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October 27, 2010

The things she carried

This is a picture of my grandma with Uncle Arnie. It's Christmas, surely those sweaters can only be worn at Christmas. It was probably a moment captured on film somewhere in the late 1990s, at least 15 years ago or so. Grandma is raising her glass in a "prost!"


That painting hanging above Grandma's loveseat is now hanging here in my Los Angeles apartment. She gave it to me yesterday and best of all gave me the story of it. The story of how Grandpa had done some work with a few Japanese businessmen and became friends with them (Grandpa was a man who became your lifelong friend if you met him even once, he was that lovely) and at the end of the job they'd gifted him this beautiful painting of 1st Street in downtown Los Angeles.

How it came to be living in my Studio City apartment is still skewered up in anxiety and sadness inside me. Yesterday in the morning I got into my Jeep for a ride down to Orange County to visit the fam. My parents have been staying with Grandma as they tried to transition her back home, and now her house has sold and she's going to live full-time in the nursing home and all her things, her lifetime of things, all with a story and a memory are still in her home and before she leaves she wants to be sure they find good, loving homes.

I've never lied to any of you about my relationship with stuff, and how much I struggle with my emotional attachments to things. And that's just my struggle, my own private crazy. So add in the emotional weight of Grandma leaving her home for good and seeing her truest desire, which is that her beloved, treasured mementos of her life find good homes. Then add me and stir.

Midday my parents left for a few hours and while I was alone with Grandma she asked me to take some things, more things, and I cried. I didn't mean to, it just happened. I felt this big sea change coming and all of it just leaked out of my eyes. But she was good with me, she always is. She didn't well up with tears, just handed me a napkin and asked about me taking the painting, told me how Grandpa came to have it, told me the story of it.

I find this place -- this stage of life -- almost unbearable. I know my parents need my help and I am a reluctant helper, a reluctant participant. I don't handle change well, I want there to always be a Grandma House, I am someone who had no physical roots at all (moving once, twice, sometimes four times a a year when I was a little girl) and so when I see stability I want it to be frozen in time, encased in concrete and remain there forever, for me, because I need it.

But it isn't about me, it's about Grandma and what's best and safest for her. So her home has been sold and things are boxed up and soon my parents will be back on the road and even when I type those words I feel the tears start and my vision get cloudy and I think it was good planning to put a box of kleenex on my desk tonight before I sat down to type.

Grandma and I spent most of the afternoon together, alone, and I got to hear more stories about her and Grandpa (these are my favorites) and we talked about my Mr. X and how she had liked him and he made her laugh, and I agreed I had liked him, too, back then and he made me laugh as well. And how lucky it was I got married to someone who made us both laugh even if it only lasted so long. And we talked about dancing (she loved dancing) and all the plans she and Grandpa still had when he passed away unexpectedly. I realized talking to Grandma yesterday that I have no animosity in my heart for my Mr X. and hope he is well and happy. And Grandma never makes me feel bad for liking my freedom, so there's no pressure. She's a really good Grandma.

I hate this feeling, though, of missing someone yet they're still here. I miss Grandma but she isn't gone. I can't explain it.

Things I love about Grandma:
• She speaks Spanish with wild abandon, and no concern if she's saying anything correctly
• She has always appreciated people who work their way up and make something of themselves. You know, some people are threatened by success but Grandma has always been self-composed enough to know all lights are prettier when they shine brightest. She loves when others shine bright.
• She never once treated me as anything but her truest (and only!) granddaughter, even though I'm her step-granddaughter, technically. I honestly believe she has never said the word "step-granddaughter."
• She taught me how to open a bottle of champagne correctly. I was seven. It was a good life lesson.
• She makes the world's best macaroni and cheese.
• She is always happy to see me.

Yesterday I spent a few hours sitting on the freeway on my ride back up to the Valley and I thought a lot about Grandma, and my parents, and how in some ways they are both leaving me. Because I am five, and that's how I feel things, like they are all leaving me. I don't handle these grown-up conversations about death and dying and funereal wishes well at all, I walk away or tune out or go off and antagonize the dog.

But my parents will soon be moving on, out of California and back to the road, and Grandma will be in the nursing home. The timing of my job ending and my parents arriving fit together so well that I couldn't imagine what a brace it would be. Now of course they're leaving and again it's me alone at the holidays. Yes, of course there are a thousand ways to volunteer and blah blah blah and all that and still at the end of the day you go home alone and it's Christmas Eve. (People who give unsolicited advice about solo holidays haven't done it much, I find.) (In other words, more plainly said, I appreciate that you have lots of thoughts on how I should spend my holidays but that's about you and not me, and I'm not asking.) (I shouldn't have to add that disclaimer, but there it is nonetheless.)

Anyway, I rather like the comfort of knowing I am not alone in feeling blue and empty on a holiday. Why always try so hard to make a blue thing change colors?

And the talk in the house is maudlin to the extreme. They talk about cremation and I walk away. They need a home for the painting and I promise just to keep it for now, until she needs it again.

"Grandma, I will take it for you and give it a good home until you want it back again..." I tell her.

"But I'm not ever going to need it again," she says.

I'm not well-suited to handling ends. I am the person you most want on your side when you need travel advice or you need a bio written in three seconds flat or if there is a huge natural disaster and you need food, water and shelter. I have water, human food and cat food, bubble-wrapped wine, battery-operated lights, crank chargers for cellphones, even a weather-band radio. I am so incredibly prepared for living, but I am ill-equipped for dying.

I wish all this were easier.

Me, Grandma, my mom around 1979.

Posted by laurie at October 27, 2010 12:28 AM