Currently I am mourning the loss of my grandmother, who was one of, if not the most, influential women in my life. Friends and readers of Unquiet Things know that she has been unwell for a while now–ever since my grandfather passed a year and a half ago, and probably since my mother died, a year before that. It’s no shock to anyone I suppose; the only surprising thing about it is that she stuck around as long as she did.
My grandmother’s death marks the passing of the last adult figure in my life, which is pretty weird, I can tell you that. Or at least, I know that to be true on an intellectual level, but to be honest, I’ve been feeling her absence long before her passing. For so long she was lucid and “with it” and even if she’d only met you once in her life and even if it was 50 years ago, she would remember you. But on New Years Day, two months after she turned 95, a cerebral episode left her increasingly confused and disoriented and she rapidly got to a point where she didn’t know where she was, or who we were anymore. We had worked so hard to keep her at home, and she didn’t believe it was her home anymore. It was a heartbreaking decline.
I love this hazy, old photo of her. I never really thought of my grandmother as having legs…for as long as I could remember she had knee problems and then for the last 15-20 or so years she had been using a walker, very slowly and painfully, or just most of the time, confined to the house and in her chair. Seeing her pretty legs stretched out in the sun like this makes me absurdly happy.
I owe my love of cooking to her. She never formally taught me anything, but always let me hover nearby and watch, or give me a turn to stir the gravy, or roll out some dough, or a spoon to lick. She never made me feel like I was a nuisance, or in the way, and she genuinely seemed to be pleased with my company. In later years, when standing became too difficult, she would direct the proceedings from a kitchen chair, while I carried out the steps for new recipes that she wanted to try. She had a grand appreciation for a good meal and a tremendous appetite for all kinds of junk food, too. Last May, when she recovered from an infection that left her bed bound, the first thing she said when she was feeling herself again, was that she was hungry for fried chicken!
Like my grandmother, I too loathe phone calls and talking on the phone. Whenever she telephoned me, I knew it had to be an emergency, because she just wouldn’t call, otherwise. Unlike me, however, she sincerely liked meeting new people. She immediately wanted to know their whole life stories, everything about them, and as I mentioned, even if she only met them once, she’d still be asking about them years later.
I’m convinced that if not for our grandparents, my sisters and I would not have turned out nearly as well as we did. Not that we’re all that great or anything, but I think we had the potential to go the exact opposite direction. No matter what state my mother was in, drunk or crazy or in rehab, or maybe literally across the state line, they took care of us; they ensured that we always had clothes to wear, food to eat (we thought that everyone’s dinner table was provided for by a grandmother who drove around with meat loaf and tuna casserole in the trunk of their car), and received a sound education.
I think I owe everything I am to my grandmother…even the weird, problematic bits, because my grandmother also had a melancholic streak, as did my mother, and I don’t believe that depression develops in a vacuum. I remember her telling me once that in high school she used to write poetry sometimes, and how I was not the least bit surprised to hear that.
She loved true crime novels and watching dramatic court cases. She enthusiastically perused celebrity gossip magazines and oddly enough, thoroughly enjoyed South Park. She thought even the idea of sushi was repulsive and would always make a face if I had told her that’s what I dined on recently. She told us she was partially psychic, because she always knew before someone was to give her bad news–and it always broke my heart to have to give her bad news.
She thought her granddaughters were smart, and beautiful, and perfect.
We thought the same of her.
We’re going to miss you so much, Mawga.