Content Warning: The below discusses family issues, death, disconnection, drama, and pain. It’s as close to unfiltered as I get on a public space.
We interred my grandmother’s ashes yesterday.
I have complicated mixed feelings about my grandmother, about my father’s family, about all of it, but most of it I won’t share on a platform that’s remotely public.
Grandma passed at the age of 87, back in February, about half a year after we interred my step-grandfather, her second husband, after a battle with dementia.
(You do not make Alzheimer’s jokes to me. Period. This marks the third relative I have lost to the disease.)
I had seen my grandmother few enough times in my adult life that I could count it on one hand. I had seen Grandpa Bob less than that.
My father was estranged from his stepdad and stepbrother, and through that, from several other member of his family, including Grandma Flora, when I was in my mid-teens. While I stayed in contact with a couple of my aunts and two of my cousins at least through my teens, I otherwise got carried along for the ride.
Once I was an adult…. I didn’t make the effort needed. The cousins I saw yesterday were strangers. By the time I’d made the effort to get in touch with Grandma and Grandpa, Grandpa was deep into dementia.
I will regret this forever.
My grandmother was a difficult woman to know as an adult, but I have warm memories of her when I was a child. She loved plants, loved animals. At the service, several of her children mentioned having binoculars in their cars (my monocular is on the bookshelf) and shovels, because Grandma would love to stop the car and pick plants from the side of the road. She made wreaths. She taught me to dry flowers and how to make a basket out of burdock.
I remember walking with her around Brockport, where she and my father and, to a great extent, I grew up. There is a mint-green color that will always say Flora to me, because she painted so much wicker furniture that color.
I learned yesterday that she gave my father his love of books, and I can extrapolate that she gave him her love of birds. The reading that I grew up immersed with, the crabapple and the rose that she bought specifically for me, all the plants that she brought us when my parents built their house – I grew up knowing exactly how my mother’s mother Dorie had shaped my life. It was eye-opening to learn how Flora had.
We gathered at Hamlin Beach afterwards, and I spent several hours, again, reacquainting myself with people I had not seen (save for Grandpa Bob’s service) in decades. There is a cousin who now has children the age I remember her being. There is a great-uncle who looks so much like his father, my great-grandfather Daddy Ross, that it was like seeing a ghost. Daddy Ross has been gone for almost thirty years.
My grandmother’s youngest sister sounds like her. My father’s youngest brother sounds so much like him that I felt an immediate kinship, despite the fact that – he lives in CO – I’ve only seen him a few times in my life.
I noted how old people get when you don’t see them for twenty, thirty years. It hurt. But I noted that there was a sort of unconditional affection that I do not normally expect, not from family, not from anyone. My aunt, my dad’s first baby sister (long story), she still loves me, although it’s a distant sort of love. Even my father’s step-brother above-mentioned went out of his way to be friendly.
There are people there I’d like to see before the next funeral. I just have to figure out how.
And my grandmother… I’ll think of her when I look at the roses that T. and I planted this year. And any time I see a car by the side of the road, someone picking wildflowers to take them home.
Up, up the long delirious burning blue
I’ve topped the wind-swept heights with easy grace,
where never lark, or even eagle, flew;
and, while with silent, lifting mind I’ve trod
the high untrespassed sanctity of space,
put out my hand and touched the face of God.
by John Gillespie Magee, Jr.
I don’t know what the afterlife holds, I don’t. But for a moment, I will imagine that it has flower beds and all the flowers you could ever want.