My grandmother, Rena, died last month. When I write those words, they look logical. She was 93. I am 38. Women who are 38 are lucky to still have grandparents; her death wasn’t tragic. And yet.
And yet, Rena’s death is a profound loss. Multiple times per day, I feel my heart beat faster, and I think, Rena is dead. I find myself thinking thoughts that seem obvious when I write them down, like, I knew Rena my whole life. Of course; she was my grandmother. But what I mean is, I don't know a world without Rena in it. My parents and I lived with her and my grandfather, Jim, after I was born. She took care of my mom and me while my mom recovered from a C-Section. We grew up an hour from her and my grandfather, and when my parents divorced, they moved in with us part-time so that my mom could go to grad school. My college roommate remarked that some people called their parents; I called my mom and my grandmother. We talked multiple times a week for the last twenty years, and I visited as often as I could.
A month after her death, I am still filtering experiences through “what I will tell Rena.” Some of my family members are doing the same. Rena was always fiercely protective of our family. When I was in middle school, sharing my social dramas with her was deeply satisfying; she was always on my side, quick to criticize anyone who might have wronged me. As she aged, she grew less and less able to tolerate any negative events or feelings we might experience, and my mom and I had a long list of “things we did not tell Rena” because we didn’t want her to worry. We did not tell her about minor illnesses. I did not tell her when Julia broke her toe last summer. When Margaret threw up in the car this morning, for an instant I imagined a text to my mom, telling her both that Margaret was sick, and also not to tell Rena.
While she couldn’t listen to the negative, Rena loved to hear stories about the girls. “Tell me something they’ve said,” she would exclaim on the phone, childlike excitement in her voice. I would jot down funny sayings or stories, saving them to tell her. Last week, when Margaret went to a playdate at a friend’s house, I reminded her to say “please” if she needed anything from her friend’s mom. “Yeah, I will,” Margaret replied. “I want her to be really impressed with my manners.” When I told my mom, we noted how much Rena would have loved this story.
So many cliches about death have proved to be true. Grieving is a process. I am glad Rena isn’t suffering, and that I was able to be with her when she died. I am grateful for the time we had together, and I know that the depth of my sadness is in proportion to how profoundly I loved her. The words sound hollow, but for now, they are the words I can find. And so, I will write them down, and I will let them absorb and reflect what grief feels like today.