Public service announcement:
There is no right way nor wrong way to grieve.
Nor a right time nor a wrong time. Sometimes things take a couple of days to sink in. Some other things take a couple of years. And one person isn't the same as another.
And if you are ever grieving, and you are worried that you are doing it wrong... just let go.
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My way right now is to be sitting in a Starbucks outside a mall in southern Ohio; I will very shortly go in to try to find something to wear to the funeral. I have some things that will work in a pinch, but it is giving me something to do. I am drinking coffee. Usually, one and a half cups into my morning coffee, a sense of well-being and industriousness descends upon me as if on a ray of sunshine from the heavens, and everything gets suddenly better. It seems not to be working today.
My cousins and brother and I (I have been referring to us as "the four cousins"), and our aunt her daughter, all stayed up for twenty-four hours Wednesday into Thursday waiting with her as she was dying. One teenage great-granddaughter was there, too, for most of the long night. We surrounded Grandma with all the love we had. It was a good place to be, and I know it is a privilege to have been permitted, by time and chance and nature and the mover of all that is, to be there. In the very end she waited to slip away from us only when for a moment we had all of us, the very last one, stepped out of the room.
I drove, blinking hard at the taillights, the hour back to where Mark was, where we were staying, and collapsed literally on the floor next to the bed so I wouldn't wake my three-year-old and have to parent right away. The first day after I just slept, and made Mark take us out for tacos and margaritas before bed. The second day I tried, with the help of a good friend who invited us along, to spend a full day with my littlest children for the first time in several days.
My aunt and the rest of the cousins have each had their own full days. I don't know everything they were up to, nor how they have been passing their interior days. One practically had to go straight from Grandma's bedside to give a breakfast-time work presentation. One celebrated her wedding anniversary and removed Grandma's things from her room at the nursing facility. One wrote the obituary and met with the funeral provider. One started preparing to speak at the funeral.
Several of us posted pictures and videos that we had to Facebook. I, myself, wished I had had the foresight -- before I left Minnesota -- to dig up my wedding album, in which is my favorite photo of Grandma, aged only 77(!), dancing to some swing number with her childhood best friend and laughing. But we left quickly, and while I thought to bring my grief supplies with me -- black trousers and sturdy dress shoes -- I forgot to make room in my duffel for joy as well. It will all be there when I get back home.
Today is the first chance I have had to feel really sad, possibly because it is the first chance I have had to be alone, at least alone in a crowd. It is such an odd kind of sadness, because at the same time I am grateful that we had such long years with my sweet grandma, who was sweet but also was, to borrow her vocabulary, a pistol. Grateful that she remained sharp all that time, and that she lived where she wanted and got her own way all the way up until about three weeks ago, when she took her last fall. I don't think she enjoyed the last three weeks -- I did get the impression that she did not think a bad fall would really happen to her -- but as she had nearly 96 years before that, and made her wishes quite clear, it is hard to have many regrets.
She came out fighting and -- what is more -- loving, from a very difficult childhood. Raised three children, worked downtown, was widowed in her late fifties, traveled all over the world in the company of great friends. Saw four grandchildren and eight great-grandchildren. Cared for her own mother who suffered from Alzheimer's disease. Outlived two of her own children, my mother who died fourteen years ago and my uncle who died just a few years ago. In the last years lived in company of her youngest daughter in her own home. Hosted all our holidays up until the last couple of years, a matriarch in the true sense of the word. I can't even begin to describe the personal significance she had to me.
This is just a start.
My coffee is almost gone and I am going to head into the mall and see what I can wear. Such a small thing but the only thing on my to-do list, other than packing things up and getting ready to go back to Minnesota right after the funeral, as we came early, a rush so that I could see her while she was still with us.
Love really does conquer all, folks, if you let it. That is maybe the biggest thing that Grandma taught me, in ways large and small.