On August 6, my grandmother passed away. She went quietly, in her sleep, and thanks to increased morphine, without pain.
We couldn’t really have asked for better, given the circumstances. The obituary my aunt wrote classified it as “a brief illness,” and I guess if you date from the diagnosis (in the first week of July), that’s true. But in reality, cancer doesn’t take over an entire body in a month — not this cancer, anyway. Her actual illness was much, much longer, and it makes me sad to think of how long she just lived with the pain. When I think back, counting all the times she “had a touch of something,” or had “picked up a bug from the kids,” or got so easily worn out, and I remember how we believed her (in the back of our minds thinking that she must just be getting old, that even such an enormous vitality had to dim sometime)…
Well, I wish we could have done something for her. I don’t even know what it would have been, but it seems so pitiful to live your life increasingly fettered by pain — walls closing in around you so imperceptibly that you don’t even notice at first that the room is shrinking.
We’re having a memorial service for her in October (the earliest we could get the far-flung family in one place), and chances are good I’ll have to say something. I’ve been thinking about how to distill our complicated, often tumultuous relationship into something resembling a eulogy , and one thought keeps floating to the surface.
She never gave generic presents. For four children, eleven grandchildren, and five great-grandchildren, she put time and deep thought into each gift. When I was younger, in middle and high school, my mom and I would go Christmas shopping with her. I don’t even know how many times I heard, “Ginny, do you think _____ would like this?” Most of the time, she was more up-to-date with my cousins’ activities and interests than I was, and while her ideas didn’t always work out (and some of my cousins were less than tactful in such cases — grr), she was the very personification of “It’s the thought that counts.” She loved pretty things, delicate handiwork, forgotten artistry, and she was always hunting for something unique and interesting, but it wasn’t for her, so she could say, “here are my THINGS, aren’t they great?” Christmas shopping was a year-round affair for her; she was constantly on the look-out for that really special something that would be appreciated by a specific person.
I think that in this aspect of her personality, we can read her deep interest in, and caring for, her family. It’s a caring that was never otherwise expressed (and indeed often belied by her words — she could be tactless with the best of them!), but ponder the amount of effort required to keep abreast of the kaleidoscoping interests of a bunch of growing kids. We all know how quickly the Best Thing Ever becomes last week’s news — frankly, the thought of trying to keep up with all that makes my head spin. But she did it — every year, for every child.
I was in Fresh Market last Friday, looking at cards, and I remembered that I had found the perfect birthday card for her. It’s unsent (her 91st birthday would have been in December), and now she’ll never get to see it.
I don’t know why every time I think about that, my throat closes up and the room blurs. Of all the things I could mourn — a greeting card?