Today marks the sixth anniversary of my grandma’s death (it would also be my beloved dog Max’s 16th birthday, if he was still with us, but that’s another post). August always makes me a little introspective, as well as a little sad. It strikes me as no mere coincidence that my grandpa is facing end-of-life issues in this month and week (no update on that, by the way), nor that her death coincides with the beginning of the school year. Every year, on 8.18., the Elton John circle of life becomes a little less jazzy and glib and a bit more real. The end and the beginning clash and harmonize in ways I never thought would happen.
The end really started back in March of 2003. Grandma had a stroke, which paralyzed the left side of her body. I flew down to visit her, as I was one week away from making my senior class mission trip to Zambia. I was glad I got to see her then, because it was the last time I truly saw her will to live at work within her. The next two and a half years were filled with agony and disappointment. She’d get better, then have another stroke. She’d make progress in her physical therapy, then be set back by a stroke or a broken hip. It was heartbreaking to talk to her on the phone, because I knew she had something to say, but she couldn’t get the words out. Finally, two weeks before she officially died, she had one last stroke that prevented her from swallowing. She went to a nursing home and never returned. Her body finally, slowly went to rest, and I realized that I had prayed all those years for the wrong thing. I prayed for my grandma to live, to get better, to be whole. I wish that I had instead prayed for peace and comfort and rest for her. What a bitter realization to make so late.
We all cried at her funeral. Not because she had died. No, we had all known for awhile that she was not going to make it. Rather, we cried, because all the good memories came back. Grandma was a faithful wife, mother, grandma, friend, and neighbor. She read to her grandkids, sang hymns with her family, and brought us all together with her gentle graces and her unconditional love. She was there when my family’s puppy was killed in an accident. She came up to stay when my mom had surgery, and then later, when my sister and I had to live with my mom’s best friend for awhile (more on that in another post). She played games with gusto, but would often make a wrong move, simply because she was too busy socializing to pay attention. These memories all came back in a flood, and I had to remember again all that we had lost.
I still miss her. I cried at my high school graduation, because she could not be there to cheer me on. I cried at my MA graduation, because I wished she was there. I burst into tears the morning of my wedding, because she wasn’t there. Actually, she died before the first of the cousins got married, so she didn’t get to watch the joy of any of her grandkids getting married. She would have enjoyed being there, and I know she would have loved The Chancellor.
Six years later, I have moved within my grief. I know now that it will never “go away.” The intensity of it does not consume me every day, though it comes back in small, unexpected moments. Sometimes, it feels painful, other days sad, and some days gentle. I know that she rests in peace. I know that I am like her in small ways. I will never forget her. I will always remember. I will always love.