There are moments in life that slip through your fingers like grains of sand. No matter how you try to hold onto them, they escape your grasp and mix in with a million other memories that you can't particularly identify. You remember the day or the event, but the details are hazy. And then there are some times when you are lucky enough to grab onto the moment and you are able to hold it, turn it over, and examine the details...the weight, the sharpness of the edges, and the brightness of the colors.
Driving down the highway, having the death conversation for what felt like a zillionth time, I wished for the moment to slip away. My grandma died...no...not your grandma...my grandma...yes...your grandma is still alive...and she loves you very much...yes...I'm still sad. The complexity of family relationships...explained to a four-year-old...fun stuff.
Then around 9 or 9:30, the fireworks started...literally. Fireworks all over the place. Driving the toll road, along the northern part of Indiana, we could see fireworks left, right, front, and back. It was glorious. The excitement in Sam's voice as he oooh'ed and aah'ed at each one. He was breathtaking to listen to in the darkness, giddy with pleasure at each newly discovered firework display on the horizon. In those moments, I cried quiet tears in the dark. Tears of happiness about our Sam and the perfectness of the moment. Tears of sadness for grandma, the reason we were driving in the dark on the 4th of July in the first place. Tears of love at the thought that only grandma would die the day before Independence Day...and go out with a true bang. Tears of sadness for the boys who should be with us.
It was inescapable...the feeling that there should be two boys running around the funeral home asking, "Mommy, can we just go now?" in their impatient little voices. Or in the alternative, there should be that pregnant joy...and the knowing smile when seeing family again. Family who know all that we have been through and have been with us in spirit, even when they were facing their own struggles in life.
When we settled into grandma's house and I tried to fall asleep, I could smell the essence of her still there. Strong coffee, cigarette smoke, bacon grease, potting soil, cleaning products, Chanel No.5. It wrapped around me trying to...comfort me? But leaving me feeling cold and empty. I snuggled with my son, my miracle, as I tried to fight off the ghosts and the sadness. Thankfully, sleep took over and I was able to outrun it all for a few restful hours.
It was so weird being there without her there. I kept expecting to see her sitting at the dining room table. If I stared hard enough, I could almost conjure up her image. I can't believe she is gone. I always joked she was mean enough to outlive us all. I guess I was wrong...
At the funeral I stood there next to her, but it wasn't her. She was wearing the pink ribbon-embroidered sweatsuit my mom gave her for Christmas a couple years ago...that she was "saving for good." Her nails were done and her hair was up. The hair wasn't quite right, but she was still wearing her pearl clips that she loved. She was wearing one of our bracelets...with our boys' names on it. She wasn't wearing any shoes. She liked her feet free...a trait I inherited from her. She was in a green casket. Grandpa commented that pink and green were her favorite colors and she would love it...wearing pink in a green casket...with pink flowers and greenery all around. Yeah, she would have loved it. Except she was so cold. I touched her arm when I went to kiss her goodbye and stopped short because she was so cold. She hated to be cold.
We cried. I cried at two things...that grandpa's love had left him...and that grandma has all the answers now and I've still got to struggle through. I envy her in that way. But if you think about it, it's a strange sort of existence to love someone virtually all your life. And then they are simply gone. My mom cried while looking at grandma's egg collection (all sorts of eggs made out of all sorts of materials...from the delicate and pretty to the comical and absurd). She said, "This was her whole life and now it's just gone." I hugged her and told her it was ok to cry when she said, "I'm sorry." I told her that grandma loved her. Because she did. She had her issues...but she loved us all. Nobody has any doubts about that.
We laughed. Yes, we laughed. The crazy laugh of the certifiably insane. I told my aunt that I kept thinking, "grandma has my babies." My aunt touched my arm and said, "That's kind of scary if you think about it." And we laughed. We laughed and laughed...and people looked at us funny...and we laughed some more. And in the end, we decided not to dwell on the thought...or else it would make us laugh some more.
But then the process started. The process had actually started a while ago, while grandma was still alive, but I wasn't there to witness it. The sorting and claiming and tossing and selling. I felt like a thief in her house, looking at her prize possessions...all her treasures...without her there. Mom kept telling me to take what I wanted. What I wanted was the substance...not the stuff. What was she thinking when she bought this or that? Why on earth did she collect these? The stuff itself was unimportant to me. I want the stories. I want to know.
So I took the maracas from Mexico that she kept on the bookshelf in her bedroom (that I was never allowed to play with), the egg plate (because I might grow up some day and have grown up parties where I will serve deviled eggs), the wooden statue of the Virgin Mary (that still bears the 2- price tag from whatever flea market she picked it up at), the ceramic elephant candle holder (that I imagine was also a flea market find), the milk glass (to add to my growing collection), and the crucifix that hung in the dining room for as long as I can remember. Eventually, I will take a corner cabinet, a dining room hutch, and her sewing machine. It will be nice to have those pieces of her in my home since she never was able to visit and see me all grown up.
I often feel guilt over the lack of contact that I had with my grandma in her later years. And now she's gone. It's always the same. Should haves abound. I'll just do my best to deal with them now. That's part of what it means to be a grown up. I'm not sure I want to be a grown up grandma. Especially when you're not here to tell me how to do it.
So many moments...slip away so fast...