Because of a combination of things I’ve been thinking about today, I’ve decided to do the other prompt for #scintilla today as a bonus.
Prompt B: Talk about a time when you saw your mother or father as a person independent of his or her identity as your parent.
(note: this post is written about my mom and my grandmother. It was also very hard to write.)
My grandmother had a blue velvet coat that I coveted. I wanted it. Ever since I could remember, I wanted it to be mine.
I remember begging and begging for it. But I was too small, and it didn’t fit me. That fact didn’t stop me from wanting to try it on and wear it every time we went over to visit. Grandma told me when I was around 6 or 7 that one day, it would fit me, and that I could have it when it did.
So I waited. Albeit very impatiently.
In 2003, my family picked up our lives in Indiana and moved to Philadelphia because my grandmother was sick. So sick in fact, that she kept it from us. She was weakened in her older age, and she didn’t want us to see her that way. She was too proud, too strong-willed. Two things that I wish I could say I inherited from her, but I am not as proud as she, nor as strong-willed.
But I digress.
In a matter of a few months, I watched a woman who was once so full of life and spark dwindle down to someone who could barely move or speak. Devoid of a healthy body, we would play cards in her bedroom; I would sit on a chair next to her bed, and she, propped up on pillows, would kick my ass at war and slap jack. There was still a spark, but it was growing dimmer by the day.
At the end of October of that year, Grandma was moved to hospice care. I remember because it was Halloween and I wore a costume to school that day. My mom and I went to visit her and all the nurses and other patients fawned over the cuteness of my polka dotted 50′s outfit. She was still talking at that point, albeit very little.
About a week later, I brought my fiancé at the time to meet Grandma. She had Willa, her caretaker, do her makeup for her so she looked her best when she met my future husband (now ex). When we got there, she didn’t have much to say, but she nodded and smiled. That same afternoon, my mom made me sit down and talk to the hospice counselor. I wasn’t really having that, so I just bawled there in the waiting room for a half hour while she listened.
On November 11, it was my first day out of training at my new job at Giant in Plymouth Meeting. Jason was walking me in the store when my dad called him.
She was gone. I was at work, and I didn’t get to say goodbye. And she was gone.
I didn’t ask to leave early. I didn’t even tell anyone what was going on. It was all I could do to keep my composure, so I stayed for the remainder of my shift, and went to my grandmother’s condo where my parents, Jason, aunt, and Willa were waiting. We ate pizza and laughed in her memory. We talked about the good things. But as I looked across the table at my mom, I couldn’t even begin to commiserate what was on her mind. I mean, losing a grandparent is a big deal, but you’re losing a smaller part of you. When you lose a parent, it’s a whole nother feeling. I guess it would feel like half of you is missing.
The next evening, we went to the funeral parlor. Initially, I didn’t want to go inside, because it was an open casket, and I am normally very creeped out by that sort of thing. But I eventually went in. And she was there, in one of her fancy dresses, her makeup all done up, wearing one of her favorite wigs. And even though she was not with us on this earth, I knew that wherever she was, she was dancing. She loved to dance. And she loved her cigarettes and obnoxiously pink lipstick. So she was dancing and smoking in the heavens with her love that left this world years before I was born.
That night, I clutched that blue velvet coat with every fiber of my being. I didn’t own that coat for long, as it was given away to the Salvation Army by my selfish witch of an aunt whom I hate with a passion (which is another story for another day). But for the time I did own it, all I could do was hold it in my arms and touch it. And the fact that I don’t have that coat anymore really hurts.
It was a long time before my mom could really smile again. Being the angsty teenager at the ripe age of 17 that I was at the time, maybe I didn’t want to fully understand what was going on in her head, or why she was grieving the way that she was. So life that year was rough. My mom, my best friend, was an empty shell that put up a front so no one could see how truly devastated and alone she felt. I didn’t help matters by grieving in my own way of acting out and being angry all the time. But somehow, we got through it. Now that I look back on it, I know that my mom has that same exact pride and strong-will that her mother had. She didn’t want us to see that the emotional loss was consuming her. So she put up a front, and faked a smile. Even though I didn’t appreciate it back then, or understand, I know now that she absorbed the pain and hurt for me, until I was ready to feel it on my own. But when the spark came back to my mom, I knew that there was life to be had again!
And now, almost 10 years later, it’s the little things. When things are truly bad, or something is out of balance, we smell cigarette smoke where there are no cigarettes being smoked. I get strange urges to call my mom out of the blue, and usually it’s because she was about to call me. Today is my mom’s birthday, and I know that if all were right in the world, if my grandmother wasn’t on the other side and I wasn’t 600 miles away from my mom. the three of us would be sharing a pot of coffee, a gallon of wonton soup, and possibly even some egg rolls and fried rice.
We all grieve in our own ways. But sometimes it takes a loss to find oneself.