I’ve been racing down long stretches of highway, speeding through dark tunnels lit with colored spots of light zipping past, hurtling skyward as if launching into the heavens – all the while my focus was completely unfocused on the empty space straight ahead.
There was a 1 am phone call from my mother, text messages, more calls, and finally a text from my dear aunt: she’s gone. That cold, numbness ran through my veins while my face flushed hot and wet from tears and emotion. I sobbed, wailed into Jeremy’s arms – sadness overcoming the rational side that knew I needed to book the first flight out, a rental car, hotel and get there as soon as I could. It felt familiar. It felt awful. The same despair I felt when I learned my sister had died unexpectedly. Unexpected. This was unexpected and yet it wasn’t. Grandma was to turn 90 years old this October and while I knew she could not live forever, somewhere in my heart I deeply wanted to believe that she would. It’s like that thing you wish so hard for when you’re a little girl who looks to her grandma and believes that reaching up to take hold of her hand will make everything bad in the world disappear. I am not a wishful girl. But I did wish it.
Jeremy arranged all of my travel logistics (he had to remain with Kaweah because we couldn’t get anyone to take her on such short notice at 3 am) while I staggered around dumbstruck and emotionally drained, packing my bag in the cold darkness of the house. My hands didn’t obey my brain and my arms were heavy and exhausted. I was packing for an undefined trip. I had a one-way ticket. I didn’t know when the services would be held. My head throbbed from all of the tears and my eyes burned, stung. Calls to the East Coast and text messages to the West Coast to coordinate travel with loved ones. Grandma meant the world to me. She meant the world to a lot of people including my mom – her first-born. Loss like this hurts from all directions. It wasn’t just my sadness. I knew my mother and aunts were devastated. If you’ve ever loved someone, you know how much it destroys you to see their heart broken. Everyone loved my grandma. She totally kicked ass.
When all was packed and ready, there was a little time before I had to leave for my flight. Jeremy tried to catch some sleep as he insisted on driving me to the airport, but I couldn’t sleep. I was sapped of energy and yet a nervous trembling plagued my body. It’s like the trembling you get in your legs when you’re stuck on a climb and you’ve been looking for the next placement for too long. I had two hours to gather photos of Grandma for her services. She was so pragmatic that she would occasionally tell me, “Take a nice portrait of me… you know, so we’ll have a good one for my funeral.”
I was the zombie sitting in the waiting area near the gate at Denver International Airport. I was the girl in the aisle seat who alternately wiped tears from her eyes and chatted with her neighbors about Yosemite Valley. I was the red car that followed the familiar path from airport to Grandma’s place. My aunt opened the door. Mom had asked me to take care of my aunt (we are very close) because she’s the youngest of the sisters and had to deal with Grandma’s sudden passing alone. She looked tired and small. We hugged, cried, talked, and then set to work on the task of clearing out Grandma’s belongings.
She saved a lot of things in tidy little stacks or containers. She kept items nearly new by zipping them up in plastic. If you made or gave her something she really liked, she would never use it and probably wrap it up and stow it away someplace safe. She did that with some flower washcloths I knitted for her about nine years ago.
And Grandma was always learning. Up to the moment she passed away, her mind was sharp as a tack. She played Sudoku puzzles daily, took English classes, and constantly learned new words – jotting them down on scrap pieces of paper that were neatly arranged and stored around the apartment.
It was so her. Grandma was clever, resourceful, curious, happy, and always problem solving. Modest, kind, and full of wisdom. Such a calming presence in our lives. We sorted donations from recycling from things the family might treasure. We laughed and delighted in Grandma’s ingenious storage methods, the clippings and notes she posted for her own reference (e.g. a chart of fruit nutritional values!), her affinity for little trinkets and anything miniature. No wonder I like little foods – I got it from my grandma.
my aunt (left) and family friend (right) open the pantry closet
Grandma was also a fan of bright colors, something else I probably got from her. The trinkets or little origami she collected/made were always vibrant and engaging colors. So many of the daily items around her apartment had been modified by someone with an engineer’s intuition. I told you she was smart and resourceful. She altered and redesigned everything from handbags to clothing to electronics to furniture to kitchen appliances.
I miss her. I still walk into the apartment expecting to see my tiny grandma just around the corner, her eyes sparkling and feet shuffling as she reaches up to hug me. Sifting through the everyday pieces of her life, I was able to paint an endearing portrait of a woman I have admired and loved from my earliest memories. And instead of the sorrow and shock from 24 hours ago, I’m feeling at peace as if I had spent the day with Grandma.
me and grandma in 2005