Writing about the Dead; or, Why I loved her

She liked to wear red sneakers. Not so much because she was under some mistaken assumption that they were stylish (they weren’t) but because she thought it was funny for a great-grandma in her eighties to be gallivanting around in red tennis shoes. When she came to visit me once while I lived in the Pacific Northwest, she wore those shoes to the Farmer’s Market in Moscow, Idaho, and danced to a live band playing in Friendship Square. My grandfather and mother were embarrassed. They would have denied it, but it was clear to me that they were rolling their eyes at the impropriety of it. My step-dad just laughed, as he is liable to do at most things in life. But I got up and danced with her.

The one thing I insisted when making preparations for her burial, was that she be buried with those worn out red shoes, shoes she hadn’t been able to wear for the last few bed-ridden years of her life. Mom allowed it and threw in Grandma’s ratty red sweater, too. Red was easier to see when you are trying to reach for something. To me the shoes were more appropriate. I wanted Grandma to have her dancing shoes, not the sweater of her infirmity.

Mom said Grandma might get cold. She has a point there.

After Mom and Dad announced to my sister and I in a Southern California restaurant that they were getting a divorce, my mom, sister, and I sat in my mother’s big bed (dad conspicuously absent) and memorized a new address and phone number. We were to go live with Grandma and Grandpa over 400 miles north of us. My only other memory of that bed is giving Daddy a backrub there for a quarter.

At Grandma and Grandpa’s sometimes I got up in the morning and went into my grandparent’s room. Grandpa was an early riser, always seeming to be busy with something. He brought Grandma her coffee every morning, and sometimes I would join her there. I would snuggle close up under the crook of her arm and rest my head on her saggy bosom. She was pliable, at least physically. As a presence in my life, though, she was as solid an anchor as a child of seven and a half whose parents have just split could ask for if she knew how to articulate what she needed.

I think of her these days more in her physical embodiment. Her skin was always, it seemed to me, cool to the touch and moist, so soft. I can’t remember her without age spots on those hands, and though she thought they were ugly, I always thought she was wonderful. A beautiful, serene lady, almost queenly, but we have so few tales of good queens that I hesitate to mention this quality, feeling sure that readers will misunderstand. Stately? Classic? No, these do not convey it either.

Partly because she just loved to laugh and did so often. How can I call her queen and comedian at the same time? Her humor ran the way of Prairie Home Companion. She held clear distaste for any jokes/films/television shows too racy, violent, or sophisticated. She amused herself with simple things she observed, and she observed remarkably well. “I was always a nosey kid,” she often said as we worked on her memoir together. “That’s the only reason I remember so much.” She noticed everything, it felt like (even what you didn’t want noticed), hardly ever spoke ill of anyone behind their back (though that lifelong Republican had many choice words to say about “that idiot” George W. Bush who got us into a useless and terrible war in Iraq.) She lived with dignity. And my mom made it possible for her to die with dignity, at home, for which I am deeply grateful.

I knew what it would be like, touching her hands, folded neatly on her chest. I had seen my dead grandfather in his coffin, said my goodbyes and a farewell on behalf of my unborn son, due in five months. Touched his corpse. But in grandma’s case it was almost unbearable. Her hands weren’t cool but ice cold, unnaturally refrigeratedly cold. But the worst was their waxy feel. It was so absolutely apparent to me when I touched her hand that she was utterly gone. This is a wax doll. My grandmother is not here.

Advertisements

3 Responses

  1. What sweet memories. I love it that your grandma wore those red sneakers. What a fun woman, to dance in them at the Farmer’s Market. You are lucky to have had time with her. So many people never get to meet their grandparents, and I’m so sorry you have now lost both of yours. The memoir is a great way to keep her spirit alive. Keep writing.

  2. Thanks, Linda. Yes, I know how lucky I am! Grandma was a huge presence in my life, and thank goodness I’ve got this book project to keep her close. I appreciate your encouragement!

  3. Hi writing gb,

    Thanks for visiting mysteryoriley, and for your comments. Yes, losing Owen is the most difficult loss of our lives. It’s so early, and we still have no answers. There have been so many losses now, and each one is different – in the grieving process, and afterwards.

    The avatar at my blog is a picture of Owen. There’s a larger picture of him at the top of the post titled “Poetry as Therapy”. (Period after the endquote if the entire sentence isn’t a quote, yes?)

    Your Italian friend is correct. Talking about our lost loved ones is the only way to get through this with any sanity. Each minute seems like a lifetime, and the writing helps. It always helped in the past, and I thought the blog might actually reach others who are looking for some peace in their own losses. Simply sharing.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: