My grandmother passed away last Thursday. We knew it was coming — she had been in steady decline since my grandfather died several months ago. Over the past few weeks, she became non-responsive, and we knew it was just a matter of time. Like everything with Grandma, it was both too fast and too slow at the same time. Grandma did things on her own schedule, and didn’t much care for deviation.
I spent the weekend curled up under a blanket, nursing my grief like it was a sprain. Not always carrying it in the front of my mind, a gentle throb that I could set aside for a bit. And then a small turn in the wrong way and there it was again, flashing bright and angry and no longer able to ignore it.
Grief. It permeates my brain and makes it hard to think. I didn’t expect this to be so hard. We knew it was coming. She knew it was coming — and her strong belief in Christian heaven meant she even looked forward to it. She was ready. Yet thousands of miles away, with regular updates from family, somehow I was not quite ready.
My grandmother and I had a challenging relationship. I won’t say fraught — that’s too strong a term. She did love me, and was maybe even proud of me sometimes. But we often didn’t see eye to eye.
As the oldest grandkid, I was often the first one to do something she didn’t approve of. I moved in with my boyfriend, got tattoos, dropped out of college. I have to figure none of those were particularly popular with either of my grandparents. But I was also the first to marry, and I remember seeing sincere joy in her eyes when she saw how gentle and kind SHB is with me. My grandparents both took great pleasure in seeing us together. Though I know they would have preferred we had kids, they never pushed me about it. With one significant exception, they never pushed me about much of anything. And that exception was a big one.
Neither of my grandparents ever became comfortable with my non-Christian status. They both had a intense, strict belief that there was only One Correct Way for people to have faith. I do not. But Grandma somehow managed to be the more ferocious of the two when it came to this topic. The gentle way to put it is “she was set in her ways.” She would make up her mind about something and then, well, that was that. Grandma didn’t respond well to disagreeing with her, on pretty much any topic, ever. We never argued. Instead, she would shut down conversations that weren’t going her way. And then she’d follow up with a steady stream of cards and books, trying to make her case without realtime dialogue. We received no fewer than a dozen copies of Mere Christianity over the years, plus several copies of a book asserting that Buddha would have definitely been a follower of Jesus, if only the timing had worked out.
Grandma’s adherence to a narrow path extended beyond big topics like faith and truth and righteousness. She also despised vegetables in almost all forms. If you tried to feed her a vegetable, even set it in a dish near her plate, she would scrunch up her face in disgust. I saw Grandma once taste a bit of sautéed chard roughly one cm square and literally gag. As much as she hated green vegetables, she loved all things chocolate and candy. She wasn’t a great cook — I’m looking at you, green Jello salad — but from Grandma I learned the delights of fried bologna sandwiches. And honey buns. And having a bread basket with a heated slate in the bottom, so that everything stayed warm at the table.
When I think about the things I have in common with my grandmother, it isn’t a long list. But there are a few things. I am absolutely devoted to my husband. I love the smell of baking bread. I look a lot like her — it’s the big cheeks that somehow get even bigger when I smile.
And like Grandma, I’m hopeful that tomorrow will be better than today.