About a week before my grandmother died, I was on a long car trip with my dad, and I said that my hope was that Mom would really be okay when Grandma was gone. Not that she wouldn't be sad, but it seemed as though she had been doing such gruelling work of grieving ever since Grandpa died, a year and a half ago. That was a shock, and she's climbed her way out of it, all in the face of her mother's impending death...well, it only seemed fair that when Grandma died, Mom would find some peace.
And then Grandma died, and Mom made her way through those days. She was so brave and truthful and I do think it's true, that she has found some peace. And I found myself, somehow, at sea.
It doesn't make any sense, because if I'm telling the truth here, I barely knew my grandparents until about eight years ago. We never lived near them, and I mostly saw them as mysterious figures who had lived in such exotic places as New York, and who could make my mother cry.
When I was about eight I gave my beloved doll, Caroline Clemple, a bottle of tea - full of tea leaves - to drink. The little flecks of tea coated her insides and started to grow mold that clouded her clear blue eyes. We sent Caroline off to New York, where my grandparents took her to a doll hospital. When they sent her back, she had brown eyes. My grandmother pointed out, "Just like yours!"
Except my eyes are green, a stubborn point of pride for me in my brown-eyed family. I looked at my doll, tipped her back and forth to watch her eyes click open and shut and thought quite coolly, "They don't know me at all."
I don't think they ever really did, and I didn't get to know them until they were fighting the end of life battles. Those final years, I've decided, are relentless in their losses and griefs. I think my grandfather only realized that things weren't going to go back to normal about a month before he died.
I used to go visit Grandma on Mondays, when the boys were at school. Sophia would trot around, charming the nursing home staff, and I would sit next to Grandma's wheelchair, trying to think of things to say to her. She was largely silent by then, and that makes it hard to keep a conversation going.
One day as I sat there, I glanced down the hall and saw a man walking slowly our direction, stooped and clutching his walker. He had that styrofoam-light look of the elderly and frail, and white hair streaked the top of his head. In my chest I felt a movement, a leap of recognition, it was Grandpa! THERE you are, I thought, and I nearly stood up to go to him.
Of course it was not him. He'd been dead for a year already. I sat back and looked back at Grandma, shaken. She was turned away from me, curled up in her wheelchair, murmuring something. I leaned in to listen, but she seemed to be talking to her mother.
When my children are near me, filling the air around me with their noise and their needs, I often wish they would just back away for a little bit. Give me some air, and let me talk to Clay, or a friend, or even myself.
And then when they are somewhere else, after a few minutes the sounds of them leak back out of my head, and in the silence I look around and ache to hear them.
Sometimes I wonder if our whole lives are mostly spent just missing each other, and searching for the opportunities that are already gone.
And so I am back here, writing again, even though lately I have been sick to death of the sound of my own voice. Because it is the only voice I have to tell this story of mine and I see so many moments that will slip past me forever if I don't pin them down here. And this world has enough loss in it.