death is strange. it's equal parts hard to believe and permanently real.
today marks 2 weeks since grandma died. i can't quite wrap my heart's mind around that truth. it seems like yesterday. and it seems like weeks and months ago already. i haven't had a tear-free day since july 5th, the day we learned of the cancer that was ravaging her body. and yet, there's this part of me that feels the slightest bit disassociated with the story....as if grandma's just out visiting my aunt's family and will return after what used to be her standard 2-week stint out west.
one week, we were talking about riley's singing, incessant chatter, and obsession with cats...immigration reform....rain. a few days later, she was in the hospital. a few days after that, we were taking care of her as she began slipping away. a few shorter days, and she was gone. i think we're all havin a difficult time adjusting. it was so sudden. well, she was 86 after all, so i don't suppose we can label it a shock. but the ferocity of her independence was such a normal and daily part of our lives, that her absence is deeply felt....nearly palpable at times.
grandma was the one i remember encouraging me to write - my most vocal writing advocate. so i suppose it's fitting that i'm scribbling with words as a way to grieve.
at grandma's funeral, daddy talked about one of grandma's character traits - an unusual but somewhat exceptional one. she had this ability and willingness to disagree with someone while maintaining a respectful position, and in the case of family and close friends, a loving one. daddy's example was tattoos. all six of grandma's grandchildren are adorned w/permanent ink. did grandma approve? no. did she ever "come around" on the issue and give any of us her blessing regarding future inking? nope. she maintained her opinion on the matter while not once ostracizing any of us.
i've thought a lot about what daddy said....thought a lot about my 33 years w/grandma...and thought about the stories and dimensions of grandma that we were not privy to until the days leading up to and immediately following her death.
there's this other part of her character that, in the last month, has been enlivened with fuller color. grandma had this very matter-of-fact way about her that easily led folks to assume she lived unafraid and unbothered. it was an easy assumption to make. after all, she was fiercely independent and lived alone for decades. but i don't believe she was unafraid, unbothered, and unscathed. i heard her talk about bein afraid of the water and afraid of snakes and mice. so it wasn't that she was unafraid, undaunted for 86 years. it was that she refused to be ruled by her fears. so her answer to the things that frightened and unnerved her? she simply faced them. she enrolled mama and aunt janice in swimming lessons when they were really young, and then donned her own swimming suit and took the lessons alongside them. she was afraid of the snakes in the hen house, but she gathered the eggs for her folks anyway. and when she was well into her 70s, her house was infested w/mice...but rather than calling an exterminator, she set mouse trap after mouse trap until the nasty varmints realized they'd met their match.
these are easy examples to describe. but there were other hurdles, other things she learned to do - not b/c she innately took pleasure in such things, or because she sought out difficult endeavors, but b/c she was determined to live, determined to not be ruled by fear. so she lived alone for decades and learned how to change her own oil and how to get out of debt and went back to school. she retired and then subbed for months on end at an alternative school for kids who'd had terrible hands dealt to them - she was in her 70s then. she decided goin to church was better than living with bitterness.
then there were the rivers more personal, more sensitive. every one of her grandkids (myself included) made lifestyle decisions that were not directly in line with her preferences. decisions more difficult to grapple with than tattoos and piercings. decisions about religion, spirituality, relationships, marriage, race. not one time did she smile and nod and accept our choices blindly. and not one time did she hold so tightly to her established viewpoint that her grandchild was tossed aside. i don't know that there are many octogenarians who were as determined to work through their prejudices and long-held beliefs for the sake of loving and accepting their family.
with a heart as sturdy as hers, i think it would have been easy to push folks around. independent, determined folks sometimes bully others. it's a means of survival. but somehow, grandma steered clear of that slippery slope. she somehow managed to not jump onto every religious, political, social bandwagon, while at the same time she refraining from forcefully pushin and pullin people into her corner.
time and age and life ultimately softened her. grandma was intelligent and thoughtful. she was never the "sweet old lady" type, to be sure. she never placated people or pulled back on who she was for the sake of complacent harmony. she wasn't without her flaws, either. she was determined to the point of stubborn, independent to the edge of closed self-sufficiency. but, at least in the last 20 or so years, she was never so set in her ways that she isolated herself.
at least in part, i believe this is why many have been moved to tears by her death. not only her family, but her friends, too. she lived, determined to engage in life thoughtfully. not all of us are that brave. we can't help but be sad.