We lost my grandmother last month. She was 96, and died peacefully, without pain.
She suffered from dementia for some time before she passed away, and it pains me to say that, because of life and circumstances and illness and excusesexcusesexcuses, I hadn’t seen her since before her memory started to fade. I try to take some comfort in the fact that she wouldn’t have known who I was anyway, but it’s not all that comforting. I should’ve seen her, and I didn’t, and I regret that immensely.
I hadn’t been back to the Coachella Valley since my dads illness and death 2 1/2 years ago. We drove down for the funeral on Monday, and right around the windmills on the 10 freeway, my chest started to hurt. This was the place I lived, the place I grew up, where so many of my memories were born, where so many of my friends still live. It was always a place of love. But he died there. From now until the end, it will be the place that he died. And for me, that makes it a place of unimaginable pain.
Everywhere I looked, I was reminded of those 2 weeks he was sick and dying. The familiar landscape of the desert we drove through more times that I can count on our trips back and forth. The exit off the 10, Jackson Ave, the street he lived on, the street where I presume his home still stands. The Target my husband and I stopped in the morning after we discovered how sick he really was (he asked us to stop and get him some antacids for the heartburn he was experiencing, which we found out later that day was actually cancer that was eating him alive). The cemetery where my grandpa is buried, and where we gathered to honor my grandma, is just a few blocks away from his house. If he had been buried there, I don’t think I could’ve driven through the gates.
Most of the time, I don’t realize how much I miss him. How much his death fucked me up. I’ve got my hands pretty full, with a toddler and a job and a husband. It always kind of hurts, but it’s become part of who I am now. It’s a current that runs just below my surface, and every once in a while I feel it bubble up (birthdays, holidays, Thursdays…), but on the whole, I am ok. I was not ok when I was there. And I wasn’t prepared for how not ok I was. Being in that place, being around family that I hadn’t seen since he died, took me back there. I thought enough time had passed since his death, but I was wrong. I don’t know how much time is enough time. All I know is that 2 1/2 years, for me, wasn’t.
Driving away from my dads house for the last time after he died, knowing we would never go back there, knowing he would never be there again, was quite possibly the hardest part of that whole terrible time. Driving away from my aunts house after the funeral on Monday, I felt a little of that same feeling. Like I was leaving something behind. I fought back tears until we passed the windmills, swallowed the lump in my throat over and over until it finally stayed down. He hasn’t been there for 2 1/2 years, but it still felt like I was saying goodbye all over again. I wonder if it will always feel like that.
My grandma was a remarkable woman, and we are so blessed to have had her for so long. She is the reason that my dad was who he was, and for that, we owe her a debt of gratitude. I’m so sad that she’s gone, but so incredibly amazed by the life she lived, the lives she touched, and by the number of people who loved her. I am thankful I got to say goodbye on Monday, and I am comforted by the hope that, wherever they may be, she and my grandpa and my dad are together again. And for as long as I live, whenever I see a deck of cards or get a whiff of perfume mixed with scotch, I will think of my grandma, and I will be thankful, and I will be comforted.
I love you a bushel and a peck and a hug around the neck, grandma Tina. Thank you.