I’ve started and restarted this post half a dozen times in the last six minutes. I can’t figure out how I want to say this. I don’t know how to turn something so sore and angry into something beautiful. I haven’t found the peace within the pain, the life lesson within the loss, that allows me to hold onto this sadness without it burning my hands.
Tonight, I listened to Linkin Park’s One More Light album on the way to my writing meeting. I love this album and it speaks to me on many levels. Like all Linkin Park albums have done, its sadness and angst lifts me up. There’s something about knowing I’m not alone, knowing others have found a reason to sing within their own darkest hours, that turns on the light for me.
Since December, though, there are a couple of lines in the title song, One More Light, that just gut me.
pull the floor
from your feet.
In the kitchen,
one more chair
than you need.
And you’re angry–
and you should be–
it’s not fair.”
These words ignite a white-hot rage inside me. I don’t sing that last sentence … I growl it through tears. Every time.
You see, my Grandma Jeanne died unexpectedly, in December. My husband and I had lunch with her on Saturday, December 2nd before our annual trek south for the winter on the 3rd. On the 14th, she went into the hospital for an infection and had surgery. On the 17th they were talking about discharging her the next day, but when she started having severe abdominal pain, that didn’t happen.
I followed all of this information via text messages and phone calls. Our family tree is large and information travels quickly. The 18th was a flurry of messages from cousins and uncles and by the 19th I was very concerned. This was only three weeks after having to put my Wiggles to sleep, and eleven short days after Aunt Tori’s death. At 4:30 pm, I wrote in my journal:
“My honest reactions to Grandma being in the hospital are ones of fear, overwhelm, and sorrow. This feels like one of those inevitable moments in time. I have these instances when I can see all the way down a path into the future so clearly it’s like looking through a window. I am afraid that I’m looking at the beginning of a short, direct path to another family loss.”
Four hours later, my father called.
“Grandma has a ruptured stomach. The doctors have given her 24 hours.”
Even now, when I think about that call, I can feel echoes of the cold wave that washed over me. His words were so sudden, so unexpected that I couldn’t quite piece together everything they meant. I believe my first words–after a lengthy silence–were, “What the fuck?”
He and I talked and cried and sat silent on the phone line, each unsure how to comfort the another and each comforted by the sharing. We each started making travel plans, trying to balance our need to be there RIGHT NOW with the realities of airline schedules and the human body’s need for sleep. Mikey got me tickets on an early flight the next day. I packed and made myself go to bed.
At 12:41, I woke. It was the kind of wide-awake that happens when your sleeping brain hears something that puts you on high alert but fails to tell your waking brain what it was. I stared into the darkness, willing myself to go back to sleep. Then I checked my phone. The text that woke me said, “Grandma just passed.”
There are a great many things I love about spending part of my year in Minnesota. One of the greatest was being only 20 minutes away from time with Grandma. After so many years of being in California, hearing about family gatherings but rarely able to join in, it filled me with joy to be so close to the center around which our family orbited. I loved watching Grandma surrounded by her children and grandchildren. I loved the raucous games of Liverpool Rummy and the dinners that required ALL the leaves be added to her dining room table.
I loved the times I got to spend alone with Grandma even more. I’m sure she hated the need for someone to watch over her, but I loved being that person. We would gossip and scoff at Trump’s latest idiocy and eat English muffins with peanut butter. We’d shout answers at Jeopardy or work on an impossible jigsaw puzzle or she’d kick my ass at King’s Corners. Sometimes we’d just watch the woodpeckers together.
Grandma always made me feel like I was someone important, someone special. I come from a big family full of really impressive people. It can be easy to feel small in a family like that. But Grandma saw the little things people did–wiping the table, holding a door, taking a risk–and acknowledged them. She celebrated a person’s effort as though it were already success.
I head back up to Minnesota in about six weeks. It will not be the same. There will still be many good things about being there, but one of the best things will be missing. I’m really struggling with that. I am working my way through the grieving process. Someday I will be able to focus on the joy and love she brought to my life. But for right now, when something reminds me of the empty chair where she used to be I am really fucking angry.
And I should be.
Because it’s not fair.