This morning’s song came directly from the heavens.
I lost my Maternal Grandmother in August of 2001. It was earth shattering for me, because in my life at the time that would be the first “real” family member that died. You know how it is. Various “other” people die that are distant… and you feel poorly. But Granny RAISED me. She sat with me and my brother when we watched TV. Chased us around the house when it was time to wash up and go to bed. She took every spoon of porridge and blew on it good before I ate it so I wouldn’t burn my tongue. She hummed sweetly when she washed the dishes and her voice boomed low when she was upset (man… when that woman frowned… it was so serious – luckily, she didn’t do it often). She was diagnosed with breast cancer a few years before I entered high school, struggled with the idea of a mastectomy, lamenting “I fed my children with my breasts…” but eventually knew what she had to do. Had the surgery, did her very painful and sickening rounds of chemo, lost all her hair and then grew it back into the cutest little silver fro. The whole experience was harrowing for her but she took it like a champ. When she was in remission she decided she wanted to venture out and live on her own… experience something new (mind you … she was about 60 something at this time). So she moved to Ft. Lauderdale where her 2nd youngest son, Wilhelm, bought her a ranch home in one of those new communities (new back then). And I remember seeing the station wagon driving her away from us down Denman street for the long 24 hour trek… and I cried… and cried and cried. I didn’t want her to go… She’d been a part of my life from day one. But she felt like she had to move on for herself for once. And that was my first lesson in letting go of a loved one.
She lived down there for a few years and we made our visits to her – for Christmas when we drove down (My brother and I have countless laughable memories about this ride down); when mom sent us for summer vacation for 2 weeks when I was 14 – perfect timing as I was getting over breaking up with my “first” boyfriend; and she made her visits up to us and they were brief and far between. She was enjoying her time down there, meeting new people. But it was a big house and she was all by herself. One day mom was feverishly trying to contact her. She’d been complaining of not feeling well so mom was being a good daughter and checking. But to no avail. She asked one of her nearby neighbors to go in and check on her and found her on the floor, barely audible… barely moving. She had had a “mini” stroke. After a brief hospitalization, they packed up her stuff and rushed her back to New York where we could all keep watchful eye. But she went through her rehab pretty effortlessly and made what seemed to be a full recovery. During this time she was in a building about 7 – 10 blocks away from our apartment building. Not a heavy trek at all, but more “work” than the apartment she previously had which was around the corner from our building. I made those trips to visit her sparingly. By this time, I was almost out of college… “busy” doing my own thing; growing up and becoming a woman. I didn’t have time to make visits like I did when I was kid. (shaking my head thinking about how much time I wasted where I could have been with her … enjoying her… ) The years started to go on and there was a wear and tear on my mother to keep visiting her out there as my mom’s health was beginning to decline now and she had to rely on my father to take her to see her mother more and more (which -if you knew my dad back then… NOT. COOL). They saw less and less of each other but they spoke numerous times a day on the phone.
Finally at one point an apartment opened up RIGHT next door to us and we jumped on it. Spoke to the management company so they wouldn’t put it on the market and lock it down so that we could get Granny in there. It was perfect – a one bedroom… and it was literally? NEXT DOOR. Coming off the elevator to head to our own apartment, we’d pass that door. I thought gleefully to myself… Oh my god… it’ll be SO EASY to visit her now!!! I’ll see her every day!!
We helped pack her up and carefully moved her to the new apartment. She expressed a great deal of excitement to be so close to us too. We all couldn’t wait. We got all her personal effects in the apartment; set her up real nice like… shared some coffee and chatter with her at our apartment before she made the long trek back to apartment down the hall. Only about an hour or two went by before mayhem ensued. One of us was holding up the bathroom in our own apartment. And so my father took this opportunity to maximize use of the brand new bathroom that had made itself available right next door instead of fussing with whoever was holding up the progress. He got to grandmas apt and something wasn’t wright. She was laid out abnormally on the bed, muttering something about “always be there… i… will… always… be there…” over and over. Her temperature had shot up and her gaze was distant. We called 911 and all the siblings and everyone made it back to her in record time. The ambulance came and took her away to Elmhurst Hosptial (closest hospital for an emergency and worst. decision. ever). I remember NOT hearing the ambulance put on it’s sirens when it drove away that night with my Granny and wondering… what was so NON urgent about her not being well. I feel angry about it till today. Even though five months would pass while she deteriorated under the lack of care at EH – I felt that the need for her care was URGENT. She would appear to be making a comeback… and then get sick again. There was a question of bedsores that were forming but weren’t being taken care. I never saw it / them but I understood one bore down damned near to her tail bone. She would eventually start having respiratory problems and they would intubate her. At first it was pretty voluntary… but soon, it became the only thing keeping her animated. And what a miserable animation. Watching that machine literally fill her full of air and pull the air away. Abnormally jerking her body up and down. And then…. there was the gurgle…. *shudders* I can’t even bring myself to describe it. Out of the 5 months that she was there… she’d spend about 3 1/2 of them in this condition. Deteriorating every day. Recognizing faces less and less. Not being able to converse due to the tube in her throat with this MISERY in her eyes. And soon she animated less and less.
The afternoon of August 8th, which was a Wednesday, we got a frantic call from mom to drop everything and hurry to the hospital right away. My brother, Earl and I were all at work… so we hurried, met up at times square 7 train station and rode into Queens together. But it was rush hour. And there were train delays. Everything was backed up. We were stuck between the express stop of Queenboro Plaza and 61st and Woodside, when we got the call from mommy that she was gone. I fell apart right on the train. My brother kept up a good manly face, but he’d just lost his second mommy too. We got to the hospital… had a chance to say goodbye to her through the empty shell she left behind… just in case she could still hear and went home to plan the next few days.
A few weeks after we interred her body, I had to go away on business for training. A day trip at best but they sent me flying. As I sat in my window seat with my CD Walkman playing the new india.arie album, Acoustic Soul, I looked out over the clouds and remember stories of being told how heaven was up here… here in the clouds and sky. So if I’d ever be close to Grandma again, this was it. Staring into the clouds… maybe hoping that I’d see a glimpse of her… I heard her instead. Over gentle guitar and drum. Finally explaining why she really left…
“The time is right… I’m gonna pack my bags
And take this journey down the road
Cause over the mountains I see the bright sun shining
And I want to live inside the glow.
I want to go to a place where, I am nothing and everything
That exists between here and nowhere
I wanna go to a place where… time has no consequence and oh yeah…
the sky opens to my prayers…
I wanna go to Beautiful”
It might have been india singing… but these were my Grandmother’s words. Calling up images of the 5 months of suffering… the long life of hard decisions and sickness… and letting me know that where she is now… it’s better. It’s beautiful. It’s without pain or suffering and I shouldn’t lament her being gone – instead… rejoice that she’s at peace. The message was clear and I accepted it.
Lately, I’ve been hearing the song here and there… in a movie… in passing at the station… but I don’t stay to listen to it for fear that it’ll dredge up all sorts of emotions that I’m not ready to deal with yet. The anniversary of my mother’s passing is coming fast upon me and I’m not sure how I’ll handle it all. So it would come on and I’d walk away or turn off whatever media was streaming it and keep it moving. Driving alone yesterday there was NOTHING on the radio so I plugged in my ipod and put it on shuffle. First song to play…. Beautiful. I heard the guitar strum and the intial drum beat and started to chuckle to myself. Aloud I said, “Alright Granny… you win. What are you trying to tell me?” So I listened and sung along and took note of the 2nd Verse this time.
“Please understand that it’s not that I don’t care
But right now these walls are closing in on me
I love you more than I love life itself
But I need to find a place where I can breathe… I… can… breathe
I wanna go to place where I can hold the intangible
AND LET GO OF THE PAIN WITH ALL OF MY MIGHT
I wanna go to a place where I’m suspended in ecstacy
Somewhere between dark and light
Where wrong becomes right…”
Again, Grandma was telling me to listen as a message from Mom and Dad… mostly Mom, though… as I’d spend so much time before she died wondering… why she didn’t feel that Domi and I were good enough for her to consider as a reasons to live and persevere. Everyone needs a reason… why weren’t her children as good of a reason as her husband? And it burned and tortured me… But it wasn’t about ME. It was about all the circumstances wrapped up together. The longer I live with my relatively still new husband… the more I can’t imagine life without him. And we’ve been “together” for 10 years in December… married for 2 and 1/2 now. She’d been with daddy for 38 years. Regardless of what happened between them that was bad… they had so much history. And towards the end… they leaned on, nay, clung to each other – even if it might have been in fear. Between losing her own mom… losing her husband and feeling truly alone and that she was really losing this battle with her body’s ills…. she had to let go of the pain…with all of her might. What IMAGERY that gives me. It was so powerful that I had to pull over and sob right in the car. She had to go. I understand now.
It doesn’t hurt LESS… but I think Grandma gave me the keys to let go of the idea that any of this was MY fault.
Thank you Granny. I miss you and mommy INFINITELY.