The fourth anniversary of my Grandmother's death came and went. I didn't notice any posts on Facebook; I didn't spend any time in silent, tearful reflection of her life; in fact, I didn't even think of it. And while I am, in a way, ashamed to admit that... I think that's how it should be... for me.
My Grandmother's death was the first death that I ever dealt with. I'd lost a great-grandmother many years previously, when I was too young to mourn. I'd lost a dear neighbor-grandmother-type while I was in college, but a few tears and a few hours of mourning, and I moved on. I'd known people who had died, but no one who I had loved. So when G-Ma passed, it was a learning experience for me. A time of discovering how to miss someone close to you; how to love someone even after they are gone forever. Most importantly, it was a time of figuring out how a family continues to move, rotate around each other, and grow without their Matriarch.
My Grandmother died in April, a time most often reserved for life and growth. My third child, Kolbie, was three months old. Because we were in Maryland and Grandma was in Florida, I had not yet had the opportunity to introduce Grandma to her newest great-grandchild, although she had already made herself an active presence in the baby's life. Gifts in the mail (a blanket that Kolbie carries with her reminescent of Linus), new clothes, and, most fondly remembered, phone call after phone call during my pregnancy suggesting baby names. I have to laugh when I think of some of her suggestions... but I can guarantee she laughed when she heard what name we'd chosen. Needless to say, "Kolbie" wasn't on her list.
I missed introducing my sweet baby girl to my grandmother by a matter of hours. We received the news that she had passed as we were boarding the plane at Dulles. Although we weren't shocked that she was gone, I think there was also a sense of disbelief. I know for me, I found it hard to believe that someone was dead if I couldn't see their absence immediately. It wasn't until we arrived in Florida, arrived in the midst of mourning and funeral arrangements and family members moving around attempting to deal with their individualized pain that I think the non-logical aspect of her loss hit me. But even then, I think it was primarily logic that caused me to mourn-- knowing that she was dead. Or is it the knowing that she wouldn't be coming back?
For that, in truth, wasn't the time of most mourning for me. I'd only seen her a few times in her Florida setting, so it was hard to miss her in a place I didn't know her. But three months later, as the family converged at Grandma and Grandpa's lake house in New York, then the missing hit. I still recall arriving at Conesus Lake, stretching legs and happy to have made the seven hour trip without succumbing to the desire to leave one of the children on the side of the road. As we greeted family and shared anecdotes about the trip north with two little ones and a newborn, I kept sniffing the air for the absent smell of cigarettes. I couldn't help but look in her chair and not see her. That was where I missed her-- where I knew her. Where she belonged.
I thought it was just me. Just me who associated her so closely to that specific place. But it wasn't until the following year at Conesus when my son, five years old then, ran through the living room excited to have arrived, stopped and asked me, confused, "I want to say hi to Great-Grandma! Where is she? She's not in her chair!", that I realized the concept of her death over a year earlier had never quite hit him. He still expected her to be in that chair by the big picture window-- no matter where he was.
Four years have passed.. I-- and for all I know, others as well- still look in that chair each time we visit the Lake, not really "for" Grandma, but definitely in memory of Grandma. It's not that I don't miss her the rest of the time, it's just that I didn't "know" her the rest of the time. I could call her across state lines, but not being able to call her ever is, in some ways, the same as just choosing not to call her today-- or so it feels. And many times since her death- often on the anniversary of, I think about calling Grandpa-- but I don't. He'd never been the one who talked on the phone. Oh, he'd be there, sitting on the second line, listening as Grandma and I would go on and on about what the kids were doing and how life was, but he wasn't a talker, only occasionally offering a comment on Grandma and my dialogue. So I didn't call. But maybe I should have.
When I lost my baby, I cried for days. I moved around that Thanksgiving holiday, still holding that child in my womb, knowing it was dead, refusing to involve myself in the laughter going on around me. I thought I would cry forever. I thought that not a morning would pass that I wouldn't wake up, touch my belly, and remember. But I was blessed with Micah and, while I still remember and mourn that lost child, it doesn't hurt as it once did. I have no memories that haven't been exchanged for better ones-- a kicking child, a live birth, a baby in my arms. I remember, but I don't mourn. My mother lost multiple babies. I call her on the dates of their birth, the dates of their death, when I recall them. We don't speak of why I'm calling, what that date represents. We just speak. And we know what the other is thinking. I didn't call my Grandfather because I argued "what would I say? Do I mention it? I never call him, we email (my moving-into-the-21st-century grandfather). I don't want to bring up bad memories when he may be having a great day. I don't want to cause him sadness today, when he must have so much more longing and missing after sixty years of marriage than I can ever imagine. I don't want to interrupt a good memory with his new friend, if that's how he is spending this day... but I know those are just excuses. Maybe Grandpa would have wanted that voice on the other end of the line. Not saying anything, but saying everything I don't know how to say in the ringing of the phone itself. So, I'm sorry, Grandpa.
Maybe I chose subconsciously to forget this date, this anniversary this year, refuse to assign it strength and power on my calendar because that's my way of remembering her. If I don't make that phone call, she can't not pick up that phone. If I don't see that chair sitting empty, I don't notice that she is gone. There's no way I will ever forget my Grandmother. No day that I won't, in some way, miss her and regret her absence in my life and the lives of my children. But you can miss someone and mourn someone without assigning a time and date to it. And I'd rather remember her in her chair, watching as her offspring... and their offspring... and their offspring... moved past her, around her, occasionally taking a seat next to her to fill her in on recent news or that day's events, if the seat next to her happened to be empty (which it seldom was). I'd rather pretend she is still there... just waiting for the next visit from her family, then remember the day she died.
So, on that day, the fourth anniversary of her death, I thought of finding cleats for the soccer games and cupcakes growing stale on my counter, three pounds of crabs and a bottle or two of beer on the back deck. I thought of my children, my husband, what laundry needed to be done and lesson planning....and I hope she wouldn't mind that she was missing all of that, since the lake is beautiful to look at this time of year from a soft pink chair next to a picture window.