It is 6:30 pm, and the kids are gone this weekend. The dryer is humming with the week’s laundry and it’s pouring outside. That summer rain that comes down in buckets through the August heat and washes everything away for a while.
Tomorrow marks 8 weeks that my grandmother has been gone. When my phone rang just after 5am that morning, I knew. I didn’t have to hear what was coming next when I answered my mother’s voice. When I drove over to her house, it was a couple hours later. Mid-morning after a Sunday sunrise, and I listened to Patty Griffin sing all the way there. I can never hear that song again without my eyes stinging and my throat tightening. Open your eyes, boy, we made it through the night. Let’s take a walk on the bridge, right over this mess.
It always feels like you’ve made it through the night. For a minute. But then you see another one on the horizon, another bridge you have to scale. Grief ebbs and flows. I’m missing her today.
One day, I will stop writing about this. But not today. Not on day 55. I can remember years ago, someone I knew lost her brother to a brain tumor, and her friend said to me that she was hard to talk to anymore. It’s like it’s all she wants to talk about, but eventually, you just have to get over it, you know? But do you? What does “get over it” even mean?
In Alias Grace, Margaret Atwood says, “When you are in the middle of a story it isn’t a story at all, but only a confusion; a dark roaring, a blindness, a wreckage of shattered glass and splintered wood; like a house in a whirlwind, or else a boat crushed by the icebergs or swept over the rapids, and all aboard powerless to stop it. It’s only afterwards that it becomes anything like a story at all. When you are telling it to yourself or someone else.”
I’m in the middle of my story, and I cannot see my way out yet. But I can see the narrative forming already. I know a day is coming when I will look back and think, remember that time when I was alone and writing, writing, writing my way out of some hole like words were a shovel? Loss after loss and unfamiliar terrain everywhere. Remember that time when I spent Saturday mornings alone in bed with books and words in front of me and ate alone and slept alone and ran my hands along the walls of my unfamiliar grief until I found a light switch?
We are still sorting through her things, little bits at a time. I had an empty afternoon today, so I went to see my Grandad and cleaned a few closets of her clothing. I found my wedding dress in the back of a closet left from a time when I was a newlywed in a little house learning to cook from the back of a Campbell’s soup can, and she had more storage than I did, so I left it there. It seems like some unfamiliar relic when I take a close look at it. All I can think as I see it is if I knew then what I know now. If I knew then what I know now. If I knew then what I know now.
Today I found, among folded sheets and towels, one of the gowns she wore while home on hospice. It is gray with pink flowers and a slit cut straight up the back so that we could easily keep her clean and comfortable. It still smells like her. If I knew then what I know now. If I knew then what I know now.
But we never know now what we will one day see in retrospect, do we? Some days, I still can’t believe that this is my life, that these are my hours. That this place is where it’s led me.
I miss her so much, but as I look through her things and think about the 35 years I spent with her, I also find myself doing that thing humans always do, missing the way it used to be – all of it. I miss childhood and barefoot summers with afternoons spent in front of the oscillating fan on her living room floor. I miss knowing that she was there in the periphery of my life, like a permanent piece, though of course she was never meant to stay. None of us are. Once you break, you can’t go back. But it’s easy to miss what it felt like to be clean and whole.
I’ve seen art made from shattered pieces of glass, and it’s incredible. It glints and shines and takes a new form so much more interesting and beautiful than something solid and flawless and predictable. I think people are the same way. After you break and put it all back together to something new, you glint and shine in an entirely new way. I’m getting pretty good at knowing if someone has broken before and put themselves back together in a more beautiful way. It’s an obvious glimmer like no other when you learn how to recognize it. My grandmother had it. She broke and put herself back together again and again, and now I get it.
In that same Patty Griffin song, she also sings, It’s hard to live. But I still think it’s the best bet. It’s hard to live. It’s okay that it’s hard. It’s okay to not be okay. I know all these things, I do. But I’ll be glad when this becomes a story.