Mate’s grandmother fell ill this week (i.e., was prescribed the wrong medication for a uti which basically hastened her decline, the signal of which was an event in which she RAN around the house when she hadn’t actually WALKED for over a year and talked to invisible cats) and she has entered final stage hospice care. On the one hand, this is a somber event, and Mate is saddened, as are we all. On the other hand? He’s watched me do this four other times–and we’re repressed white people. We save our grief for our quiet moments in private, and in the meantime, we watch the weirdness that comes with meetings and partings of human beings on and off of this mortal coil. Things such as:
* Mate’s grandmother’s dementia. His poor mother was trying to explain to the doctors over the phone that this wasn’t normal. The doctors finally told her to bring Grandma in, and Grandma was seeing giraffes on the way there. Mate’s mother was like, “Uhm, yeah. Not normal. Can we maybe see about this?”
* Mate’s grandmother’s mantra: “I’m 92 in a week.” And there you go. She has seen the finish line, it is 92, and she’s at peace with that. As sad as we will be to see her go, we all get that 92 is a perfectly respectable finish line. We’re good with that. We hope we make it that far in our own personal races, with as much grace and dignity.
* Our own children, learning the ways of all repressed white people– the things not to mention. Things such as? “Grandma’s going to be 92? That’s only 48 years older than you!” and “If you don’t get yourself together, mom, we’ll go to your funeral too and we’ll be very sad.” I’m glad that the death of the rat and the cat and a couple of grandparents has given my children a very pragmatic perspective on death–but I really hope they can learn the grave demeanor expected of their fellow repressed white people as they grow. That kind of pragmatism could have my own parents haunt me with their disapproval. Literally.
* Chicken and I still have an active list of songs she’s supposed to play at my funeral. I still refuse to see the list she wants played at hers, because if I ever have to play that list, I’ll dig her up and kill her twice.
* Texting from friends can be both inconvenient and frickin’ hilarious as you attempt not to get maudlin or sad in your conversation with relatives. Example? As Mate and I sat and talked to his Aunt–a very sweet woman with a sense of humor but a deeply religious mien–I realized my best-buddy was texting me picture after picture of hot men in compromising positions as I sat in the lobby of the hospice home. I kept my smirk to myself and told her that we were doing something serious here–but since I’m usually snarky, she thought that I was being mock-serious and not serious serious. Hence, when Mate was showing pictures of the young-uns on my phone, there was another text. Now, when there’s a text on my phone and I’m on another app, a banner comes up at the top of the phone, telling you what the text is. Hence, while Mate was showing pictures of Squish and Zoomboy and Chicken and Big T, the banner at the top reading, “You suck!” Mate and I met eyes and tried very hard not to giggle like third graders.
Now, I’m sure someone reading this post will look at it, and think, “These people are incredibly callous and cold!” But the like I said, I’ve done this before. You don’t moan and grieve a long life, well lived, and you don’t try to put paid to past difficulties with the soon-to-be deceased. You allow them to pass, and let them know their lives were important to you, and that they will be missed.
It’s funny, in a way. I wrote a story for Christmas this year called Puppy, Car, and Snow, in which a mother-in-law is absolutely convinced that her son’s boyfriend is not good enough for her. At the end of the story, the two lovers are very publicly committed, and the mother-in-law unbends and welcomes the new member into the family. Now, I’ve gotten a few bad reviews on this story, because some people seemed to feel that mother-in-law should have been punished. I think those people must have been very young. A long time ago, this woman made me cry–and made me cry a lot. I was not good enough for her grandson, and I never would be, and a thousand sly and painful things were said outside my husband’s hearing that made me acutely aware of what a disappointment I was.
But that was a long time ago.
In the intervening time, I’ve proven myself. My children have grown up kind and respectful and smart and funny, and cognizant of their place in the world and of the people who have come before and of their duty to do something worthwhile in their time on the planet. This woman learned to love me, and I learned to forgive, and I’ll grieve her passing. People have been telling me since December that my stories continue to teach, and I hope that the subtle lesson in this story was not lost on everybody. What I said to my husband’s grandmother tonight was simple– a kiss on the cheek (her head is tilted almost parallel with her right shoulder–it can not straighten, to the point where her right lung is crushed in her ribcage and her leg will not work underneath–a kiss on the cheek is an awkward thing) and a promise to tell the kids she said hi. But it was the result of both of us, over the last 18 years, not “punishing” a bad guy, but learning to make the small and subtle adjustments that are required to maintain a functioning family. While we did that, I like to think we truly came to love each other, and I’m proud of that.
So no– we didn’t grieve, we didn’t wail, we didn’t ask “Why? Oh God, Why must this person who has lived this long and fruitful life leave the world?!” (It always surprises me when people ask this–I should think that anyone who has ever raised a cat or a rat or a hamster or a fish would realize the inevitable truth.) We said we hoped we’d see her later–and we might, because she’s feisty!–and then we said goodbye. And we tucked our grief deep in our chests and we took the joy in what we had. Sometimes, being a Repressed White Person isn’t such a terrible thing after all.