Five years ago it was a Saturday and I spent the evening in bed with my very best friend as she took her last breath. My brain constantly tortures me with the memory of her temperature changing beneath my skin.
Your grandparents are supposed to die before you. Every child is supposed to understand that one day they have to say goodbye to grandma. Not every child relies on grandma for assurance. Or for comfort. So when I lost her, I lost a grandparent and my safe place.
I spent my entire life admiring every little thing about her. When I was really young and she was my live-in nanny, I admired her storytelling. Her ability to place puzzle pieces without trial and error. Her knack for painting with oils and acrylics equally as beautifully. The way she “played school” with me for hours without losing interest, taking turns being student and teacher.
We stayed best friends throughout my childhood, then when I was 17 I moved into her apartment. It was getting to know her between those walls when I grew to understand and admire her grace. Her brother died in a farm accident when she was five. Grief in the 1930s was complicated but she processed it wisely and thoughtfully. Then when she was a teenager, her dad killed himself. I remember thinking she had superhuman strength when she explained these events because she never cried. She spoke of loss like an old friend she grew up with. I now understand how grief can suck the tears away.
As a young adult, she befriended the homeless kids that moved into her mom’s hotel—the kids who were shunned for being different. As a teacher she made sure all of her students had warm coats in the winter and that the hummingbird feeders had extra sweetener in the spring so all her favorite birds came back to her. She was a living, breathing safe place for strangers and animals and when the men she trusted most betrayed her, she became her own safe place too.
Losing grandma was like losing my North Star. I had no idea where to look for her. I still don’t. But when I write I can feel her. When I finish reading a book, I cram it into one of my overflowing shelves and take a mental note of all the stories I’ve finished without her.
A couple years ago I wrote this on my blog: I wonder if the birds and the rabbits and the deer feel her absence, too. I wonder if they’re curious about what happened to all that food she’d put out in the feeders and the yard each morning. I wonder how long it took them to realize they should start looking elsewhere to eat. That’s the thing about missing someone so bad, though – there is no looking elsewhere.
It’s been five years and I still can’t find anything to fill in the emptiness. I talk about grief a lot… How it comes in waves and how sometimes you ride them and sometimes you allow yourself to drown and sometimes you have to get out of the way in order to survive until the afternoon. But there’s nothing poetic left to say. If she lived forever, I still couldn’t have learned enough about her. I just miss her.