Two days after my last post, my grandmother died. It was really upsetting and hard for all of us - and continues to be - and I've been at a bit of a loss for what to say or think about it all.
I think I was repressing my feelings, channeling them all into over-the-top stress about my thesis. As long as I was sitting at the dining room table frantically typing and editing all day and night, I felt like I could stave off how sad I was about it. I think my dad has been going through it the same way, and when I see his face crumple and his shoulders go soft whenever a new sympathy card arrives, I understand the reluctance to accept that this has really happened. Maybe, collectively, we've been thinking that if we just don't talk about it and act like it isn't our reality, we could escape the sorrow and hurt caused by losing someone so special and dear to us.
But that's not really the way the heart works, or the brain, and whenever I find myself with some time to think, like during a sad song at a concert, a little trickle of emotion would open the floodgates. You find yourself crying in public more than once, and you start to wonder if there isn't maybe something you need to spend a little more time dealing with.
Last week I was driving to Brooklyn for a stressful meeting, and I guess I hadn't really made that drive since my gram had the stroke. I wasn't at all prepared for the way my heart and brain lit up with hurt and overflowed with the reality that my gram was gone. I talked about this phenomenon with a friend a little last summer when my aunt died, and he agreed that things always hit him hardest when he's alone in the car. I turned into one of those gulping, sobbing messes you see in movies (and always wonder - wouldn't it be safer to pull over?) and cried nearly the whole drive from New Jersey. At first it was with that devastating realization that I'd never get to talk with my gram again or hear her voice. Then I fell apart when I realized she'd never touch my hand the way she does, and I'd never get to hug her and smell her nice gram smell, which I adore because she bathed with lavender soap. I'd never get to hear her voice, her boisterous laugh, or to have access to her marvelous thoughts and insights into things.
I think it hit my mother this week on May 10th, which is both my parents' wedding anniversary and the frost date for this region. My parents were planting flowers, and my mom had a gardening question. Of course, her first instinct was to call my gram and ask her, because as much as her short-term memory was affected by Alzheimer's, she knew gardening better than anyone. Suddenly, I think my mom recognized, she'd never get to call her again, and that while she might get her question answered by a book or the internet, she'd never get it the way my grandmother knew things, out of the habit of nurturing and doing things her whole life.
We've all been quietly, privately eulogizing my gram with this type of memory, talking about her intellectual curiosity and appreciation for music and the opera, or about how charming it was that when she moved to Hawaii she promised her feet she'd never put them in shoes again, and she wore flip-flops damn near every day of the rest of her life. I got all teary writing the acknowledgments to my thesis, which I dedicated to my gram because some of my earliest memories of her were when she'd stop in the middle of the street to look at a type of bromeliad she'd never seen before, and no matter what kind of hurry everyone else was in, or if they snipped "oh it's just some decorative thing in a planter, let's go," she would insist on staying and having her look because she positively needed to know what it was. That observation of life, and the tenacity to follow one's instincts about what's actually important in the grand scheme of things, are just two of the many things I genuinely admired about my gram, and I hope, every day, that I have some of that in me.
I can hear her voice, when some aspect of the world charmed her, saying "Oh aren't you cute," or "Look at you, you lovely thing!" and touching flowers with the tenderness of a lover. I think of her so literally stopping to smell the roses, and gasping "My GOD, what a heavenly scent!" and that sense of urgency and freaking-out about deadlines and drafts and sources and oh-no-oh-no rushing that I've been feeling immediately dissipates, as utterly absurd by comparison.
I've come to this realization many times before in the course of my graduate degrees, but it's important to remember that while I'm focusing all my time and energy on school, I'm still alive, in the world, and even if I have a lot of work to do, this is still my only chance at that. That day crying in the car might have been a lot of things, but it was also sunny, with a gentle breeze, and that night I saw an amazing opera. I'm really going to make an effort to pay more attention to that type of joy, the way my gram did, and stop taking everything else so damn seriously. I mean really, is anything more important than living and loving?