My maternal grandmother – my only surviving grandparent – died early Saturday morning. It was not unexpected. Her health had been failing for years and with a 2-year-old diagnosis of Alzheimer’s, it had felt like she had been gone for a long time already.
It’s awkward to not be sad when someone dies – people seem to expect sadness, and I just can’t deliver. It’s not that I’m happy, I’m just neutral. Do I wish that her last few years had been better? Of course. Alzheimer’s is a terrible disease. I’d take cancer any day. Do I wish that I felt more strongly about the whole thing? Yes. But the fact is, my grandmother was a difficult person to love and I never anticipated that I’d have strong feelings either way.
It’s interesting thinking about her life and my thoughts on the end of it. When my paternal grandmother died a few years back, it was heartbreaking, even though she was 90, blind, deaf, and clearly was ready to go (she frequently asked when the Lord was going to take her home – she had people to see, after all). But Mona was a treasure, sweet and loving, kind, and grateful. She had nine grandchildren and made all of us feel special. She was the story book grandma – the wrinkly face, white hair, soft skin. She had a great laugh.
My grandma Laverne was a different sort of woman altogether. I don’t think she had an easy life and I don’t know that she was ever really happy. And while I know that she loved me and my sister, it was sometimes hard to remember that was the case, particularly when she was busy belittling my mom or insulting my sister. I don’t know that she was unkind on purpose, but I sometimes wonder.
When talking to my sister about our grandma, I made the comment that while Grandma did lots of kind things for people, I don’t think she was really a kind person. She wasn’t a bad person or an evil person – she just wasn’t really a nice person. And this makes it hard to sort through the memories to find happy things to hold onto.
Still, there are things that stand out:
She made us adorable outfits when we were little (with matching ensembles for our dolls).
She took us out for lunch on our birthdays (to Taco Bell, but we weren’t discriminating in our youth).
She took us to musicals – some horrible and some marvelous.
She was a TERRIBLE driver, but always willing to take us to dance or music classes when my mom was working.
She was proud of us, even if she never said it exactly. You could tell in the way that she introduced us to people.
The last time I saw my grandmother lucid was about a year ago, right after Michael and I got engaged. One thing about Alzheimer’s and my grandma – it made her sweeter (at least to her granddaughters). Michael and I were in Portland and stopped by her care home with flowers and a photo. She was so happy to see us and so happy that I was getting married. I don’t know if she remembered the visit, but the photo of us was still in her room a year later, and I know that at the time, she understood. I’d rather hold on to that as a last memory than the image of her in a hospital bed, having difficulty breathing. I think she’d prefer it too.
I believe that there is more to existence than just this life. I believe our time on earth is a lesson that our souls take with them. And so I hope that where-ever my grandmother is now, she is finally at peace.