One year ago today I received the worst news of my entire life: that Grandma—my beloved adoptive parent, caretaker, and sturdy Rock of support—had suddenly passed away at home without any warning. I hate this day, and I will hate this date for the rest of my life.
I can’t believe it has been an entire year since she has gone. The last twelve months have passed by in a silent, numb blur. There has literally not been a single day since she died that I have not thought of her. She has been on my mind every single one of the last 365 days, and I don’t think there will ever be a day when she won’t.
This has been the darkest, most painful year of my entire life. I don’t know how I have made it through the past 365 days without talking to her on the phone. And since it had been close to a year since I had been home to see her when she died, it will be TWO years next month since I’ve last seen her in person. This has been a year of painful silence for me. My cell phone never rings with her name showing on the caller ID screen anymore. I never hear her familiar and comforting voice anymore. And I can’t call her up and talk to her whenever I need to anymore. And now that our family home has been sold, I can never go home again. I can never sleep in my old bedroom again, or lounge in the armchair in the living room again, or chill out on the porch swing on the back patio ever again. All of that is just distant memories now. I’ve had to emotionally numb myself in order to get through this first year without her, but it has still been horribly painful for me.
I’ve told the story of her passing in earlier posts on this blog, but I’ll recap it again here. A year ago today my father called me to tell me the news that my Aunt Linda had suddenly found Grandma dead at home in the kitchen. From what they could tell, she had a massive stroke that took her instantly like a light switch being turned off. She had a very quick and painless death at home where she was the happiest and where she belonged. And we are all grateful that she was able to pass away quickly and painlessly in her own home instead of languishing away sick and suffering in a hospital or a nursing home. But the manner of death that was the easiest for Grandma was the most difficult for the rest of us to deal with. There was no warning at all. One minute she was here, and the next she was gone. It would have been a lot easier on all of us if Grandma had been very old and sick in a hospital or nursing home, because at least then we would have expected her death and had some time to mentally prepare ourselves for it and say our goodbyes. But none of us would really have wanted her to suffer like that.
Grandma was so strong and sturdy and sharp-minded that everyone who knew her believed she would live to be close to 100, including her own doctors. We have an old joke in our family about relatives who live to very old ages that goes something like, “So-and-so lived to be so old that I thought we were gonna have to finally take him out back and shoot him!” We sometimes joked about that to Grandma that we would have to do that with her if she lived too long. So you can imagine how shocked we were when she suddenly died only a few months after her 80th birthday. I remember my final conversation with her the day before she died. The phone call only lasted 37 minutes, because she sounded very tired and I could tell that she wasn’t really in the mood to talk like she usually was whenever I called. So I ended the call early so that she could rest. But if I had known that was going to be the last time I would ever speak to her, I would have kept her on the line forever and never hung up the phone.
I remember the last time I was with her in person when she was alive, which was nearly two years ago at the end of December (on the 29th, to be exact) after I had spent two weeks there at home for Christmas. I was in my old bedroom packing my suitcases and getting ready to head to the airport to return to Florida, and Grandma was sitting in the rocking chair next to my bed talking to me as I was packing. Then my cat Lexi came into the room and hopped up onto Grandma’s lap like she often did whenever Grandma was sitting down. Grandma laughed and said to Lexi, “Oh alright, I’ll hold you…..I suppose you want me to rock you too, huh?” The last time I laid eyes on Grandma while she was still alive was when I was walking out the back door to leave. She hugged me on my way out the door and told me goodbye and that she hoped to see me again soon. At the time she died, I was only a month away from coming home to see her again.
This morning on the anniversary of her death, I wrote a long letter to her telling her about all the things I wasn’t able to talk to her about this past year. Then I sealed the letter in an empty wine bottle, drove to the nearest inlet between the ocean and the Intracoastal canal, and threw the letter in the bottle into the outgoing tide to be carried out to sea. Somewhere out there, I’m sure she will find it. But I won’t re-write here in my blog what I wrote to her in that letter since it’s just between me and her.
I’m sure that many years or decades from now, if I make it that far, the pain of missing her will eventually lessen. After enough time has passed, I may even start to forget what it was like when she was alive and here with me. But although that might be easier for me to deal with, I hope that never happens because forgetting about her would be even more painful for me than remembering her and missing her every single day. I don’t want her to become a distant memory.
Other than a lifetime of memories, all I have left of her are numerous photos and items that had belonged to her, some old gifts and cards she had given to me for birthdays and Christmases, and a few old voice messages from her that I have kept saved on my phone. I converted one of them to a sound file on my computer so that I can listen to her voice whenever I want to.
This first year without her has been the most difficult for me, and it’s only the beginning. I still have many more years of silence left to live through without her. This has been by far the hardest ordeal I have ever gone through in my entire life, and believe me, I’ve been through some other difficult and painful shit in my life. But this one has devastated me the most. She was a large part of the sturdy foundation of my life, and now that foundation is gone. And the house I have never known life without is now gone, too. Losing two of the most beloved and important things in my life at the same time has devastated me, and I don’t know if I will ever fully recover again.
Grandma, if you are still anywhere nearby and watching over me, I hope you know how much I miss you every day and how often I think of you. I hope you can see the care I have been taking with your old belongings that are now mine and how much I enjoy having and using them. I hope you can see how I’ve been trying to keep your memory alive by making my home look as much like our old family home as possible. And most of all, I hope you can hear me when I talk to you sometimes. Thank you for all of the countless things you did for me and sacrificed for me all throughout my life. As I told you before when I stood over your casket at your funeral and looked at you for the very last time, don’t go too far away because I still very much need you here to help me and guide me.
In closing, I would like to dedicate this song to Grandma. It’s one of my favorite songs by my favorite music artist Sting, and it’s called “The Lazarus Heart”. This song is about the sacrifices that mothers (and grandmothers) make in order to provide a life for their children (and grandchildren) and how change, although painful, is necessary in order for us grow and become stronger and more complete as persons. This song also tells us that death is something we will all inevitably face, but the best shield to the pain of death is in our loved ones and in their strength of character. I can’t think of a better song to pay tribute to the sacrifices she made for me and all of her family and the legacy she has left behind.
I love you and miss you very much, Grandma, and I can’t wait to come Home and see you again someday soon.