Everybody was talking about how good she looked. How she looked twenty years younger; it was all bullshit. NO ONE LOOKS GOOD WITH EMBALMING FLUID INSTEAD OF BLOOD NO MATTER HOW TIGHT YOU PULL THE SKIN OR HOW MANY LAYERS OF MAKE UP YOU CAKE ON. Case closed. The gathering afterward was held in a church gymnasium. Typical Italian fare was served: pasta, salad, chicken piccata, meatballs, fried cod. Cookies n cakes n such. Good coffee.
After the service, driving through this town on the way out: mountains of rubbish across a rusted expanse, a long fallow factory, strip malls, tanning and nail salons, fast food, Italian markets, big cars, graffiti, old people (the smell of Pecorino Romano cheese, urine and rubber). a twelve year old boy with a faded tattoo and his old lady. more old people. all the young people are either school age, or too stupid to leave; hot young Italians that fling the sausage down the wrong hallway and then… BAM… it’s finished. A dense cloud of depression blankets the city… it’s literally gray most of the time, the sky, the ground, the people. A sunny Youngsburg day is probably filled with all kinds of insanity, people that generally don’t know how to act won’t know how to act, and that’s when the fun starts. The heat always brings it on… the first warm day of the season. Glad dad’s got his Glock 19 loaded and ready in the back seat, you’ll never know when things might start getting stupid. The people mostly look like they’re on death’s porch, rocking ever so lopsidedly on the edge. I guess we both got over-caffeinated before the trip home because we went the wrong direction, taking us over an hour out of the way. I didn’t care.
It sure was a long trip home, though. My father listened to talk radio as he chewed toothpicks to splinters.
I found myself extremely moody over this last weekend and into the first part of the week; I guess this is what grieving my grandmother looks like. I haven’t really cried, except for a total of three tears. I am glad she’s no longer suffering (I hope). People tell me I haven’t sufficiently cried. Dad didn’t cry at all over the weekend, either. I wonder who noticed me not crying?
Dad’s looking so old. That happened while he was taking care of her; she took years off his life. But that’s the price you pay when you love somebody… or so I’m told.
Of course, my grandmother’s death stirs a whole cauldron of emotions, memories and sensations. What a frightening process of deterioration she endured. We all watched her fall apart together, though: my father, brother, sister and I.
One weekend, Dad requested my brother and I accompany him to collect her car. She no longer had the capacity to drive defensively or within the lanes or even on the road itself. She’d become a highway menace. Being fairly able to accept the reality of this, at Dad’s behest, she agreed to give the car to my brother. It was difficult going through the car, throwing away affects of hers that were long out of date, a yellowed tube of cracked Chapstick, a book of matches from 1988, although matches don’t go bad. She had a lazy-susan in her driver’s seat- layered in egg crate foam and covered with a brightly colored crocheted cover- which easily swiveled when she needed to get in, giving her increased pivoting power. We all take pivoting for granted. Like being able to poop without assistance. All the little things that were slowly whittled from her. As a formerly active woman, it was humbling and infuriating for her to lose dexterity, autonomy and physical strength.
“My ass is so fat and heavy, I’d never be able to move it without that.”
Religious and other safety icons were abundant on the dash, the visors, in the console. Magnet Saint Michael. Clip on Saint Anthony. Old wooden cross hanging from the rear-view. If my brother was getting the car then I wanted all the talismans and kitsch inside. I am a closet Catholic and scavenge anything related at any opportunity.
All and all, she remained stoic through this two day process. Until my brother started backing out of her space to make the three hundred mile trip back home. She stood on the balcony of the third floor assisted living apartment and waved as we drove off.
“Bye car,” with tears in her eyes.
My brother felt guilty about taking her automobile, under these circumstances. It was her last tether to freedom and the next to the last symbol of her independence. Despite his guilt, my brother needed a car. The next day, I wasn’t present when he and dad tried to start it and the engine wouldn’t turn over. They tried jumping it. No luck. My father blew his top.
“Your brother took all the icons out of here and he never should have, goddammit!”
In two more months, my grandmother would have to be hospitalized with chest pains and the last freedom, her assisted living set-up, would be stripped away: dad had to make the decision to have her placed in a home.
The declining spiral was a slow, agonizing one. She got into a pattern of falling that eventually led to her needing both a knee and hip replacement. As her lungs turned to stone from COPD, the doctors put her on oxygen. She panted almost continuously, air starved. She hadn’t smoked for close to forty years.
Yeah, I mourned her loss a long time ago- probably with that series of horrible phone calls I made to her where she thought I was my brother. I never corrected her. My brother, who never called her, thanked me for allowing him the credit. I don’t blame him though. I almost wish I didn’t call… that the last memories I’ve got of her are her weak and panicked voice saying stuff like, “I don’t know what’s going on. Can you tell me what’s happening? I can’t turn on the TV. I want to die. I can’t take it anymore. Where is your father? I need him. I can’t find my oxygen.” And then, “I don’t know what the hell’s going on” on repeat. Sobbing. Pleading. What do you say then?
If I remember correctly, I think that’s when I cried and chalked her off as dead. Seems so calloused. I didn’t visit her last Xmas and it was her last one. It figures. Do I feel guilty? No. I don’t know how coherent she was, her recall was hit or miss. Heck, she could’ve thought my brother, who did visit her at Christmas, was me. Who knows? But no. I don’t feel guilty. I will miss her to be sure. But the grandmother I grew to love hadn’t existed for a very long time.