The calm. I write standing steps away from a precipice. The depths hold an entropy of grief, sorrow and memories to weigh you deep into the past and all its markers – happiness, fear, sadness, regret. Entry to this dark place is inevitable and even has a timer of three days or less. Yesterday I told myself that because I can see it coming, I can somehow plan a way to mentally, emotionally and spiritually prepare for it and lessen the rage of the fall. But I know this isn’t possible. I’ve failed at it before.
Annie had cancer. She was in remission for a while, but it came back with such force that doctors advised her to do everything and anything she had always wanted to do. She made it to Christmas Eve where I was lucky enough to see her, talk to her, hug her. She talked about wanting to make it to my brother’s graduation, which was about 6 months away at that time, and how she wanted to meet my snarky dog. I brokenheartedly smiled and agreed, and when I left that night, I started to prepare myself, to tell myself that when she died, I would not be sad. Instead, I would celebrate her life and be grateful for the part she played in mine.
Three days later, she passed away. I fell to pieces. I tried the whole, be positive and grateful for her life bit, but it always lost to my grief and thoughts of how she deserved better, how it must have felt for her to see her family and friends gathered around her, and to know that the end of her life was near. I cried a lot, mostly alone, silently to myself. I didn’t talk to people about it because I couldn’t make it through a sentence without a flood of tears that even Moses couldn’t part. I finally wrote about it in a little notebook with flowers on the cover, my first entry that is actually followed by tracks for a rap album created by me and my co-worker. Big Titty Crew (BTC for short), we call ourselves. That’s right. Laugh it out and grab that last bit of sunshine.
Into the fall. How does one grieve for someone who is a pillar of their being? My grandma’s 80-pound frame sits in a hospital bed in pain from an inflamed organ, and very soon, she will meet the end of her road. Three days or less. This is not a hang-out-on-the-weekends-only grandma, or a let’s-go-visit-grandma-for-the-summer grandma. This woman raised me every day while my mom worked long hours.
I can still smell the mornings before elementary school in her kitchen when she brewed hot water on the stove and poured it over the tea bag in a glass cup, half way. The smell of hot Lipton was joined by a spoonful of sugar and milk. The oven cozied sweet bread topped with butter, and a sprinkle of sugar on each piece sparkled in the glow of the burners. Then it was off to the corner to meet the school bus.
First room on the right down the hallway. She sewed clothes for herself and sometimes the kids, and she always used fabric with bright ass colors and patterns. She loved her some floral patterns and often wore homemade ensembles that mixed multiple floral fabrics that didn’t exactly match. Outsiders probably thought that her cat-eye glasses needed a new prescription, but she didn’t care. Literally no fucks given, like ever. The original thug lyfe. She took off her glasses as the day ended and rubbed her eyes and the bridge of her nose before cleaning the lenses with her shirt.
After school we watched the Golden Girls, and she would laugh her heart out, mostly at Sofia Petrillo, the snarky little old lady who very much resembled my grandma in stature, spirit, spunk and a disregard for what others think. Simultaneously, she was very big on shame. Hold on, because I know you’re likely associating shame with either body shaming, slut shaming or some type of bullying, but it’s not that type of shame. It’s the shame that one should have with regards to respect for oneself and respect for others. Like a mental check. How do my actions make me look? How are they impacting others around me? It’s a blanket of self-awareness imposed on us as children that ultimately led to a high level of personal accountability as adults.
A couple years into college, Alzheimer’s began to visit. This beast led to wandering and outbursts that sometimes involved authorities. At some point she must have realized it was happening because she sat me down on the couch and said that she wanted to tell me something very important. She said,
“Life is what you make. It’s only going to be what you make it, and it’s up to you.”
This is the last thing she said to me. In the ensuing years she was robbed of her physical health, the ability to walk and speak, but most devastating of all, her mind. She was physically among us, but that was it.
Back to the hospital bed. This final ordeal all stared a little more than 24 hours ago. Since then, I’ve told myself that her passing would be a relief on our consciences and on her because she would be out of suffering’s grasp. Her soul finally free to rest and hopefully watch over us. But as the hours passed yesterday, I realized that for me, there will be very little consolation in her death. When the moment struck, I was on my hour-long commute home. I cried, and it wasn’t a little So Cal shower of tears. It was a pained, wailing cry from my soul and a full bodied effort to not fall completely apart on the 2 freeway. Exhaustion and a small bit of relief followed, and this morning was easier. Then the afternoon arrived, and every thought of her forced me to silently choke back tears as I gazed at the high rises in downtown through my window.
Mini restart button. While scrolling through Facebook, I came across a video of Emma Watson beatboxing while Lin-Manuel Miranda raps about gender equality. Hamilton is my current obsession, and this video gave me a beautiful and much-needed moment of comic relief. The calm stabilizes.
So, I ask again, and more elaborately this time, how does one grieve a pillar of their being without completely losing their shit? While it’s not the end of my road, I sit with the same wonder of what lies on the other side. Of tonight. Of tomorrow. Of life and of death.
I write not to the reader, but to writing itself. The next few days will undoubtedly bring the loss of one of the great loves of my life, and I can only pray and hope to find a cathartic relief in writing, the core of who I was, am and will always be. Stay close, dear friend. There’s darkness ahead.