of working on my novel right now. It's about a woman who loses her husband and she spends the rest of the year dealing with the pain of her loss and trying to grieve and struggling and remembering everything about her relationship with her husband. But I'm having some problems - I've never lost someone who I loved in that romantic kind of way. Even though I have lost people I loved, there's something completely different about losing someone who you are emotionally, physically, intimately connected with. Even in the case of my grandmother, I probably don't even feel half the pain that my father feels or have experienced the same type of grief that he has because that was his mom. I am still not sure if I know that I can portray this properly but I am trying. I have been Googling support forums and other questions I have like "When should I take my wedding ring off after my husband dies?" so that I can make my character's experience believable and her situation relatable. I know that grief is a long process and everyone has to find their own way through things, so I am trying to use that in relation to my character's personality. I just hope I can do this justice.
Because this is for my Grandma - because she always believed in me.
If you have any input or stories about your own loss, or advice you'd like to give that you think will help me write my store, please comment. I would greatly appreciate it.