This morning I woke up while in the midst of a dream. I was trying to visit my grandparents but I couldn't find them. In the dream, I knew my grandmother was going to die soon, but there were many obstacles—from family to travel plans—preventing me from getting there.
I woke up crying and when Jon came back into the bedroom to kiss me good-bye, I held him tightly wishing he could come back to bed and hold me. About an hour later I realized tears had been sitting in the corner of my eye since that moment, but in my sleepiness and need to get started with work to move my mind onto something else, I hadn't noticed.
It is so gray here today. The happiness and contentment found in the smiling blue-skied yesterday has been replaced with a gloomy blue feeling to match the dripping white-gray skies. I decided to get out of the house to work. One of the local cafes has floor-to-ceiling windows that let in lots of light. And, so it is here, next to these floor-to-ceiling windows that I sit.
Sometimes days like this just happen. Days where I feel that bluish gray inside and the missing nags at the middle of my chest and tears pinprick the backs of my eyes. They can happen on sunny days too of course; grief has no understanding of seasons, maps, or calendars. It just is…
I always appreciate the kind comments that are left on my posts where I mention the grief I feel about my grandmother's death three years ago. People recognize their own grandmothers in some of the words I write; they want to somehow invite me to feel better with their kindness. I never really write much about her though; I write more about the feelings of missing her. We did have special relationship but she wasn't quite that grandmother who represents all good things and has a kind and open heart. She was not quite that kind of grandmother. And, the truth is, my grandmother was a really bad mother. Truly. I am sure she had a few bright shining moments as a parent, but I'm not sure if her children would remember them because the many bad moments have a way of causing such large, overbearing shadows. Although I did not witness many of those moments, I have always seen those shadows. Things were different with me though. I am not sure why that is; other than that obvious point people make that "things are always different with grandchildren." And, I see that in the way my grandmother loved me. It is different from a parent's love. A grandparent doesn't feel the weight a parent does; I mean that weight to guide, teach, protect, and so on. A grandparent probably experiences less fear and therefore the love is somehow lighter. This is my experience as a daughter and granddaughter though…so what do I know. But, this is how it felt to me because this is how it felt to love her. There wasn't the fear of letting her down or not living up to my potential or being too loud. It was lighter.
I tried to explain how I see this irony of my relationship with my grandmother versus the relationship her children might have had with her in this poem I wrote last year.
I'm not sure why I am sharing this today, but these are thoughts I've had during the last few days, and today they have just bubbled up until they are knocking to be let out of my mind. I suppose part of the reason is this understanding I have that even though yes, I am sad my grandmother is dead and yes I miss her so very much, I also know that this isn't the full weight of this feeling I have on days like today.
The weight of this feeling is really the deep understanding that when someone dies they are gone. Totally gone. One minute you can talk to that person and the next you can't. Ever again. At least not in the way you want to right now.
It is pretty fucked up.
I don’t think you can feel the weight of it or understand it until in one moment in your life you suddenly do. That moment came for me when I saw my grandmother totally still in the funeral home. As I stood there willing her chest to move, my own chest began to ache as I felt my heart break right in two. And, I felt that ache for almost two years. Every day.
I stood there with the broken heart of someone who felt let down by life, god, other people, all that I knew to be real until then. Death broke my heart. The realization that I would never be able to talk to her again, and that this is what would happen, this feeling, when I lose people throughout my life…that is what broke my heart. I think it is one of the deepest heartbreaks we experience. The heartbreak that death delivers in the form of grief. The heartbreak that comes with suddenly understanding something more than we ever wanted to grasp.
On the surface it all makes sense I suppose. I mean we do understand to some extent the idea of death when we are young at some point. Though it is a murky understanding for most I think. Something tells me I probably learned about it on an episode of Mr. Rogers, but I remember feeling sadness about the death of someone I knew for the first time when my fourth-grade teacher, Mrs. Robinson, died the August before fifth grade. In my ten-year-old mind, I thought of her up in heaven and wondered if she felt happy or if she missed her children. But, I suppose I expressed my sadness about death in ways that seemed more tangible, like watching the scene when Catherine died on the show "Beauty and the Beast." I sat about a foot from the TV screen and sobbed with the deep heaving sobs of a dramatic almost teenager until my mother came into the family room and told me to pull myself together. And, Robert Redford's character's death in Out of Africa…I can still imagine myself in that theatre not quite understanding that he was dead.
My father's father died before I was born, and as a child I always thought about how I only had one grandfather. He never seemed like a real person to me, and at some point, in my mind I replaced an image of Frank Sinatra as a young man with what he really looked like in the one photo I had in my bedroom as a little girl. We never really talked about him. And, it wasn't until my friend Heather's father died when we were in our mid twenties that I even began to think about the reality that my father had experienced what Heather was experiencing. It wasn't just about the truth that I had never known my "other" grandfather. It was the reality that my father's father was dead. It was the reality that my father and my mother would die some day…on a day I would have no control over at all.
That murky understanding of a child becomes the lesson death hands you in a moment at some point in your life. For me, the moment I stood facing my grandmother in the funeral home, and that moment mingled with the grief I felt over her death. They are two lessons merged in one moment.
This understanding is why it sometimes feels so heavy. Life…breathing…moving forward…letting go…grieving…it can feel so heavy because the reality is what it is. And it is maddening. But, it is what it is.
All I can do is live until it all ends on a day I will have no control over.
All I can do is dance in my life until that last moment and try to be my best self even while I make mistakes. All I can do is take in the little things to see why this life is beautiful. If I don't notice those little things, if I don't try to open my heart to joy, the deep understanding that it can end…that it will end…that the people I love will die on a day I cannot control…might knock me over.
I listen to The Weepies sing, "Red dirt clay/stuck in my heart/clogging up the way the tears come through. I'm blue, just blue." And I think about the red clay in the backyard of my grandparents South Carolina home and I miss them…I miss her. I miss those days when I could have grabbed her hand and pulled her outside and we could have kicked off our shoes and run around in that red clay while holding hands and twirling. No, we never did this exactly, but I miss living in a time when we could have done this. I regret we never did this. I miss her smell and laugh and seeing her in her robe in the morning as she made another pot of water for coffee. I miss the jelly jar of clovers and violets sitting on the kitchen windowsill. I miss walks by Lake Edwin Johnson and skipping rocks together. I miss being five and thinking about how she is my best friend in all the world. I miss sitting in my childhood home at Thanksgiving with everyone even if it wasn't perfect but just feeling so happy to have my family around me. I miss what might have been. I miss…I miss…I miss.
And, as Deb Talen sings, "I'm missing you, and there's not a thing to do. I'm blue, just blue, just blue," I know that this is part of it, part of living in this life. Feeling is part of it all.
So, on these days, we have to take care of ourselves. Today, I have to take care of me. I sit here in this café and let the little bit of sun coming through the clouds caress me through the window. I drink my latte and write lists of things I need to do and things I've already done just so I can cross them off and feel good. I work and write encouraging notes to authors and send emails. I listen to my iPod and sing along in my head and allow myself to sway from side to side in a very tiny dance while sitting in a chair in a cafe. I think about having a nice evening with Jonny and Millie. I dream about what is to come. I live in this minute.
It is okay isn't it?
Yes. It is.
(Lines from the song "Just Blue" from The Weepies' album Hideaway)