The more difficult parts of life

When I was younger, I spent entire summers in California. For some of that time I’d sleep at my dad’s parent’s home. They have 10 acres of land and during our yearly family reunion everyone would gather and pitch tents and eat together and talk and swim. I have never loved sleeping outside and I would often just sleep on a couch in my grandparents’ living room (I’m stubborn like that).

In the mornings, I’d wake up to the smell of coffee and my grandparents moving around, which was my signal to go and sit on the edge of the bed and talk with my grandparents. Me and my siblings and my cousins all had similar experiences. One of my cousins would always sit in a chair pulled up by my grandparents bed. Another would always sit on the floor against the wall. I usually sat right at the foot of the bed, cris-crossed legs, sipping my hot chocolate or tea or apple cider. We’d talk about everything from politics to family dynamics to world problems. Both my dad’s parents had their doctorates, and they were family counsellors, so sitting and talking and listening were their strong suits.

Those conversations always made me feel valued. They answered my questions and listened to my opinions, as a child and through my teenage years. I was encouraged to keep reading, learning and cheered on whenever I took steps to further my life or education. I felt like they just wanted to know me.

The foot of that bed is one of my safe havens. Where I was and still am completely accepted and loved.

I have very few memories of my grandparents as individuals. They were always together. There were two halves to a whole. My grandma was always grounded and she was the organizer. She did most of the day to day organizing of financials and trips and activities. When my granddad had big plans and ideas, my grandma brought them back to earth. My granddad would always tell us my grandma was in charge. But I saw a completely equal partnership, tried and proven over the years through heart ache, loss, time, education, careers, children, trees planted and removed, houses built and rebuilt, community service, and love. The kind of love that surrounds you and builds you, that provides a stable backdrop to the ups and downs and chaos of life.

About a week ago I was called and told my grandma had a bleed in her brain and multiple blood clots in her lungs. This was a completely unexpected phone call. There were a couple days of debating if I should or needed to fly out – I decided to fly out Wednesday and bought tickets so that I could fly out to LA and pick up my sister from school and then drive up to family. And as her precarious condition worsened, I changed my ticket and arrived in SF late Sunday night. My cousin picked me up and we got to the hospital after midnight. My grandma passed away a few hours later, surrounded by her husband, one of her sisters, living children, and 2 of her grandchildren.

Death and birth are two bookends of our limited time on this earth. I’ve been witness to birth many times, and it is rarely easy or pretty and there is usually tears. The process of dying is rarely easy or pretty and there is usually tears.

I wish I could say that I left the hospital with an overwhelming sense of peace, but I did not. I was just sad. Losing someone you love just sucks. Grief is hard.

I am very glad that I was out there with my family, that we could all grieve together in our own way. That we would be there to offer support and love to Granddad. No matter how acute or deep my own grief feels, I imagine it doesn’t even hold a candle to my granddad’s loss of losing his life partner of nearly 60 years, or my dad and aunt’s loss of their mother, or my great aunt’s loss of their sister.

There are a thousand little things that remind me of the absence of my grandma. The absence at family dinners. The hummingbird feeders. Every single hummingbird on my grandparents property is there because of my grandma. The empty space on the bed when I go and sit at the edge of their bed to talk in the mornings. The chair that she always sat in. And a hundred other things.

I’m on an airplane now, to return to the regularly scheduled programming of my life. And to get on with this messy business of grieving. My children need me to tend to them, my patients need to be seen, groceries need to be bought, my floors need to be vacuumed (eventually). And I’ll still go on missing my grandma.

The lives of her children and grandchildren are her legacy, as well as the thousands of children and families that she counseled and served through community service and her 20+ years on the school board. She worked until she died to help make her community better, to improve education, to make her community more beautiful. She exemplifies the Rotary (of which she was a member) motto, “Service Above Self.”

Miss you, Grandma. Till we meet again…

3 comments to The more difficult parts of life

  • Amy M  says:

    A beautiful tribute.

  • Kari Gary  says:

    Your words are amazing and beautiful…just like you, inside and out, my beautiful daughter, Stephanie.

  • Kim Carlile  says:

    I’m so glad that you were able to be there with your family.