“Your grandmother died an optimal death. She was sleeping. No gasp, no struggle. She was 92. She lived a long life. She had been in a lot of pain and confusion, and now she is not. It doesn’t get any better than that.”
Someone very close to me uttered the above words. While they are true, and death was a respite in so many ways for my grandmother, it doesn’t make it any easier to lose her. In my life, contemplating the idea of something has always been more of a challenge than the actual thing. The symbolism has been more intimidating than the experience. Concepts and feelings behind big words such as love, marriage, and motherhood freak me out more than the actual experiences. Death. Nanny is dead. She is not coming back.
My source of the wonderful memories of my childhood is now on the other side. Nanny was the last of that generation to go. Now that she is gone, my Pa is really REALLY gone. I’m re-feeling the grief of losing him even though it’s been eighteen years. I also feel the grief of losing my childhood: that place where nostalgia meets longing that makes your chest hurt.
Now my parents are at the top of the family seniority food chain. They are supposed to be the wise old giving owls. I am concerned as I watched my mother lose herself in mental gymnastics worrying and fretting about Nanny constantly, using Nanny’s existence as an excuse not to go anywhere, do almost anything. Will my mother join life again now? Will she find a hobby, passion, or her grandchildren? Will she just find another thing that ties her to being miserable, unable, incapable?
Nanny made worrying a sport, and my mother has been on that train. I would be taking on an unhealthy family legacy to do more than pray for my mother. I’d be using worry as a love language, when I don’t believe that it is. Worrying actually shows lack of love and care for myself. I’ve heard it said that worry is like a rocking chair, it is something to do, but it gets you nowhere. It doesn’t help the person you are worried about, and it is a waste of time that can make the worrier physically and mentally ill. So–I am noting it here and hopefully not picking up that rubik’s cube as much as I might have been inclined in the past. In reality, I will probably realize that I’ve picked up the cube and promptly put it back down.
So, when all of these thoughts come at me–along with the pressures of an impending move, career change, and countless other details–I need to deal with my grief. Since my loved one quipped about how optimal Nanny’s death was, I decided to fantasize about what it is I actually need.
When I was in college, I went to a formal dance with a friend, and my sorority sister went with one of my date’s fraternity brothers. Said gal pal would frequently have too much to drink and get weepy. At this particular formal, I returned from the bathroom to find my friend on my date’s lap while he patted her on the back and gently cooed, “Just let it alllllll out.” I hadn’t thought of that scene in twenty years, but today, it seems like perfection.
In real life, I don’t get to bawl like I want to. My spouse doesn’t get it, it was an “optimal death.” I have to ask for a hug most days. My daughter is only 5, and this is her first brush with death. I could cry into a pillow, I could cry into the air as I pray, but I really really really just want to cry into the presence of another person.
Remember the scene in “Goodwill Hunting” when Robin Williams repeats “It’s not your fault” until Matt Damon’s character lets it loose. (I’ll wait while you youtube it….)
That’s what I want, except Santa Claus seems like a jolly old elf that would let you do that kind of thing. I would get to cry the ugliest cry ever cried into his shoulder while he patted my back, and that storybook voice would say, “She’s gone. Things are different. Things are frustrating and sad. We don’t know what is next. Just let it alllllllll out.”