I really pity the folks who never had a close relationship with one of their grandparents. They missed out on the most profound relationships that truly shapes who you are as an adult. And I understand that not all grandparents are good. Nor are they always present, whether that be by choice or just circumstance. That’s why I feel horrible if I ever do adopt, because they will miss out on my mother. She would have loved the shit out of them like my grandmother did for me.
Much like my husband’s experience, my grandmother was like a third parent. She was also the one who cultivated my love of reading and my want to be a writer. She literally read everything I printed out and gave to her. The best part was when she was honest and gave me critiques while attempting to no be too harsh. Even as I think back on it I can see the struggle on her face, as she chose the appropriate words to describe what she wanted to say without offending me.
My grandmother was the only “grand” I had. At least, one that had any effect on my life. My paternal grandmother was in and out of hospitals when I was a toddler. She was a chain smoking narcist who I was fortunate enough to have never known in my formative years. My paternal grandfather was absent my entire life, much like he was for my father.
One of my earliest memories was when I was almost 3 years old. Some might think this is unbelievable but I vividly remember going to my grandfather’s funeral. I remember the sight of him laying in his casket, with a single red rose. I can recall my father taking me outside to get a drink from the drinking fountain and I asked him, “why is mom crying?” And him telling me in his calm tone that she was sad that her dad, my grandpa, was gone.
Sometimes I thought that I had made all of this up, until my own grandmother had passed. We held her services in the exact same funeral home and it was precisely how I remembered it. There was no doubt that I hadn’t concocted a false memory.
My grandmother’s passing was the first experience of real loss. I had lived a very charmed life never having known such sadness. When I did… I was distraught.
My grandmother had been forced into having a hernia surgery by her two oldest daughters. The medical professional had advised against it, this was her third surgery for the same affliction. However despite his and her own reservations she agreed. The surgery was a success. She left the hospital and came home without any issues. We all thought she was in the clear.
My mother had had a Las Vegas trip planned with my Aunt (her best friend), and she sought my grandmother’s blessing before departing. She gave it and told her to have fun and not worry about her. When my mother got back, my gran complained about feeling unwell. My mother offered to take her to the ER, but she had a scheduled doctor’s appointment the next day. So, she said she would wait until then. There was no sense going when that was just around the corner.
My mom regretted agreeing to that.
At the time I was working overnights at Best Buy, helping them renovate the local store to a format they called “Buzz.” It was a layout that was geared for the shopper who was interested in the “latest and greatest tech.” I worked from 10 P.M. to 7 A.M. for a month, in close proximity to the store manager. (He was a sleeze bucket.) And one of the rules of doing this work was I had to leave my Nokia bar phone in the car or turned off. Over-nights was all about work.
On the morning of my last day of scheduled overnights, I was sitting in the living room having something to eat before I went to bed. My grandmother shuffled in, in her trademark pastel nightgown. She didn’t say anything, and neither did I.
I finished up my quick meal and got up to go to bed.
“Do you want the TV on or off?” was the last thing I ever said to her.
That night we got out a little early, we had successfully recreated the floorplan of the store to be buzzworthy. Everyone agreed to go out to eat at some restaurant as a “celebration.”
As I got to my car, turned my phone on, I immediately got a voicemail from my mom.
She spoke very soft and methodical. She told me to come home right away.
What I can’t understand is why I didn’t bother calling her back. It never crossed my mind. Not even once. Instead I raced across town to find out. As I pulled up to the house, I already knew something was very wrong. There were a bunch of cars taking up any free space and I was forced to double park in the driveway.
Inside everyone gathered together, in the living room, in silence.
My breath caught in my chest, my heart pounded in my ears.
I came to a stop and stood at the end of the counter.
“Grandma is gone,” my mom said.
I spun around and collapsed, cross legged, on the floor, sobbing.
My mother, her voice trembling, told me to come to her. But I couldn’t move.
Once I had composed myself the first person I called was my husband. He didn’t answer, because he was on the road for work and it was his turn to sleep in the cab while his partner drove.
One of the biggest things I regret is that I was so rude to my grandmother in the months before her passing. I was battling with my sexuality and the expectations of my family and faith. Her constant “worrying” about Charlie, my husband, was irritating. I know she knew I was gay and who he was. Her room was right next to mine and our walls were thin. I also have a very loud voice. There wasn’t a night that I didn’t spend at least a couple hours talking to Charlie on the phone. It was how our relationship began.
I did have a dream, shortly after she passed, of her and I spending time in the kitchen of her home in the mountains. She was busy doing something, what I don’t remember, and I felt so sad. I told her that I loved her, missed her, and how I was so sorry that I was mean to her. She just brushed it aside with a smile and let me know that it was okay.
My dad told me, after I shared my dream with him, that she had come to visit me. He was so matter of fact about it.
I chose this song because my grandmother would sing it every once in awhile. Sometimes it was to me, and others it was because she missed my grandfather. He and her had been together since she was 14 years old. They had gone through so much together. He had “saved” her from living in a group home, after her step-mother had given her to be a ward of the state.
They had had seven kids, lost one in war and the other to cancer, and they had travelled back and forth across this country three times, trying to make a living for themselves and their family. It was never explicitly told to me, but I am certain their move from Missouri to California was my grandfather’s attempt to break into the music business. There are demo tapes of him singing different gospel songs in boxes throughout my mom’s home.
This was one of the songs that he would sing to her, unprompted.
This September will be 18 years since she passed. And I still miss her as much as I ever have.