Wednesday, January 5, 2011
Carillon bells rang this morning.
My grandmother passed away late last night. My family, those that are still in Florida, kept vigil beside her. I had wished to be there, but even the ones only an hour away didn't make it in time for her last few breaths.
I enjoyed the words of my twin who wrote this morning about her passing, "I did notice that she never changed her polish color from Thanksgiving. It only took 12 or so colors before she chose one, but I realized last night that I get my hands from her."
My twin wondered if she were compassionate enough, too. I should take the moment to note that my grandmother will never be described as being warm or even friendly really later in life, so we dealt with her seemingly displeasure with the way life turned out accordingly: frustrated, concerned, bummed.) My own last vision of her was as she was leaving our Thanksgiving day festivities, strong willed and hornery, but beautiful with her red lipstick my older sister applied after dinner. Vanity doesn't really disappear with time and her smile reminded me of how it will always be an intricate part of us.
I did love this woman whose hands (and artistic drive) I inherited. I also saw her that same week of Thanksgiving, but in the nursing home where she spent the last year of her life. The place was dismal, but my mom and her sisters brightened the space up as best they could with cut outs of fuzzy, funny animals, real furniture, books, comfy blankets. The smell of the place will stay with me, as will the fear I felt when faced with a mumbling man and disoriented older woman. Is this what we can become against our will?
But she was not this way when we entered her room. Her pale, gaunt face smiled as us. It had been a couple of years since I last saw her at her home, heavier, maybe even grumpier. Despite her demeanor she gave me a couple of drawings she made as a little girl. All models dressed in 1940s garb, long-legged, and polished. They looked like she traced them from a book or magazine. I took them home and from time to time, dug them out to look at where her small hands once worked the paper. Those hands that so long along created a montage of glamorous woman were now writing I thought, somehow continuing her story.
Honestly, I don't know a lot about my grandmother's early life. My twin was fortunate enough to glean some information and I heard some stories from cousins thrice removed when I lived briefly in London. I do know that as a child growing up in WWII London, she was sent to the countryside to live with strangers. When I think of the difficulty I have had adapting to new places, I can only imagine what she would have endured separated from family.
And that's the thing. I've looked at old pictures of family members decades old and can't connect with them. I look for resemblances - the curve of a lip, the shape of an eyebrow - but it's never enough. I'm thinking that what really connects us is the longing to know the other's past, present, and future. Most of the time it's what brings us together, but sometimes too much of that longing pushes people away.
This new year began with death but I think in this darkness there is light. While I was waiting to hear a status on my grandmother from my own mother, I heard what I thought was the phone ringing. (This is also known as the phantom ring for those of us who have to carry around two phones and also receive forwarded calls.) I cocked my head to the kitchen, nothing. Ten minutes later my twin called and said our grandmother died. 'What time?' I asked. To which she replied, 'About ten minutes ago.' Call it whatever you want but a lightness flooded me.
My grandmother inspired me. She was not perfect and I never idolized her, nor was she the kind of grandmother it seemed other kids had - sweet, plump, giddy, fun. These were adjectives I would never use to describe her. Still, her life resonated with me and I take comfort knowing that I did know her, even if it was a fraction of the life she lived and even if saccharine words will never befit the grandmother I knew. The more nuanced flavors in life are most interesting after all.
Posted by M W