My grandmother, Gertrude, passed away just two years ago, shortly before her 89th birthday. Today she would have been 91.
I’ve written about my other grandmother, my Nana, on a couple of separate occasions. Neither death was easy. Neither wound has healed. Neither death seems real, at least not yet. I don’t know that they ever will.
There’s an old saying that “March comes in like a lion”….Gram, born on March 14th, was ‘The Lion Of March’ to me. She was strong, feisty, independent….fiercely loyal…fiercely protective…and fiercely loving. She was sheltering and nurturing and yet never smothering. She always, in my memory, encouraged me to simply be ‘me’. I shared secrets with her, things very few people know; and instead of shock, or disappointment, no matter what it was I revealed to her, I always saw something in her eyes that told me how much she loved me…I saw hurt…hurt that I was disappointed or upset…hurt that mirrored my own at times…hurt that I was relieved to share with someone that I knew loved me unconditionally.
The last several months of Gram’s life the impenetrable fog of dementia settled into her mind and she no longer knew who I was. Nothing about me was familiar to her any longer. I was a stranger visiting her for the first time each time. I had seen this coming on. There were days when she thought I was her step-son (my dad) and her husband as well as her grandson. I suppose that’s just the familial traits and appearance I carry that reminded her of others in the same bloodline. I never corrected her when she thought I was someone else. I just enjoyed that no matter who she thought I was, she liked my company and trusted me to be with.
When she made the choice to stop eating and drinking and depart this life, I visited her in the nursing home and she lay there in a bed, in and out of awareness of where she was and why, and who all those surrounding her were. Her sons and her daughter were there, as well as grandchildren and even a great grandchild, all gathered there to spend the final moments of her life with her. I, living two hours away, was not able to stay more than a few days, and eventually had to leave to come home and await the terrible news that I knew was imminent.
Before she passed, I sat next to her and laid my head on her chest and told her how sorry I was she was hurting. I told her that I loved her. She awoke, and one of her arms started to move. She kept saying ‘ow…..ow…..and yet still worked to lift her arm from the bed. She managed to raise it enough to slip it over my shoulder and said, with great effort, the last words I ever heard from her.
‘It’s okay…I love you too’
Within a few days she was gone.
I try not to dwell too much on her not being here, as I suppose most of us are taught to do. We are told to remember the good times shared and the good things about the person who has left us. As difficult as that is to do when the grief is new and the pain is raw and you want so badly to stanch the emotional bloodletting that seems like it will never abate – in the long run it is the road to travel.
Fortunately I have many things I loved about my Gram to reflect upon, and we shared nothing but good times together for my entire adult life. When my grandfather passed, she leaned on me for emotional support and cried on my shoulder. When my relationship with my dad went south for many years, she supported and loved me. When my Nana died, despite this being Grampa’s first wife, the one who came before Gram and the mother of four of his seven children, she comforted me, putting aside any lingering feelings she herself had about Nana. When we took in my sister’s son as an infant, she encouraged and praised us for how well two men were equipped to care for an infant, and said we were more prepared and engaged in the process than many heterosexual parents she knew, despite any ‘misgivings’ she might have ever had about two men parenting a child.
This was the essence of her, in my memory, the essence of who Gram was. She cared, she loved, and she did so in a selfless way. My feelings and my well-being were never secondary to her or her own feelings.
As I left her room at the nursing home the final day I saw her alive, I asked for some time alone with her which my uncles and aunt readily agreed to without question. I sat next to Gram, put my hand on hers, crying openly, and told her that if I ever hurt or disappointed her in my lifetime, I was truly sorry, and I never intentionally set out to harm her. I told her I hoped that she was even one fraction as proud of me as I had always been of her. I told her I loved her with all my heart.
And then I told her goodbye.
Today is a day I always remember her a little stronger, a little longer than any other day, although she’s never far from my mind. She was my friend as well as my grandmother, and I miss my friend so very much now that she’s no longer here for me to talk with. I miss her selfishly, as her time had come, and she’d been apart from Grampa for so long that it hardly seemed fair to ask her to stay any longer.
Happy Birthday Gram. When I allow myself to feel as well as think about you, I still cry. But as I said at your funeral, and still maintain, I believe that there is no shame in tears when we cry for someone we’ve loved and lost. Those tears are not a sign of weakness, they are the product of the strength of your love for the person who is no longer there. They are proof that you loved that person deeply, without limits, and that you are hurting that they are no longer there. I believe that no matter how strong you believe yourself to be, there are losses great enough and sorrows deep enough that they cannot stem the flow of tears forever, and eventually we must succumb.
I cried on the day that you died, and I cried on the day of your funeral. I cry now as I write this. And like all those days, and so many more that I’m sure will come, I am not, nor will I ever be, ashamed of the tears.