A week and a day ago, my grandmother, Vera, had a stroke.
Every time I try to find the words to describe this woman, I fail. Aside from my mother, she is the most important individual influence in my life; from her, at the very least, I know that I have gotten many of my ideas about pride and about work, and from reflecting on the relationship between my her and my mother, I've developed most of my ideas about the necessity of forgiveness, and about the failures that are an intrinsic part of parenting. Most of all, from her I learned about strength, and strong is also the primary single adjective that I come to when thinking of her.
She raised her daughter as a single parent in a day when this was hardly done. She provided for that daughter, and for that daughter's daughter, too, by dedicating herself to her work. She survived two bouts of cancer, and did so without - at least as far as I ever knew - feeling sorry for herself. She learned to dance after her first retirement. And, after her second retirement, she struggled to redefine herself in a way that she found meaningful; I think, with this latter task, she often felt like she failed, but nevertheless, she found an inordinate amount of some sort of wherewithall to carry on with this meaning-making. During these years, she also experienced a number of minor emergencies, and managed to return to a sort of normal. Her own mother died at 97 and there was no reason to believe she wouldn't live at least as long. Sometimes she would joke about this; at others, it was perhaps more of a lament.
So, when my mother's first response to the news her of mother's stroke was that, "Maybe she'll rally!" this made some sense. After all, it's what she'd always done before.
But that's not what happened this time, and that's really what this post is about. My grandmother passed on Wednesday. I got the chance to sit with her the day before, and say... whatever it was that I could think of to say at that point. It was less meaningful, less eloquent, less important than I wanted it to be, but there is some comfort in at least having had the opportunity. There's not enough time in the world to say what I'd actually like to, and I also think that maybe the most important things aren't really say-able anyhow.
I am not dealing with this well. I feel like there has been so much loss this year, and though I'm normally good at finding perspective, that's failing me now. I don't think it's all quite hit yet, which is possibly part of why I'm having so much difficulty at this point. It's also just a particular coping issue on my part, too. I know that I intellectualize everything emotional, so it's no surprise that I'm having some trouble giving into this. Much of the time, the joy and laughter that A* and L* bring, and the fact that I'm able to share this with my parents, too, help to dull the pang of these losses.
Nevertheless, I find that the emotion I'm most easily able to access right now is bitterness, and I truly hate the way that this makes me feel about myself and about the world. I'm not good at asking for what I need, and I find myself so angry at a friend of mine who just hasn't bothered to take the time to check in. There's no way she knows that I need that, and I do realize that her life is busy, and likely fraught, too. I tried - in a lame way, I have to admit that - to reach out to her right after I'd miscarried, and that was a particularly hectic time in her life at that point. I hate feeling like I'm being a burden to anyone, but I also know that part of this bitterness now comes from... wanting to not be a burden but still have some care shown. I want to not have to ask to be asked how I am, if that makes any sense.
I know that this is displacement, and it also feels whiny, and entitled, and childish. And I know that perhaps one of the lessons here that I need to learn - it's one of my continual lessons - is that I need to be honest about what I need and what I expect from others, and to let the rest go.
Much of my grandmother's life - or at least my memories of her - is marked by a certain stoicism and reticence; her trademark strength meant that she didn't say much of what she perhaps should have nor ask for help when she needed it, and when, in later years, she started to actually show some neediness, it was not something to which we adapted particularly well. It was hard for her to ask, and it was hard for us to give. As much as I need to remember to lighten up, I also need to learn how to be strong and open at the same time, to be ok giving and also requesting, receiving. Maybe this will be part of Vera's legacy, too, but I think it's going to take me a long time to get there.