Untitled (because nothing does this justice)
On the day my grandmother, herein referred to as Meme, died, I woke up to my partner saying, “That’s weird…your mom is calling me.” I looked at my phone and saw a missed call from her, as well as a missed call and voicemail from my aunt. I told him not to answer it and that I’d call her back from my phone. She answered, took a breath, and I think I knew then…but I didn’t want to know. I apologized for missing her first call — “I’m usually still asleep right now…is everything okay?”
Everything after that is a hazy blur…sometimes coming into full focus. Me, sobbing, choking on my need for air and simultaneous repulsion at the feeling of breathing. I remember grabbing my partners arm so hard I thought I might leave bruises. I remember him holding my body up when I couldn’t any longer, gently saying, “Babe, you need to breathe.” How do you breathe when the air has been sucked out of you so violently by the news that someone you love is no longer sharing that same air? I’m still trying to figure that out.
The day my Meme died, I can’t remember what the weather was like. I remember it being cold enough to wear a long sleeve shirt and stay under the blanket all day. Or maybe that was just my apartment.
The day my Meme died, I scoured every inch of my brain for a memory of her laugh to try and hold onto it. It’s fading already.
The day my Meme died, I stared at myself in the mirror, feeling myself become smaller and smaller. Meme used to call me “skinny minny” which is funny because she’s been shrinking in size ever since I’ve known her. I look back at old photos and remember how different she looked in my childhood compared to the last time I saw her. For a moment, I feel like I can call her and laugh about this realization that I’ve never had until now. Then I remember I can’t. I cry uncontrollably until it becomes controllable — funny how tears seem to have a mind and soul of their own sometimes.
The day my Meme died, I thought to myself so many times “I’m not ready for this.” But when are you ever ready for something like this?
The day after my Meme died, I went back to work. I visited with my families, sharing this news with some of them if it felt right. I talked to coworkers. I smiled. I cried in my car on the way home and thought to myself again “I’m not ready for this.”
The day after my Meme died, I let myself cry with my partner. It’s always hard for me to let vulnerability into spaces, even sacred spaces like the one I share with my partner, but I did it. Since then, vulnerability has slowly been going back into hiding but I wish it wouldn’t…I wish it would stay and let the broken parts of me be what they need right now. I wish I could cry in front of my partner everyday.
Two days after my Meme died, I went to a workshop that was based on the practice of “re-membering” which relates to the collective club of members in our lives and our power in deciding how people fit into our lives. This practice also proposes that when people die, they can still remain members of our club and be an active voice in our lives. I signed up for this workshop weeks ago…I didn’t realize it would feel so personal until that day.
Two days after my Meme died, I cried so hard on my car drive home from the workshop that I had to pull over.
Three days after my Meme died, I drove to Portsmouth to be with my mom, my aunt, and my cousin. I sat next to my mom on my cousin’s couch as she gently touched an outfit she was thinking about wearing to the memorial service tomorrow. “You shouldn’t have to pick out this outfit yet,” I say. “I didn’t have enough time with her,” she responds.
Three days after my Meme died, we picked out flowers for the memorial service, got a different outfit for my mom to wear, and made a photo collage of all the pictures we could find of Meme. Sitting outside of the mall with my mom, I started crying. “I miss her so much,” I say. Then I think, “I should have spent more time with her.” “I didn’t come up for Thanksgiving or Christmas last year and I was going to this year.” These thoughts keep taking up space in my brain. More space than they deserve.
Three days after my Meme died, I wondered for the first time how many ashes a human body produces once it’s cremated. I learned the answer to that question a few days later. The amount is staggeringly smaller than I imagined.
Three days after my Meme died, I learned how she died and I was angry. Too angry to say it out loud more than once, to my partner, who will now also hold the knowledge of the unfairness of death.
Three days after my Meme died, I cried on the couch with my partner. I cried while brushing my teeth before bed. I cried before I fell asleep.
Four days after my Meme died, we held a memorial service for her. Friends, family, and so many people I didn’t know showed up to pay their respects and be with their friend Judy.
Four days after my Meme died, I signed her memorial service guestbook — Jade Dwelley, granddaughter. But she was so much more than my grandmother. She was my friend, my comfort, my rock, my role model. She was so much more than you can fit in a guestbook. I hope I was more than just her granddaughter to her.
Four days after my Meme died, the morning sky was grey and dreary. As we drove into Portsmouth, the clouds parted and the sun came out. By the mid-afternoon, I was too hot in my all-black outfit. I remember thinking, “How can it be such a nice day? Doesn’t mother nature know what today is?”
Four days after my Meme died, I thought maybe my mom wouldn’t make it through this. I’m still not sure how she’s making it through this.
Four days after my Meme died, my partner took me to get food on our way home after the service. Some Sheryl Crow song was playing in the restaurant. I cried and we left before anyone else noticed.
Five days after my Meme died, I went to work and stayed present throughout the day. I cried in my car on my way home. I was wiping my tears as I walked through the door and my partner said, “You can be sad for as long as you need, babe.”
Six days after my Meme died, I shared the news with my team members at work during our group supervision. I didn’t cry as much as I thought I would.
Six days after my Meme died, I felt unsure about whether or not I was still existing. Am I in a different reality than those around me? Sometimes I don’t feel like I’m real.
Today marks a week since my Meme died. And I feel empty. “It feels like I’m on autopilot,” I say. “You are,” my mom responds, “but it’ll get better with time.” “Are you sure? How can you be sure?” There is no response for that. There are no words to heal this. As much as I want to hold onto all the memories and words and feelings that she brings me, I can’t see a day when I move past this pain. I’m waiting for it and I’ll welcome it when it comes.
A week after my Meme died and I’m still in disbelief. I’ve forgotten what it feels like to hug her. I know that memory, that sensation, is somewhere inside me still, trying to push it’s way to the forefront of my mind, wading through all the darkness…I hope it has the stamina to stay in the game until a path is made.
The day my Meme died she was 66 years, 3 months, 2 weeks, and 3 days old. I had know her for 26 years, 3 weeks, and 6 days. I needed more time than that.