My grandma, Lyla, was a beautifully active, vibrant woman and her quick devolution due to advanced and very aggressive pancreatic cancer was a tremendous shock to our family. I’ve always admired and respected her and been proud of her for all of her accomplishments and activities. She was not a particularly emotionally demonstrative woman, but it is amazing to think about all the ways her presence is woven through my days even though she lives 2000 miles away–the sweater I put on every morning is one she knit for me, her quilts are on my kids’ bedroom walls and on all our beds, magazine subscriptions she gifts us with are in the car and bathroom…we’re connected in many ways and I don’t know what life will look like without her in it. She died early this morning and I can’t quite believe it. I remember when my great-grandmother died (at 88) my grandma told my mom: “now, I’m an orphan.” It is a moment that always stuck with me because I realized that no matter how old you get, you still feel like someone’s daughter. When I started packing for our craft camp this afternoon, I packed quilts to take for our beds that she made for us, I looked at Christmas pillowcases she made for my kids, and I was so impressed with how she managed to be such a part of our lives from such a distance.
I’ve cried so much in the last week. I honestly didn’t know I would feel this loss so keenly–it is in the “right” order, she lived a full and beautiful life, and etc., etc. One of the things that will totally set me off is to look at my own little girl and think, “but Mamoo used to be someone’s little girl!” And, then I think, but isn’t this what I WANT for my own little children? To grow up and have grandchildren and great-grandchildren? Yes, duh. And, I got to be almost 34 still having her as a part of my life. The other thing that gets me going is the thought that my kids are the only kids in this side of the family who get to have a Mamoo, who get to have this amazing great-grandmother. When my brother and sister have kids, they won’t have a Mamoo. And, then I have to laugh a little at myself that one of the things that has made me cry the hardest during this whole experience is based on these imaginary future people who may never even exist. I told my dad about it this morning, laughing while crying and crying at the same time, and he said, “it is because you feel the break in the chain.” I do.
I’ve written more about this on my other blog, but on Sunday, we thought we’d reached my grandma’s final day on earth. I spent the day thinking about her, crying, talking to my husband, and fanatically checking my phone for texts from my mom (side note to those people who write critical blog posts about “distracted” people “glued” to their phones, you may do well to remember that some of those distracted-looking people might be looking for texts about dying grandmothers from their own distraught mothers and that this phone-based link in fact represents connection and not disconnection or distraction). I went to the woods and I sat on the rocks and sang Woman Am I. My mom told me she’d been singing it to my grandma as she listened to the erratic sounds of her breaths, thinking each was the last. My letter did make it in time to be read to my grandma while she was still conscious enough to indicate she heard it. And, on Friday I did a FaceTime call with my mom and she took it to my grandma’s bed so that I could talk to her. She didn’t open her eyes, but she murmured a greeting and she smiled when she heard little Alaina say, “hi, Mamoo!” So, we were able to say some final words and goodbye “in person,” which was really, really difficult, but also a gift. There is something I feel really poignantly in the mother to daughter to mother to daughter to mother to daughter connection in this life and loss experience. I know that little boys are part of the generations as well, but not in as direct a line as this particular chain of girls—I’m the oldest daughter of an oldest daughter of an oldest daughter (and my own daughter is an “only daughter,” so while she’s my youngest child she continues a line as the first daughter of a first daughter of a first daughter of a first daughter). So, I made a new sculpture trying to capture that feeling of the three generations of little girls who’ve sat on her lap:
I also made one using a rock I found in the woods that day and another about grief:
Go in peace
go in love
and go knowing that you have left behind
something that matters
The fabric of a life well-lived
the hearth of a family well-tended
the heart of a community strengthened
and a never-ending chain of women
You’re our Mamoo
You’re our grandmother
and we say goodbye
and thank you.
into the arms and lap
the great mother of us all
She holds you now.
We let go.
I have more things to say, more thoughts about connection, and more thoughts about having watched–from a distance–my mom so tenderly and compassionately holding the space for her mother. She worked so hard and went through a lot to be there for her mom and it was really heroic and loving. I also wish this post wasn’t so “me”-based and was more about my grandma herself, but it is what it is. I can write more later—I really, really want to get something posted before it hits midnight, so it is really published on the same day we lost her.