Let me tell you a story about my grandmother’s death, at least part of the story. This is kind of random and was inspired by my blog trolling – someone had written about the anniversary of a family member’s passing.
I can’t recall the exact date my grandmother died. I know it was around late August because it was “back to school” time in all of the stores. I was just about to start the eighth grade. My grandmother’s passing is pretty significant because she’s the one who primarily raised me. My mother was around occasionally. To be fair, I saw her rather often, but she did not live with me and was not my primary caretaker. That’s another story, however. People would say my grandmother spoiled me and I do not doubt that, although I never considered myself a spoiled child in the way that phrase is normally used. She just really loved me and showed it.
Sometimes I would whine and wish she was like a “regular grandmother”, the ones I’d read about in books and saw on television. Ones who baked cookies and had gray hair in a bun. Grandmother’s who knitted quilts and sat in rocking chairs. Instead, my grandma, whose name was Betty by the way, liked to go out. Her favorite thing to do was play Bingo. I mean, this woman must have gone to Bingo 3 times a week at least. She had a group of friends and they came together as “The Friendship Club,” which was often a misnomer. Those women would fight so much, but it was clear that they loved each other dearly. They’d go partying together and cook chicken dinners to sell. There was Ms. Dot-Lee who was kind of scary to me because she wore a big wig and there was Bay-Bee. You gotta say it like two words. Bay. Bee. She had a blonde-ish short cut and was crazy, yo. My grandmother’s best friend out of the bunch was Ms. Mitchell. I think I only recently found out she had a first name. My grandma only called her Mitchell. She had a jheri curl and was so smart-mouthed.
Anywhoo… Once I went to my grandma and asked her why she couldn’t be like a normal grandmother. Quick as lightening, she replied, “Why can’t you be like a normal grandchild?” I was a little puzzled so I gave her that stupid, perplexed look and she continued, “Normal grandkids go HOME to their parents!” I thought that was hilarious. She was so right. We weren’t “normal” but it kind of worked.
I was stuck to that woman’s hip. She liked taking me places and talking about her smart granddaughter. It seemed like she knew everyone. Grocery shopping took forever because she stopped every 18 paces to chat someone up. Mostly due to space (there were usually 3 or four adults plus myself living in that 2-bedroom apartment at any given time), I shared a room with my grandmother. In fact, we slept in the same bed from the time I was in Kindergarten until she died.
I have a good friend Vernice. We have been friends ever since I can remember. Her dad and my grandpa are tight buddies, so they’d always bring us around to keep each other company when they went to OTB and other places. I was having one of my regular sleepovers at Vernice’s crib when my grandfather came to get me early in the morning. He just told me to get dressed, my grandma was in the hospital and he was taking me. I can’t say that I was scared or really nervous. I had just seen her. She wasn’t sick or anything. She was pretty young too, 55 maybe . We got to the hospital and my family (all except for my Aunt Sonya who lives in California) was there. Not a bunch to be all extra emotional, it was odd seeing them so somber. My grandma was laying in the hospital bed, eyes closed and tubes in. They told me that she was brain dead. She had been playing bingo when all of a sudden she passed out and went cold. The ambulance was called. Apparently, she had suffered an aneurism which caused a stroke. It was near instant. At that point, there was a decision to be made – whether to take her off of the life support machines. They wanted to know what I wanted to do.
I want to say that it was a tortured decision and that I was crushed by the burden of it all. Sounds more dramatic and frankly, it’s what people expect. Instead I just looked at my grandmother laying there looking like she was asleep and I asked one question, “The only thing keeping her breathing right now is the machine, right?” The answer was yes so I said, “Well I think we should just let her go.” So that’s what we did. Later on, someone came in and asked us if we wanted to donate her organs. Once again, a brief consensus of the family was taken, and we agreed to donate.
There was a funeral to be planned, of course. I think that was most stressful for everyone. My grandfather handled most of the arrangements. My Aunt Sonya flew over and was the most broken down mess I have ever seen in my entire life. She’s the oldest child and was very close with her mother. I had always viewed her as the strongest, most together in the family and that day she was inconsolable. My Aunt Lori has never been the same since that day. She’s the youngest and I think she took it super hard. Not that everyone else didn’t, but it seemed like they had the most difficulty coping.
I went to the funeral, which drew so many people they had to wait outside. I walked to the casket and I could feel people’s eyes on me, waiting for it to come apart. My grandma looked good. My friend Beverlee’s mom did her hair and she looked peaceful. I touched her hand, it was cold. Then I went to the back of the funeral parlor with my friend Carmelita and made crank calls on the phone there. That was my second funeral, I think. I’ve only ever been to three.
When we went back to the apartment, I remember going back into the room my grandmother and I shared. It still smelled like her: Charli perfume, Doublemint gum and Marlboro Reds cigarettes. Her clothes were still there. Butts in the ashtray. Makeup and toiletries on the dresser. Slippers. Housecoat. Dog-eared romance novel (she loved romance novels and Westerns). I don’t know where everyone else was at that time, but I think I was home alone. I figured it would hurt anyone else to do it, so I packed her clothes up in big black garbage bags and tried to straighten up. I’m really trying to think now and I don’t think I ever sat and cried about it. There is no doubt that I was VERY close to my grandmother. I just think that I have a different reaction than most others when things like that happen. I can’t say. I just remember feeling like I had to be together to take care of everyone else – they were such wrecks. I remember feeling bad because my sister, who was only a toddler at the time, wouldn’t have much memory of our grandma.
Today I really wish she was still around because I have done so much she’d be proud of. I also think my family would be much closer. Since her death, we haven’t done Christmas or Thanksgiving together and they all act like they don’t care. I think people have made bad decisions because she wasn’t around to tell them otherwise, including myself.
I don’t want to sound morbid, but I am already steeling myself for the day when my grandfather passes. THAT single event will decimate certain members of my family. No, it will destroy everyone. I am positive that the only person who will possess the ability to make proper arrangements and keep a suicide watch over the others will be me.