“Sometimes when one person is missing, the whole world seems depopulated.” – Alphonse de Lamartine
“Just one tiny human isn’t here, and the entire house feels empty.” – me
On Wednesday, January 31, 2018, exactly one week to the day of The Great Escape, Granny left this world.
It was sudden, there was no pain.
It is hard to comprehend… to process.
Some of my ponderings are – yes, this will shock you – far from reverent…
A vision of Grampa up there at the Pearly Gates with St. Peter – having gotten dispensation from the Big Guy himself to be right there to greet her. Fred, his beloved pain-in-the-arse yellow lab, is, of course, with him. Also, Grampa is the only human allowed to say ‘Goddamn’ in Heaven. So, in my daydream, he is waiting for Granny while I’m talking to her quietly, telling her that we love her. Grampa can see this on the closed circuit wide-screen (Heaven is very technology-forward) and he’s really pissy because I’m taking too Goddamn long.
I like that vision.
I like that vision a lot.
I was not ready, again.
It wasn’t just that it was so fast, so unexpected on that very day.
Death is, as Nora Ephron wrote, a sniper.
But even when we know it is coming… you know… from somewhere out there, and maybe sooner rather than later, we are not ready. We may be resigned to it, but then it comes… and kapow.
It’s the Always.
And the Never.
We will always, in this life, be without them.
We will never, in this life, be with them again.
We humans just don’t seem wired to truly, truly internalize those cosmic concepts.
Then again, with each death of a loved one – and I’ve been fortunate enough, to love enough, to have experienced more than a few – I am always surprised at the depths grief can reach, and it never fails to amaze me.
I am unable to prepare myself, to truly be ‘ready’…
Not for the missing.
The feeling of untetheredness.
And not for the Empty.
Nor the wander-y, float-y, not-quite-my-world-even-though-everything-is-still-in-the-same-place-it-was-yesterday feeling that is at once surreal and hyper-aware.
This morning, in the kitchen, John and I kind of stopped and chuckled.
We noted that we are in the same rooms – living and writing and working and puttering in the same spaces where we have been during the day, on any given day. Granny might be in the back room watching ‘her CNN’, or maybe upstairs reading. So why, we wondered, does our house suddenly feel so big?
JoHn says we should just sell it.
I said this is why the great and powerful ‘They’ say not to make big decisions when one is grieving.
But for all uncertainty within death’s fog bank, there are patches of clarity. Here is what I know…
We moved to Maine all together and, just about the time we got our clothes out of boxes and put away, we had the wedding.
That wedding was attended by Mac’s and Jack’s closest friends and family members, and Granny knew almost everyone there.
Most importantly, Granny – June Muriel Dingle – had all of her children, twelve of thirteen grandchildren, and all four great-grandchildren in one place for the wedding of her granddaughter – June Mackenzie Dingle.
Kind of wow.
It would be two weeks after that wedding that some health issues made themselves known. But for the wedding? Man, she looked great. And she also felt great.
She had a wonderful summer, sharing – often – her love of sitting for long spells in one of the old Adirondack chairs on the front lawn. She described being able to sit out there for hours, reading and reflecting and appreciating, while she watched boats drift by the our front gardens.
JoHn and I both get to do our work from home, so the three of us were in each other’s orbit daily… we had dinner together every night, and watched her Criminal Minds.
She got to experience coastal Maine in the fall, something we’d never been able to do before. We watched the leaves change from The Inn, and from her beloved Mini-Cooper (more than once, with the top down).
Her health was not perfect, there were things happening, unseen processes in motion, but nothing that had us alarmed for the near term, and nothing that caused her pain. She seemed settled into her new normal. And, I have to say, I hated but also kind of loved her oppositional reflex when it came to the docs who urged her to move more, eat more. It was her life, not the doctors’ lives. We had long talks about that. She was a grown up. These decisions were hers. I promised to have her back.
As Christmas approached, she made it clear – and at the time I didn’t understand why it was so important to her – that she wanted a quiet family Christmas in Maine. She had visits from grandkids and great grandkids who came to watch Santa arrive by lobster boat in early December. As the month rolled forward, Gabe and Mac and Jack parachuted in. Finally, ‘her Sammy’ came home from New Orleans with ‘his Avery’. Her house was full. She was quiet, mostly watching everyone for days and days, having small conversations and laughing… there was lots of laughing.
I think I get it now – that wish for that Christmas.
That was her and Grampa’s Christmas morning for nearly 25 years.
The sounds of wrapping paper ripped and crumpled, handing it all over to Grampa (who held the bag to collect it)… a toddler’s glee at the latest Hess truck or special baby doll, right through to poor college kids appreciating the gift certificates to favorite local hang outs that I’d seek out online per Granny’s direction. I always got a cookbook from Grampa, even after he passed (she even signed it ‘From your Old Yankee Man).
I will be forever grateful that she asked for that day… and got it.
She began to talk about Grampa a lot.
She always did talk about him, but now I realize it was just… more.
And then last week, after not driving for two months (and after handing over her keys three weeks before), she suddenly – out of nowhere – took off in her little Mini Cooper.
The tiny old woman with the license plate that proclaimed ‘MY COOPA’ took a last spin around town and beyond and back. She could not have done that the day before, nor any day following. But that day? She did it.
A joy ride.
It is so clear now, what was not clear just days ago.
On Wednesday, we were on our way to a run-of-the-mill doctor’s appointment, and she said she wasn’t feeling well at all. We were passing the entrance to our local urgent care center, not two miles from our house, and pulled in.
Minutes later – minutes – I was holding her hand, telling her we all love her… telling her to say hi to Grampa, give Freddy a pat.
And the very last thing I said to her was “Thank you.” I couldn’t choke out the rest…
For taking me in.
For giving me a home.
For welcoming me into your family.
For being who you are.
Thanks for readin’.
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