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Full Heart and Empty Stomach

Frances, image courtesy of the Grahams


Today I recalled another part of the conversation that I had with my grandfather last night. He would always joke about how my grandmother robbed the cradle when they got married. In more modern days, we would have referred to her as a cougar for marrying a “younger” man. This was a two-part joke because my grandfather is only a year younger, not decades. Also, he would always say that his mother had to sign him over because he was so young. For at least 20 years, I knew for certain that this was all part of his story used for extra comical effect. This was his style of exaggerated humor. There have been many stories that I could not confirm were true or false; he is a master storyteller, bending the lines between fact and fiction. I don’t know if the joke had worn through his humor at this fragile time recounting when they were married, but I actually listened while he actually told the truth. His mother did in fact have to give authority and sign for his marriage to my grandmother. At that time, the legal age to get married was 21 and he was a year short. Such a long time to love someone - longer than you have known yourself as an individual.

Tonight I finally redeemed a birthday dinner I promised my aunt from a few months ago. There is a cluster of Gemini friends and family in my fold and we tend to celebrate birthdays together the end of May into June. Honestly, Wednesday was such a difficult night for me emotionally and physically thinking about my grandmother, my grandfather and now my boyfriend. I couldn’t stop crying and I struggled throughout the day and a late night was not something I would have planned. While I was mourning the loss in the future, last night I had this superstitious feeling that the end of the month will be faced with a grim, harsh reality. Six years ago in September, my paternal grandmother passed away. That was not long after the time that I had the epiphany that my grandparents were more than the parents of my parents, and I wanted to know more about them as fully developed individuals. I regretted terribly that I had only begun this process of talking to them shortly before the time of my grandmother’s death and didn’t have the opportunity to ask her all the questions and have all the conversations I wanted. Her death became the impetus of Everyone But Two.

Annually, my parents have traveled to Myrtle Beach at the end of August. By all means, no matter what else happens during the year, or wherever else they may roam, this is the most needed and anticipated trip for them. While in Myrtle Beach in 2006, my father’s sisters had been in touch with him about their mother's condition, which resulted in him leaving the trip early, a day after our arrival on one of the few occasions that the entire immediate family was there together. From that trip on, the notion was that this particular trip is mired in misfortune. Looking back, I can’t remember what other negative events have occurred around this time of year besides the decline of my paternal grandmother’s health. I have this same unnerving feeling that their Myrtle Beach trip will suffer the same fate this year, plus the trip to Cape Cod that I have planned with my sister and niece during the same time.

When the rest of us returned home from Myrtle Beach that year, my grandmother was in the hospital. I still couldn’t tell you exactly what happened. From what I remember, she had fallen trying to get something out of a cupboard and the resulting injury put her in the hospital. After that, I couldn’t say what caused her decline. I visited her as often as I could and my dad, aunts and uncles were there gathered steadily in worried groups and shifts. Very alert and herself, just in some pain, I thought she would be ok, until one day she wasn’t. On one of the visits, I held her hand and told her that I loved her and she said, “I know,” as if she could see the worry in my eyes and hear it in my voice. Thankfully the mind preserves our pleasant memories and blocks the unpleasant ones. Merged together are the days and the hours after, that ended in watching her struggling to breath with hard, gurgled breaths with her eyes closed, not able to respond, after a vigil of her loved ones told her it was ok to let go, including myself. I can only hope that she heard us. It was only a matter of time and she did just that. In that last moment, for one reason or the other everyone had left the room, leaving my mother as the only one to testify to her last breath.

There was a bit of misunderstanding or lack of follow up on my part to discuss the exact plans for the dinner with my aunt. Eventually it all got sorted out and the nixed reservations morphed into different ones. I picked her up and told myself to chill out. Just because I had something planned and had reservations and I had to cancel them, it is not the end of the world. I am more flexible than this. I am the queen of lollygags. I knew I was wound up because I had been feeling uneasy. The one thing I was dreading was the conversation about my relationship and my grandmother. I was nervous when asked, “How is (such and such)?” I could only answer generically but honestly, “He is good. He is pretty busy and is finally getting a chance to take a break.” Now had the question been about our relationship and how we were doing, I don’t know how I would have answered. I have been distraught and knew I would breakdown. Luckily, my answer was sufficient and we moved on.

She specifically wanted to eat outside and the place I had selected had a decent patio scene and I was in need of some duck fat fries. The wait wasn’t as horrible as I expected. My appetite has waned some and I am drinking my meals, like my grandmother. I haven’t quite figured out if it is out of sympathy or I am trying to at least make sure there is something in my system even if it is a liquid supplement, or if it is a preventive measure for emotional eating. Everything is spinning out of my control and I am trying my best to have ownership of something. It was around 8:00 pm and I was ready to eat this one solid meal for the day, no holds barred. Embarrassingly enough, it probably looked as if I ate nothing all day when I couldn’t keep my hands out of the fry bucket and when I stuffed the fried fish and mixed greens in my mouth. To be expected, we mostly talked about life and death and the unfairness of these days on my grandmother who had once been full of life. I expressed my attempt to not have these conversations with her or my mother or grandfather. I explained that I am a step removed from my grandmother’s children and her spouse, knowing that my grief is only going to be a fraction of theirs and it would be selfish of me to stew in my sadness to those who are boiling in it. After talking about the obvious feeling and the eventual sense of loss of this beloved woman in our lives and the significance it will have on my grandfather, we reflected on our own lives. What will be of our last days? How will this change how we think about our wishes? Without a doubt my grandfather has challenged his own children when it has come to the care of my grandmother, but he did it because he genuinely loves my grandmother. Who will be there for me to be demanding with their love? Right now, I am afraid I might come up short.

As I drove back to her home, my aunt told me that she will try to see my grandmother everyday this weekend, and with a different and urging look in her eyes, she suggested that I see her as often as I can now too. I know what she is telling me without saying it and I can’t bare it, but I don’t want my grandmother to be in pain or holding on for our sake. What a conflicting feeling this is of selfishness and selflessness. How do we account for someone’s life at this stage when it is not our own? Who are we to step in God’s way or that of the person?

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