Getting to Know Grief

Okay. So I want to tell you about my grandma who died and I don’t want to make it seem like you have to read or listen or feel bad about it. My little sister always says “It’s Okay! You didn’t kill her” when people offer those strange apologies and there’s always that lonely beat before they decide whether they can laugh at that or not.

Losing someone hurts and so does constantly wanting to tell stories and talk about them (not nearly as badly as you want to talk to them, as I’ve found out) and constantly worrying that you’ll bring down the mood even after months have passed — but you also know that nothing makes you happier than thinking of that person and taking a couple more breaths just for them.

I want to tell you how when she played cards, she played to win (sure, she was gentle with me when I cheated at Old Maid or Go Fish , but she insisted I learned the rules or at least pretended to learn them). I want to tell you how she gave hugs that made me feel small long after I started gaining inches (practically a foot) above her. I want to tell you how she thought of me and my sisters in those small ways that matter most to me: In the newspaper pages she dutifully tore out, in the early morning infomercials, in the tiny treasures she and her friends would rescue on their tag sale adventures, in all the mundane conversations throughout her day.

I want to tell you how she mediated sisterly squabbles like a pro: About how she told me that when I was the oldest sister (read: never) I, too, could have the nice twin bed in her camper instead sprawling out on the futon. I want to tell you how I wasn’t even mad, how I couldn’t be. I want to tell you how there’s more, there’s more, there’s more.

“I want to tell you how there’s more, there’s more, there’s more.”

I want to tell you about how she called me on my birthday and sang to me every year without fail — the full “Happy Birthday” song, even though it went on for a real long time and 9 times out of 10 it went to my voicemail because I never left my ringer on. (She never wanted to make me feel bad about how I never left my ringer on — which sort of made me feel worse about it.) I want you to know that she always coordinated the numbers of X’s and O’s on each card to match our ages, that I keep them in a box that I go through more often than I’d care to admit and that I found a not-so-crisp-anymore $20 that I’ll never ever spend like all the gently-exasperated voicemails I’ll never delete.

I want to tell you how this past Christmas (or three days before) we pulled up to St. Lawrence Cemetery where my grandpa is buried, how she drove faster than you’d think she’d drive if you were to size her up at a glance. I want to tell you how we walked between the graves, among friends and neighbors and frenemies from our little town that she could tell thousands of stories about. I don’t want to talk about how she really knew her way around or how I hated that she knew her way around.

1992: before my neck started to work.

I want to tell you how it wasn’t all that cold, but I still put on a jacket and zipped it up half-way to humor her. (“Do you even own a jacket?” she’d always ask me, or better: “Kate, I can buy you a new one…”) I want to talk about how we hung a wreath over Grandpa Tom’s name and she spoke so sweetly and casually — as if she was only sitting across a coffee table from the only man she loved, like it had been minutes and not years.

“We’re getting old, Tom,” she whispered and I remember I choked on a wet little sob, my nose was runny and red and gross (all while sweating too) and she looked back at me and told me not to cry and to zip up my jacket already and how that just made me cry more.

We drove back home in her old boat of a car, the same one that still sits in her driveway that I pass every single day when I drive to and from my house to just about anywhere and every single day I look at her window like she’s going to be there, like she’s going to call my mom and give her a long talk about how fast I was (probably) going past the stop sign in front of her house. I want to tell you how I’m a safer driver and how I pick up my phone way more often these days.

“…And every single day I look at her window like she’s going to be there, like she’s going to call my mom and give her a long talk about how fast I was (probably) going past the stop sign in front of her house.”

I want to tell you about everything but the last things, to be honest. The last things I talked about a lot already — maybe too much, too fast. The last things hurt. But I also do want to tell you:

I walked into her hospital room with a pale, zit-stained face and tired eyes, a little wet from the late spring rain and because I cry a too easily, not as cold as I should’ve been because I’d thrown on the first thing I could find hurrying out the door. I want you to know that I managed to smile when I walked in that first day, asked her about the news and told her about work, sitting by the end of her bed like it was normal — just another Tuesday where I remind myself that I really need to call and visit more, that I wish we took more pictures, that I really should find the right words, write the right words, say the right words…

“Oh, good. You do have a jacket…”

If anything, God, I want you to laugh with me. She would.

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