I mentioned last week that the 23rd marks one year since my grandmother passed away. I’m spending tomorrow with family. Since I usually don’t get on the internet over the weekend, I wanted to put up this post today. I spoke at my grandmother’s memorial service. I was determined to give her the honor and respect that she deserved, and desperate to make her proud. This is what I said.
My grandmother was the best person that I have ever known. It’s not possible to sum up 94 years worth of living in just a few minutes, and I’m not going to try. What I do want to talk about is how special grandma was, and how influential she was in my life. She truly was one of a kind.
Grandma had the purest heart of anyone I have ever met, and she touched everyone who came in contact with her. Everyone who met grandma fell in love with her. Her sweetness and light were infectious and she approached people with an openness that never failed to make others feel included and wanted. When I was a child, I was always at her feet. No matter what she was doing, I was never too far away. She loved children, and always included all of us kids; teaching us how to cook and how to make tortillas, telling us stories of her childhood, and playing with us. She made the same newspaper boats and hats for Aubrey that she did for Deborah and I. Playing in the corner of the kitchen while she was cooking, reading on her bed while she watched TV… it didn’t matter; I just always wanted to be near her and she was always happy to have me. Because of that, I learned a lot about life watching her and talking with her. I want to share with you the person that I knew, and the invaluable lessons that she gave me.
One thing that Grandma taught me is to regularly exercise my mind. She didn’t have the luxury of a proper education, but she didn’t let that stop her from learning what she could and using the mind that she had. Even at 94, she was pretty quick witted, and that was largely due to her love for puzzles. When I was a child she would let me “help” her do the crosswords out of the paper or search her word finds with her. She taught me to love words and puzzles and to keep my mind active and in shape.
She taught me to be resourceful and to think outside the box. She could entertain me for hours with a balloon made from a grocery bag. My mom often said that you could look into the kitchen and see nothing to eat, but grandma could turn around and feed four or five people off of what she could MacGyver out of a potato and some spices. She knew poverty and she survived. She made due with what she had and taught me that a little goes a long way when you approach it with creativity and determination.
I learned about love and marriage from talking to her about grandpa. She loved my grandfather; he was her whole life. He was truly her soul mate and she talked about him all the time. She longed for the day when she would see him again in heaven and be reunited with him once more. I learned from her that when it came time to choose a partner, not to settle for anything less than someone with whom my soul would be entwined for eternity, because epic love is totally possible if you believe in it enough to be patient and wait for it to arrive.
A lesson that took me a very long time to learn is one of perseverance. Grandma suffered from phlebitis for decades, and lived in a constant state of pain that got progressively worse over the years. As she lost mobility, the limitations of her body continued to rob her of the things she loved to do. Grandma taught me that life is hard and doesn’t make sense. The longer you live, the more you will experience pain and loss. Life isn’t fair, but you can’t run away from it. You have to face the pain head on and accept it. You play the hand that you’re dealt and you do the best you can with it, not making excuses, but thriving in spite of how hard the circumstances may be. Grandma’s body was weak and fragile, but she had amazing strength of spirit. She taught me that the strongest people aren’t necessarily the ones who shout the loudest or who control and overpower. In fact, grandma was much more likely to listen and witness than to speak out. The quiet strength of simply surviving, of standing tall and going on while the fire threatens to consume you, that’s what real strength is. She lived a life full of pain and loss, but she never let it rob her of her joy. She cried, she grieved, and she kept right on going. She never let it turn her bitter. She never allowed it to cause her to be closed off or shut down. She stayed optimistic, despite all of her suffering and was quick to laugh or sing. She taught me that it’s okay if you have to cry, and it’s okay if you have to crawl, as long as you keep going.
Grandma showed me what faith looks like. She had a strong sense of right and wrong and was honest and uncompromising. She prayed to God several times a day for herself, and especially for those she loved. Despite how hard grandma’s life was, her faith never wavered. There were a lot of things about her life that she didn’t understand. She didn’t know why she was made to suffer and she wondered about God’s plan, but she never doubted that He had one. Sometimes I wonder if faith like that only comes with age. There are those few people who you come across whose faith is so strong that they stand like giants among us, and many of them are older. Grandma was a Goliath in her faith, and it left an impression. Perhaps it takes a lifetime of testing to believe so solidly, as tangible as rock beneath your feet. I don’t know the answer to that, and this is a lesson that I am still learning. Because of her faith, though, I know that she is in heaven.
Grandma told me several times that when she died she didn’t want me to cry and she didn’t want me to be sad. It’s not that easy, though. I want to be happy for her, and in a way I am. I am so thankful that her pain is over and she is finally at peace. I’m glad that she was able to shed her earthly body that was always at war with her, and can now run and dance and be free. I’m glad that she is reunited with all of the family that she lost, especially her husband. But I miss her.
The last couple weeks my mind has been flooded with a lifetime of memories. I miss her cooking. No one was a better cook than grandma. I miss her humor. She really was a funny lady and I miss the sound of her laugh. Mostly, though, I will miss experiencing how much she loved me. She was always so happy to see me, no matter what was going on. All I had to do was walk in the room and she lit up. Her love was unconditional, the purest love I’ve ever known. She taught me that family isn’t limited to blood lines. Family can include neighbors and friends and many of you can attest to being “adopted” by grandma. Whether we were born in, married in, or adopted in, she loved us with the same fierce devotion. It was a selfless love, doing whatever she could, giving everything away, wanting the best for everyone else before herself. I don’t think I will ever find a pure love here on earth like what I received from grandma. She was one of a kind, and a blessing to everyone who met her. And though I am happy that grandma has gone on to a better place, I am so sad for the hole that she has left behind. To me, grandma was safety and love and acceptance. She was truly special, and we are all so lucky to have known her. I feel honored to be her granddaughter, and so blessed to have had her in my life. I loved my grandmother with all my heart, and she lives on through what she passed on to me. She didn’t have much, and she didn’t leave a wealth of possessions behind. What she did leave was the memory of her love. We are better people for having known her. We are her legacy, and she will live on in the hearts of everyone she touched.
I have really been struggling lately. I’ve been weepy and emotional, dealing with grief and thinking about my grandmother a lot. This time last year we had moved her from the hospital to the hospice and were trying to accept the fact that she was not going to get better. I was already feeling the loss and starting to grieve, but it was confusing and weird since she was still there, right in front of me. But by that time, she was on such high doses of medication that she was rarely awake and even when she did wake up she wasn’t really there anymore. She wasn’t herself, not really anyway.
I was also, at the time, worried about my emotionally unstable mother who had, just a month earlier, gone off the deep end in a particularly dramatic and traumatic (for the rest of us) way. Grandma had always lived with us, and my mother had not been without her for over 30 years. I didn’t know what she was going to do when the time actually came, but I couldn’t rule out anything. I was also worried about my sister who was dealing with a state of financial crisis at the time, and who took care of grandma all day, every day. Daily life, as she knew it, had changed forever. I got it in my head that I needed to be the calm, rational one. I tried to stay strong, just in case someone snapped. That has been my role these last few years after moving to NC. I try to be the voice of reason in an extremely chaotic family. It is not an easy job, and sometimes I feel like I am going to shatter under the weight of it, but someone has to keep their head and I am the only one left.
Grandma was checked into hospice on the 11th and the died on the 23rd. That’s twelve days of waiting, watching her slowly die. Twelve days of of anger, fear, and despair. Twelve days of rage, cursing God for allowing her to continue to suffer as the days dragged on. Twelve days being on pins and needles, afraid every time the phone rang, and terrified of needing to figure out how to live without her. My grandmother was the most important person in my life, except for my husband. In many ways she was a mother to me much more than my own mother. It’s been a year, and the pain is still sharp as knives. I still have times where the grief twists at my heart and doubles me over because I can’t breathe.
After everything was over- the memorial service done, and the friends and family had left- I withdrew from the world. I locked myself away and numbed myself out. I was like that for months. Finally, feeling started to return. The pain and grief crashed down around me, but also signs of life. It took until September, about six months, to return to “normal” life, or at least a life where I had more good days than bad. It was hard around the holidays, but we managed. I’d been doing pretty well until I went to the ER a month and a half ago. Before that, my last ER trip had been when we admitted grandma to the hospital. It brought everything back- the hospital, the hospice… everything. I’ve been trying to hold it together, but the last week or two have been really emotional. I’ve been crying a lot, which I hate. It’s been really hard. The 23rd is the anniversary of her death. Since it’s the week before Easter, I have dress rehearsal and a choir cantata that weekend. My mother is coming down for a few days from her new home (she moved away a few months after grandma died), and I’ll be with my family on the day. It will be good to spend time with my sister and my niece and plot out our plans for Easter.
I’m trying to focus on the good times. I have so many lovely memories of my grandmother. I loved her so much, and she adored me. I miss her like crazy. I wish that I could hear her laugh one more time. She was such a funny woman, quirky, but with a huge heart. Time is supposed to heal everything. I don’t know if that is really true. I think it’s more accurate to say that time just allows you to get used to living with the loss. It doesn’t necessarily fill in the gaping hole that is left behind. You just get used to living with that chunk missing. I’m no longer raw and bleeding, but the edges are still tender.
All that to say, I’m having a really hard time of it right now, so my posts are sporadic and somewhat superficial. I’m not really sure how long grief lasts like this. I lost my father when I was 16, but I don’t really remember how I felt or for how long. I know that all of this is totally normal and all part of the process. That doesn’t make it suck any less, but everyone who experiences a loss goes through it. I guess it’s just my turn. I’ll go on, because there isn’t really any choice, and wait for the day when I can remember without the grief. I know that eventually that day will come.
It has been a rough couple of weeks. One of the main reasons for that is because I have insomnia. I also have a circadian rhythm sleep disorder- delayed sleep phase disorder. Basically, what that means is that I have a really hard time sleeping, and when I do get sleep, it is usually when “normal” people are up and about their day. The older I get, the worse it seems to get. I have tried many things over my lifetime to fix my sleep issues, but it is a constant struggle. I occasionally can fall asleep around 4 or 5, though usually it is closer to 8 or 9 and sometimes even around noon. I get anywhere from 3 to 6 hours of sleep a night (day), but I try to get 5 or 6 hours when I can. Most of my sleep issues are genetic. I get it from my father’s side. He had insomnia, as well as his father and his two sisters. Exercise helps, and so does taking Melatonin, but there is no real “cure”.
One of the side effects of insomnia is depression. Funnily enough, one of the side effects of depression is insomnia. It’s no surprise that I also struggle with depression. It’s one of those chicken and egg scenarios, as I’m not sure which came first. I certainly have always had a delayed sleep phase, and I feel like I have always had to combat depression, but that last is more a case of alternate causality. At any rate, the last few weeks have been hard on me with both my sleep and my moods. My body is in transition at the moment, and it is rebelling. It has been six months since my grandmother died, and I am still very much dealing with the grief and loss. Though there are perfectly reasonable explanations for everything going on physically and mentally with me right now, it doesn’t make it any easier to get through it. I feel like I am on one big wheel of suck, everything feeding into itself. I’m hormonal, and emotional, and more than anything else, I am exhausted.
I find this state of being extremely frustrating. I had major struggles with my mental health for years and years, but had reached a place of balance and happiness. I dealt with all my demons and felt healed and whole. Even though I still had sleep issues, I was able to manage the negative emotional side effects through certain lifestyle choices that allowed me some leeway in my sleep schedule. But when I lost my grandmother, I lost control of everything. She was the most important person in my life, aside from my husband. She had a big hand in raising me, so it was like losing a mother. My entire world came crashing down around me. I know that grief takes time, and that it has only been six months. I think that I have handled things as well as can be expected, and there is no one keeping score, anyway. And I am certainly doing better than I was in the first few months. But it is still a struggle for me every day. It is infuriating, chasing sleep every night, often falling short. I am trying to take control of my life. I’m trying to get fit and healthy physically and emotionally. I feel like I was doing so well a few years ago, but I’ve lost my way and need to find it again.
But good lord, am I tired.