My grandmother died last Friday. We knew that it was coming, even that it would be soon, but it still managed to take us by surprise. My mother describes her sometimes as having a mischievous streak and I couldn’t help but think that it was her breaking expectations one last time.
What surprised me most was that I cried. It’s not that I’m an unfeeling or unemotional person. It’s simply that I didn’t know her well. Perhaps in this day and age of internet and communications things would have been different, but when I was growing up we had the greater amount of the United States between us and she wasn’t one to write letters.
A couple of times we made the trek to California and likewise she made it to Michigan on several occasions before her health prevented it, but our relationship was not the stuff of lovey dovey Lifetime movies. By the time I reached college her health was already failing and I felt like neither of us knew what to say to each other on the rare occasions that we met.
I know that she liked pink and carnations. She had a diverse taste in jewelry and enjoyed resetting pieces that she had inherited. She always had pets, especially dogs, and took in any number of strays over the years. She traveled and worked and dyed her hair red.
What I remember best are the interesting gifts that she sent – hard cover classic Arthur Conan Doyle, an encyclopedia, a silver coffee service, collectible dolls and the 13 dozen pink carnations that I got for my 13th birthday. Then there’s my engagement ring. Though I’ve yet to meet the man I’ll marry (at least to the best of my knowledge), it was passed on to me from her back when I was in high school. It’s not perfect, but it’s beautiful.
Grandmother was an interesting person, at least, from the stories my mother tells that’s the picture I get and I realized as I contemplated her death that I mourned not the woman that I knew but that woman that I never got to know. Now I never will. I’ve known it for years, but death has a finality that illness and nursing homes did not.
Tomorrow they will hold a small viewing for her down in Louisiana followed by a memorial service at the nursing home she’s been at for the last five years. I won’t be there, but what I know I will remember and despite our lack of deep relationship, a part of her will live on through my mother and through me even if I don’t always recognize it.