Last Thursday morning, my grandmother died.
I got to see her a couple of weeks prior, together with my mom, my sister, and my girlfriend, over Thanksgiving weekend. She was in a hospice, at her request, so we knew we might not have much more time with her, but by the end of our time there it was clear that the hospice wanted to discharge her on the grounds that she was not dying, just old. Her doctors agreed. Oops?
I have some minor regrets: that I didn’t bring her chocolates (one thing we c could always relate about), that I never really had a conversation with her as one adult to another. She always related to me as my grandmother and nothing else, and I related to her as her grandson, as soon as I was old enough to understand what that meant. So in that sense I always felt like we wrote masks when we were together. Also, most of the time I spent with her was before I left Stamford (where my parents and grandparents lived) for college, when my grandfather was still alive, with his big festive personality overshadowing hers.
In an unguarded moment at the hospice she spoke of some lifelong regrets if never heard before, and at the time I felt like that could be the beginning of a new level of communication and understanding. I figured I’d call her when she was feeling better and ask her about that and more. Oops.
I remember that it literally never occurred to me when I was a child that I was allowed to ask for more time with my grandparents (our really, allowed to ask for much of anything without explicit prompting). I wish someone had told me that this was allowed.
But I don’t really regret spending the time I spent with her in the way that I did, just being present and enjoying life next to each other. That was my main duty as a grandson, and I discharged it well. I was also glad to have been able to report accomplishments that made her proud; it was always important to her to see the family do well.
It feels like a duty to be a mourner as well. I know how I grieve: slowly. My emotional temperature is low. There will be no dramatic upwelling if grief, no moment when I break down sobbing uncontrollably. There will instead be the slow drip of moments when I notice that some part of my mind still expects her to be alive. When I have a piece of news she would have liked to hear about myself or the family. When I see a chocolate confection she would have liked. And when I think back to the sum of things I need to tell her since the last time we talked. I miss my grandfather more now than I did the year after he died. I’ll miss my grandmother more five years from now too. But nobody will be able to give me a call at the right time, and more importantly, nobody can our will be able to fix the fact that she is permanently, irrevocably dead.
Now is when people want to let me know that they’re here for me, for whatever I need. Those are the correct things for the friends of the bereaved to say and to offer: not to impose what would comfort oneself, but to offer whatever the mourner needs. But how would I know what I need? I don’t really need anything. The one who needed something was my grandmother, but she said she was ready to go, and she’s dead now anyway.
Here are some ways in which I was helped:
Several friends just listened to me talk about her. It was especially helpful to talk online with one before I had to have in person conversations. I am grateful for that.
Several friends and family members expressed their condolences once, and then permitted me to let the subject drop. This minimized the amountof energy I had to put into performing the rule of a mourner, and I am grateful for that.
A few who live near where the funeral will be, in Stamford, plan to be at the funeral or come by afterwards, and possibly to hang out the day before and have fun that has nothing to do with my grandmother in any way. I am grateful for that.
Another wanted to come to the funeral, but the time and airfare commitment was too much. He felt badly about this because I’d come to his grandparents’ funerals in Stamford. I pointed out that while he lives a five hour plane flight from the funeral, I live in DC, a five hour train ride away, so he was comparing something very easy to something very hard. But I appreciated the thought, and the fact that he felt I was family and it was his obligation to come to these things when possible. After I tried to reassure him, he apologized again, which was not helpful – but reminded me that I had done the exact same thing to him recently when I had behaved in a way that I did not feel did him justice. I am grateful for the reminder that if I seek reassurance or forgiveness, and it is granted, I should not bring up the subject again.
One pointed out that in my Thursday Facebook post I had mentioned the time but not the day of the funeral, thus falsely implying that it was on Friday. I am grateful for the correction.
One reminded me that he’d never really known his grandparents, and wished he had. I am grateful for the reminder that what I did have was valuable and precious, and I will always have had it.
One called my girlfriend instead of me, worried that perhaps I was overloaded right now and might prefer to be left alone. That was such a wonderfully thoughtful and considerate gesture that I’m not quite sure how to properly explain what it meant to me, except that here was someone who clearly was concerned not with how to comfort a generic mourner, but how to comfort me in particular, a person she knows, a fellow introvert. She was right to think that I might need some time alone, and she is in that way an uniquely true friend.
Thank you. All of you. Those who called, those who wrote, and those who left me alone. Those who listened without judging, and those who challenged me to see things from another angle. Those who tried to make me better and those who accepted me as I am, or as I used to be.
Yours in life,
PS I’m probably going to clean this up a bit to make it more readable and spare done feelings, then post in on my regular blog.