Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Goodbye to Grandma

As you can imagine, this has been a hard post to write.

We buried Grandma on December 7. Obviously it was not unexpected but also, maybe because it was an occasion so long in coming, a bit surreal. Looking down from the plane as Felicia and I arrived in Spokane and again as we departed, I had--still have--a hard time absorbing that it would probably be my last journey to GEG.

Felicia and I traveled together from Santa Rosa, which was really nice. We met up with Mark and Jay for a brief lunch in the Seattle airport, they we flew ahead and hung out in Spokane for a few hours for their flight to arrive. We got into Wilbur a little late (by small town time) so didn't have time for much else that evening besides greeting family who had arrived earlier and dinner at the Alibi.

It was very cold in Wilbur. The billboard for Tom's boat shop next to the motel had the time and temp on rotation, and it didn't get above 15 degrees. I was mostly prepared, but it seemed like my fingers and toes were numb or icy the entire time. It was too much to walk from the Willows Inn to Sandy's at the other end of town. It was too cold for us to hang out at the picnic table in the motel's yard, so we couldn't really gather as a group except at restaurants. The weather also prevented some of my cousins from driving out of Oregon, so that added to the sadness for me, not being able to see them.

Memorials are for the living, and it was comforting to have so many family members and people who knew Grandma and cared for her together. Uncle Lloyd did a great job making all of the arrangements. On Saturday, we gathered at the Rendezvous across the street from the motel for a couple of hours before the service for an early lunch. It gave us a chance to catch up…though we didn't really talk about Grandma much.

We made our way up to the cemetery for the 1:30 p.m. service. It was cold and brilliantly clear. I don't recall such visibility before. There were quite a few people there, which made me happy to see. The service took place at the far edge of the cemetery, so some of us walked up to her gravesite. I admit, it haunts me a bit, the memory of that dirt-dark rectangular hole by her headstone, which still had only her birthday chiseled into the granite.

It felt like it kept getting colder. Some of us huddled in the blue tarp-tent erected around the midnight blue casket adorned with doves. I know Grandma would have been pleased with the choice of blue. The minister was one of the last to arrive, having just completed a wedding. His words were well intentioned, but so much God talk. I know it's meant to be soothing, but it irritated me, so it was probably good that the chill weather kept it short. Felicia and I lingered by the casket for a few moments, then we drifted back to our cars with the others.

There was another hour at the Rendezvous for coffee and hot chocolate and more goodbyes to the living. Grandma's sister Barbara and I spent a few teary-eyed moments thinking of her, but again there wasn't much talk of Grandma. I don't know that I'll see many of those cousins and friends of Grandma again, which is something I'm still trying to grapple with. It's not just the end of one person's life--it's an end of occasions where people gathered around her, and an end to a twice-yearly travel tradition I'd had for a dozen years. I have a hole in my travel habits. I remembered that the last time I saw Grandma alive was on my birthday. I'm even more grateful that I stayed that extra day on that last visit--she had more energy, seemed more vibrant, which is how I want to remember her.

Mark, Jay, Felicia, and I had a snack at the Billy Burgers, then we went back to the motel. But I was feeling…incomplete…not sure exactly of the word--somehow.

It was getting late, but I decided to drive up to the cemetery alone, something I always did while visiting Grandma in Wilbur. As I arrived, the workmen were just loading the backhoe that had dug her grave onto the trailer--noone else was there. The sun was turning the edges of the luminous blue sky deep orange. The air was even colder, crystalline. As I stepped over the yellowed, frost-crisped grass to her grave, the workmen drove out of the cemetery and I was utterly alone with her. The flowers that had adorned her casket during the service had been arranged over the bare dirt covering her grave. The sunset painted rose-colored light over the flowers, graves, and trees in the old part of the cemetery. A flock of birds called as they flew from one tree then rearranged themselves in another. I noticed there was absolutely silent. I closed my eyes and felt the void envelope me--black, cold, soundless. My heart ached as I thought of Grandma alone in a void like that and I started sobbing. Finally. I feel to my knees in the frozen turf and cried for her to forgive me for not being there when she passed away, alone in a hospital bed. I cried and begged to see her one last time. I cried for her cold lifeless body in the frozen ground, beyond healing and comfort, though I know she doesn't feel the void. I cried for myself, unable to see her, the happiness on her face as I entered her room for a visit, to hear her say, "I love you so much" ever again. I'm crying as I write this.

I stayed until the tears stopped and the sun almost gone. I know Grandma would have been worried about the cougars hiding in the trees, waiting to pounce on me. I looked for the owls as I slowly drove out of the cemetery, but I was still alone.

That evening we had a nice final dinner at Doxie's with Dad, Ginny, Lloyd, Jacque, Heather, Forrest, and Noah, and breakfast with them again in the morning. And then we went our separate ways. 

I don't think I'll be back in Wilbur, much as I miss what's resting in the cemetery on the hill above town.


At 3:28 PM, December 26, 2013, Blogger Brenda said...

I just reread your goodbye to grandma and was feeling that sobbing for someone is so good, caring for someone so deeply is so good and now missing someone.


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