February 21st, 2011 by Karen
My Grandma Kay passed away a week ago today. It was peaceful and mercifully fast…and lest you think I’m being callous about it, my grandpa Bill suffered grievously for years and it was heartbreaking over and over and over. She passed away on Valentine’s Day, the same date she had married my Grandpa Bob 64 years prior, holding on until their anniversary.
She had been married once before and, being Catholic, couldn’t marry in the church until her first marriage was ended by annulment or death. Her first husband John passed a few months ago and she mentioned to me that she had always wanted to be married in the church. It was just a small thing mentioned in a much longer conversation about other sundry things, but I plucked it from the threads and started making plans, holding the details in my head until they coalesed into something feasible. I figured their anniversary would be good, or perhaps a bit further into the spring when it was warmer and her beloved roses blooming. Christmas came and went and she wasn’t feeling well. I drew family members into the planning, remonstrating that this was a secret…I wanted to surprise them both with something simple yet elegant. A small ceremony in the chapel where my parent wed, him in a suit, her with a large orchid reminicent of the one that graced her shoulder in their own wedding picture and surely grown by my Uncle Vince, followed by a reception with a re-creation of their own understatedly elegant cake from the same photograph. A child’s fantasy perhaps, but I wanted to give her that much. But she began to fail.
There was nothing to be done for it. Too many factors weighed heavily in the decision and in the end solace only came in the form of morphine doled carefully out by an angel named Jaime. My father caved in the end and revealed our plans to them both. I’m grateful he did.
On the evening of Friday, February 11th, with my parents and aunt as witnesses, my grandparents were married. My grandfather said that she said her vows crisp and clean and far better than he did, stumbling over the words with emotion. I wish I could have been there myself, but life never goes quite according to plan. I did get to see her the following day, and though I looked in several florist shops along the way, with Valentine’s Day hanging in the balance, I couldn’t find an orchid corsage to save my life. It didn’t matter.
I stood in her room, with the sun streaming through the large bedside window and carefully rubbed her shoulders and back of her neck, her skin smoother than I expected, as she slept in her wheelchair struggling to draw each breath. My oldest daughter came with me, not a decision I made lightly, but because I knew over the next week, she would need the experience. I was right. She wandered in and out of the room, staying a few minutes at a time for the hour we spent and showing me the koi fish she had discovered in her perambulations as we made our way out. She was silent for most of the drive home and for the day following. When the call came from my dad on Monday morning, she knew and with a quiet grace witheld the knowledge from her siblings until that afternoon when we told them properly. They have all grieved in their own ways as have I, yet for them, they have little experience of death and dying and in their own independent ways, they are picking their own paths over the sharpened shards of grief.
I on the other hand…I am floundering.
I can’t say that anything in particular is wrong…just that I feel off balance. There have been, nor will there be, the traditions that I find I have come to expect as the capstone to life. There was no rosary, no funeral mass, no graveside service, no gathering of family that I haven’t seen in years to mark the moment and say “Here was someone we all loved”. There will be a memorial at some undetermined point in the future, but it is not soon or set. It was her request to have only that and to go out to dinner to remember her, requests we will and have honored. I find myself drifting with some odd sort of malaise, unable to focus properly on much of anything. It simply seems unfinished.
Today, though a holiday, I planned to treat as any other day and get up early to start work. Instead when I awoke, I was surprised to find my alarm off and the clock reading well past 8. Joel rarely lets me stay abed past 7 even on the weekends, his urgency for the day both a blessing and a curse. I laid there for a few minutes listening to the house only to hear one of our children admonish another who was getting loud “Shhh! You’ll wake mommy and dad said to let her sleep”. So this morning, I laid in bed and simply read the end of a favorite book I’d been re-reading and stared out our window at the clouds in the sky that had been ever present since my grandma passed along with a fair amount of rain. As I watched, they finally gave way to bluer skies and I find my head slowly clearing.
It is a small comfort, but a comfort nonetheless.