Monday, September 2, 2013

...To Make Me Feel Her Love

At around 4:00 this afternoon, my paternal grandmother passed away.

I didn't get the news until after 7:00, though I'd been informed as of the day before that "the end" was imminent. The loss of her has been heavy on my mind ever since that first call.

I'd received a similar call about my grandfather just over three months before. The news had left me heavy-hearted, and sad. However, as I went about meeting the ever-pressing needs of my children, what struck me most was how unaffected I was, largely. I saved the tears for the funeral.

I have not been traveling the same road of grief this time. Last night's news left me sobbing, collapsed into a chair. As the hours have pressed onward, I've been distracted, morose, lost. Pulled toward the memory of that moment; in fear of the phone call that would follow it.

In the time between then and then, I've considered, and considered. What is it that I am grieving, exactly? The loss of my grandmother, whom I've hardly seen in recent years? The loss of my children's great-grandparents, of whom she was the last surviving? Or, perhaps, the loss of potential? Loss of future visits to my grandparents' home, with its familiar old furniture and rows upon rows of books on Japanese culture (courtesy of my grandfather)? Loss of connection to my aunt, uncle and cousins, with whom I've had relationships tragically unrealized?

I had a similar experience with the loss of my mother's guardians many, many years ago. I mourned the passing of the second with a surge of emotion that rather surprised me. It occurred to me, even at the tender age of nine or so, that what I was perhaps feeling most acutely was the concurrent loss of any vestige of Dominican heritage that went along with them. Their home was the only place I really ever heard Spanish spoken or met with other people from my mother's country of origin.

However, the current of my emotions is agitated with much greater complexity, now. I wasn't particularly close to my mother's guardians at any point, but I was close to both of my grandparents when I was very young. I tried to be, anyway. A couple of decades lie between the time I saw them two or three times yearly and the few times I saw them last. In between: nothing but a single visit as a young teenager for their 50th anniversary celebration. I have memories, but they are of the vague, childlike variety. I remember my grandfather as the jolly, approachable one, with laughter to match his size and a talent for knee-bounces. Why, then, does the loss of my grandmother hurt me more?

I suppose it's true that I was forced to let go of my grandfather long before I physically lost him. He faded out, socially, over time, and was barely "present" for the handful of visits I made as an adult. He was not the man I remembered anymore when the time came to say goodbye for good. But then again, neither was my grandmother the woman I remembered on that last, fateful visit. She was a shell of her former self, but her passing knocked the breath out of me all the same.

When all is said and done, I must admit to a bit of responsibility for all of my consternation. I suspect that a lot of my pain is wrapped up in my constant quest for closure, which I've long since learned is a myth of epic proportions. My grandmother was a cold, stern woman, and though she had her moments, I spent the bulk of my childhood wavering between abject fear of her and an obsessive need to please (a goal which was never, ever met).

As an adult, the fear was gone, but the need remained. I retained no errant childhood control issues that incited her wrath, but nor did I ever have occasion to receive the praise I felt was so long in coming.

So, I suppose the question that has most lingered on my mind through this whole ordeal, as I dressed up my youngest daughter in a dress that Grandma made for me and sent my thoughts her way at around the time (I would later find) that she was leaving this world is: did I ever manage to earn her love approval?

I don't suppose I'll ever know.