My grandmother—my mother’s mother—passed away in the early hours of Monday, August 7th. Her name was Grace, and it suited her. She was a special lady who I admired very much.
As someone fairly in touch with my emotions, I am finding it quite difficult to articulate my feelings on this.
She became the third person who I watched decline and fade away…who suffered until the end finally came. I imagine it would leave a mark on anyone, but I feel stained, stained by death, and I am beginning to realize that it has affected me more than I know.
I don’t get close to people anymore. The stain isn’t the only reason, but it makes me feel somehow damaged. Shut is the openness I once had. I mourn the loss of my younger self and the courage she had to wear her heart for all to see.
But then, she didn’t know how easily the heart could shatter or how much it would hurt. Courage comes easy when you don’t understand the danger ahead. My mother’s illness and subsequent death hurt me in a way that doesn’t heal. Whatever part of me that survived the emotional fallout fell victim to the strain of chronic physical pain.
I come from a line of women who never show their pain. I may write about it prolifically, but you would never suspect what lies beneath vis-à-vis. Like my grandmother and mother before me, I wear a mask, and it grows heavy. Frequently, isolation is easier to bear than the weight of the façade.
“So don’t wear it,” you say. It isn’t that simple. I don’t know how to leave the disguise at home; it isn’t what my family does. In its own way, the pain stains too.
With my baggage firmly anchored to my ankle, my last grandparent descended into the hell of terminal illness. She was the comeback kid. So many times in the last decade, Grandma had fallen ill only to recover. In the end, it wasn’t congestive heart failure, diabetes, or a stroke, but a fall that sapped the last of her reserves.
Not that she ever let it show, but I knew she suffered. I knew life had become a strain. There was a tightness in my last visits with her: two people trying very hard to pretend that nothing was wrong…and then she was gone. I’ve prepared for this so many times over the last decade, only to have her bounce back. I think a part of me believed that she was a force that could not be stopped.
My aunts were tireless in the care they gave her in the end. Your terminal loved ones can become someone else. They can thrash about in their delirium, call out, or say terrible, abusive things that are completely out of character…and while all logic tells you that this aggression isn’t truly aimed at you, how can you not take it personally? I was spared the last one with Mom because she fell into a coma, but my aunts have to remember those mean words for the rest of their lives.
Her funeral was last Thursday. I spent Wednesday night watching tearjerkers and scribbling out the first part of this entry, all in preparation to don the mask again for another public viewing. I was so, so proud of myself for staying dry-eyed through the service. I would NEVER expect anyone else to abstain from crying during a funeral, so why was it so important for me?
The burial ceremony was held at the cemetery this morning. I hate the cemetery. I hate seeing Mom’s name on a stone…I don’t want to look for her there, and it just so happens that my parents’ plot is adjacent to my grandparents’ plot. Nonetheless, I attended…on what would have been Mom’s 60th birthday. I left flowers on her grave before the ceremony started and struggled to keep the tears inside. My sweet husband came armed with tissues and a blanket should I want to kneel at Mom’s grave…sweetness has a way of unravelling me.