My Grandma died over the weekend.
I'm 27 years old, and she was 89; I don't know why I keep feeling like crying about this. I should be more mature and able to handle it. She lived a full life.
I talked with a friend about this recently, and he and I ruminated on how the death of a loved one is hard on several levels - you miss that person, of course, but it also somehow reminds you that there are more losses to come, that you'll walk this road again with more grandparents, and then with parents. You'll go through it with friends, and siblings, and someday with a husband or wife. The death of one person awakens you more fully to the reality that this life ends in death, and it is a difficult and sad thing to navigate. You go through one, two, or three losses, and they plant nagging reminders in your mind. There will be many, many more deaths - ultimately culminating, of course, in your own.
Grandma and Grandpa (my Dad's parents) lived near us for most of my life, and I usually saw them several times a week. Grandma was a good hostess, a good cook, and a good talker, and Grandpa was a gentleman, sous chef and dishwasher, and the best of listeners. They are a part of every memory I have of Christmases, Thanksgivings, July 4ths, and so much in between.
When my Grandpa died a little over two years ago, I had a really hard time with it. Encroaching on all the memories of Grandpa as I knew him, I couldn't get an image out of my mind of Grandpa's body lying in his coffin, usually in that powder blue suit of his.
(And I hadn't even gone to the viewing; imagine what a wreck I would have been if I had.)
For weeks after his death, whenever I'd try to go to sleep at night, I'd picture his body, his coffin, his grave, and try as I might, I couldn't get these difficult images out of my head. I cried myself to sleep for many, many nights that summer.
So the good news is, I am handling my Grandma's death considerably better. (Which actually isn't saying much.) Maybe these things get easier as one gets older, or maybe losing someone you love just makes the next time a little more bearable.
For the past few years, any time I would visit my family in California I was aware that it could be the last time I'd see Grandma this side of the resurrection.
If I was prepared for this, why can't I better recall the last time I saw her? Why can't I remember what we said, that last hug we shared, our last goodbye? With Grandpa it was different; he had cancer and I made a trip out just to see him - for the unspoken yet very real purpose of saying goodbye. I remember that goodbye so clearly.
My last goodbye with Grandma, by contrast, has blended in with hundreds of hugs and conversations. Did I stop by her house on my way to the airport after last Christmas? Or had I said goodbye the day before? Was she wearing a red skirt and blouse, or the navy blue skirt, or was it pink? What were our last words to each other?
And when I last called her on the phone, back before she was too weak to come to the phone or to chat with anyone, what did we talk about? I'm sure I told her about concerts I'd been playing, students I'd been teaching, and assured her that Nathan and I were well and happy. I'm sure when I asked how she was, she replied, "Not too bad for an old lady," and then went on to tell me how she prayed God would take her soon. Ever since Grandpa died, Grandma didn't want to linger around any longer than necessary.
I don't understand how life after death works, or what happens between death and the resurrection, but my Dad said he pictures Grandma and Grandpa dancing together right now, and I like that. They loved to dance.
I'm going to write a post about my Grandma - the fascinating life she had, the kind of person she was, and my memories of her - but I need to buy a box of kleenex before tackling that project.