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After My Grandma Died

reta jayne, grandma, & eva lee posing for a picture by the river about two years before grandma died

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Lately, I have been feeling… Conflicted — & STUCK.

I don’t know how else to describe it. Since my grandma died last month, I've felt like I've been hit by a truck. I knew it was coming, but it was still a shock when it finally arrived. I cried so many tears leading up to her death I was shocked I had so many left afterward.

But I did.

There were so many, I could hardly breathe.

reta jayne, grandma, & eva lee posing for a picture by the river about two years before grandma died

A piece of me is missing since Grandma died.

And, what’s worse is that when my mother died 21 years ago, a hole was put in me then. But Grandma filled some of it. She was a HUGE part of my connection to my mom. She is my mom’s mom. I feel like, now that she’s gone, I’ve lost mom all over again too.

Grandma’s the one I moved in with at 17 when I all of a sudden had no mother.

Grandma’s the one who came to stay with me when I had my first baby.

Grandma’s the one who compelled me to keep the same phone number for YEARS on end so she & my little brother could always reach me – no matter where life took me in my tumultuous years.

Grandma was the one who GROUNDED me when I needed it.

She kept my head on straight – or helped me straighten it out when I got mixed up.

She had a way of giving this LOOK. Do you know what I mean? Grandma’s just have that certain LOOK you never want to be directed toward you… It’s a mix of anger & disappointment – but mostly the disappointment… & you do whatever you can to just NOT have that look blasted in your direction.

I will never forget that look.

And, I will never forget the soft feel of her skin under my hands when I caressed her cheek. Or the way she said the ONLY cuss word she ever uttered, (the four-letter word that starts with an “s”). She would enunciate it JUST so with a sideways nod of her head.

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And, I will never forget the last time I saw her alive.

It was the night before Grandma died. That morning, the nurse at the hospice house where she was called to say that she hadn’t been coherent since EARLY the previous morning. She said it was almost certainly a sign that the end was near.

I went & sat at Grandma’s side for over an hour. The tears would not stop flowing down my face. I had to blow my nose & clear my face several times.

I held Grandma’s hand & talked to her briefly. Then, when it was time for me to leave, I grabbed her face gently & kissed her all over. Until then, she hadn’t acknowledged my presence.

Still, her eyes did not open. But, she ever so FAINTLY shrugged in my direction then. I could FEEL her soooo subtly move toward my hands & my voice & my kisses.

I wonder if she knew it was the last time I’d get to be there.

(It was.)

Her reaction made me linger a little longer. I really took the moment in.

The tears spilled again.

I don’t remember everything I said to her, but I spoke.

I know I told her I loved her. I needed her to hear it — & if roles were reversed, that’s what I would want to hear, I think.

So, I told her I love her – sooo incredibly much. I told her she is SO LOVED by SO MANY. And that I can tell by her body that she must be tired… That it is OKAY to REST now. That we will all be okay & she will never be forgotten – how could she?

The thing is… During her hospital stay before hospice, she kept saying she wasn’t ready to go. And, I just can’t get rid of the sound of her voice saying that she’s not done. And it breaks my heart.

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But, I also know that cancer in her lungs & spine was taking over… & the radiation & chemotherapy over the past year had taken its toll on her body & brain too. Her 83-year-old life was FULL, but the last several months, her brain had started to slip.

She wasn’t all my Grandma anymore.

I know that because my Grandma wouldn’t have been angry at me for a hospital stay or thought that I would conspire with strangers regarding her care – especially without consulting or including her.

The reality is that, over the six months or so before Grandma died, I was slowly losing pieces of her already… In hindsight, I can see it even more clearly now.

She was tired.

I know that… But it’s still a devastating loss.

And now, in the aftermath of that loss, I am left with all kinds of conflicting feelings.

On one hand, I know it’s all part of life. Death is inevitable. I knew the chances were pretty high that I would be living in this world after Grandma died…

And, my Grandma had a relationship with God, so I do believe she is in Heaven now. Grief is normal & natural & it’s totally okay to feel sad & off right now.

But, I also can’t shake that totally gloomy image of mortality now.

Grandma died alone in a bed & I don’t want to die as she did.

None of us were there at that moment. I can’t help but wonder what her final thoughts were. Did I do well by her? Was she satisfied with the life she lived? Did she have regrets? And, most importantly, was her heart right with God?

And, if this life on earth is so brief, how does what I do now matter all that much? I feel highly insignificant. What does what I do with my one, small life really matter in the grand scheme of things?

There’s a lot of fear in my life now.

The two most significant women in my life have both died of cancer now. My mother AND my grandmother. Is my turn next? My mother was a month shy of her 41st birthday. I am 38. Should I be preparing for the end already?

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What about others who are close to me? Should I prepare my husband & kids for life without me?

And, speaking of my husband & kids… My mother died when I was dependent on her. My grandmother, my family’s matriarch, basically, died. The next most significant people in my life right now ARE my husband & kids. What if one of them was next?

I would be crippled.

Fear is ridiculous.

But it’s undeniable.

Yet, all of this, I know sounds silly. Paranoid almost.

Life is unpredictable – in good things just as much as the bad. That’s part of the beauty of it!

And, my God is loving & powerful & has a Plan that will glorify Him. In the end, that’s to everyone’s benefit. And, I need to focus my attention & faith there. I know this.

And, of course one person can make a difference. All it takes is one well-placed ripple to start a wave… Why not me? Why not one of my children? Why not someone I inspire in some way?

Yet, here we are. This is my brain lately. This is my heart lately. I get lost in this circle of fear & faith & past & future…. I am numb to so much of the present.

And it sucks.

I am so stuck in my own thoughts, I am irritable around other people right now.

So I am even more of a “recluse” than usual.

I don’t know what the answer is…. But, I think getting some of those thoughts out of my head & shedding some light on them this way is a good start…

And continued prayer, of course.

Then, one day, maybe all of this newfound sensitivity to all of this mortality around me will translate into making this life more JOYOUS, seizing the moment, making the most of relationships, & creating beautiful memories & experiences…. That’s so much more of what I’d prefer.

Yet, here I am. STUCK, ever since Grandma died.

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