My grandmother, my Gramma Brow,* passed away this morning. She survived a bout with cancer, but experienced a long, difficult struggle with various weaknesses and illnesses that were the aftermath that fight. She gets to rest now. I have a lot of wonderful memories of her, and some complicated ones.
This picture conveys what the best memories of my Gramma involve: Gramma loving me so fiercely that I’m completely wrapped up in it, no room there for anyone else. And, funny thing is, that’s what the complicated memories involve, too. Gramma’s love was intense, and maybe a little selfish. I learned how to love from my Gramma, so if you’re loved by me, you’re lucky, but also beware.
It’s difficult – for me at least – to articulate grief. I write a lot about mourning – but that’s nineteenth century mourning and it’s easy to be objective. I think grief is inarticulable, anyway, but after years of phone calls in the wee hours – “Gramma’s in the hospital” – the experience of having, in effect, said good-bye many times over the years has blurred the finality of this loss.
I recall one visit back to Wyoming while on Spring Break from NYU. Gramma had just had surgery to remove her collar bone, which had been decayed by the radiation treatments and had broken. My aunt and I went to see her as she was waking up after the surgery.
Gramma was owly and a little incoherent, and when she fully realized that she was in fact waking up after surgery she seemed surprised and, truth be told, a little disappointed. I think every time she went into the hospital, especially for surgery, she didn’t expect to come home again. This went on, over and over, for several years.
So, in a way, I’ve been grieving for a long while. I know I’ll grieve now, in my way, in my time. It will come and go in waves and it will change me in ways I cannot understand today, right now. My Gramma was one of the most important people in my life for a long, long time, and the loss of her will leave a vacuum that will never be filled.
*Her name at the end was Betty Hinkle, but to me (and, I think, to my brothers and most of my cousins) she’ll always be Gramma Brow. She remarried after our grandfather died. My generation was all adults by then, so Mr. Hinkle was always Gramma’s husband, never grampa. This didn’t make Gramma happy, but there you are.