My grandmother’s funeral and burial were in Maryland on Tuesday morning, and that night I slept in my bed in Colorado. Though the weather tried its best to prove uncooperative, I managed to fly home within hours of the graveside service.
The airport was deserted. The weather had grounded nearly all flights out of BWI, but I had pleaded with the airline phone agent, and secured a spot on one of the only remaining flights. I was desperate to get home. I sat in the hushed airport and waited, mostly in a daze. I ate something, a sandwich. I called my mother and apologized for not going to the lunch at my aunt’s house after. She wished I was there, but she knows me, and knows that the older I’ve gotten, the more I process things alone, and don’t like to “talk things out” or “share” the way most people might. While I needed the support of my family for this, I also needed the detachment of the airport. She told me she was just glad I’d been there.
There are not many times anymore when I get to just sit and think. In this case, I really didn’t want to. I tried to distract myself with Netflix, but I couldn’t focus on it any more than I could have said, right then, how I really felt. So, I gave in to thinking and replayed the last day in my head: yesterday’s flight; the viewing; the flowers, so fitting for my grandmother; I cannot do this; my grandmother; my mother, father, stepfather, big sister, little sister, cousins; my best friend of more than 20 years coming there to be with me; the absolute emptiness of so many people saying, “Oh my goodness, I haven’t seen you in ages!” in a setting where I didn’t want to see any of them but was thankful for the distraction; breakfast with my dad and stepmother; dressing that morning, nearly forgetting to brush my teeth; driving to the church with my dad and stepmother; silence; my sister next to me in the church; my mother, behind us, her arms circled around us, clutching us to her; I cannot do this; my older cousin next to me: “That was nice, what you wrote”; the service and the music; my top 10 list; my uncle, the pastor, filling empty space with unnecessary words, too loud and too much; the coarseness of the tissues between my fingers; the casket leaving the church, borne by my father, stepfather, others; my grandmother is in there; I cannot do this.
I thought about the brevity of the process of remembrance. My grandmother lived to 91. She had three daughters, four grandchildren, seven great-grandchildren and 3 great-great-grandchildren. She survived more than two weeks after her initial fall – a major feat considering her age and medical complications. I’d been on the ground in Maryland for less than 25 hours. All of this – the remembering and honoring of her – was over in less than five hours. I thought of the surreal process of grieving when life goes on. We do not stop to grieve. I do not want to be grieving. I cannot do this.
I boarded the plane – my first flight of two – and eventually landed in Denver. I distracted myself on the way with the in-flight WiFi – what would a grieving mind do without distractions? My husband updated me with pictures of my kids, I checked my flight progress constantly. I wanted to be back home, to get away from the pain I thought I had left in Maryland. It was easy to do when, as soon as the funeral director had poured the dirt cross on my grandmother’s snow-spattered casket, we rushed to the cars, shivering, snow-covered, and frozen. I did stop to steal some flowers from her casket spray. She loved flowers. I do, too.
Once back home in Colorado, in my bed, and then distracted by life, I easily buried and ignored the pain of loss. Toddlers and teenagers do not allow for much time to think. I was grateful. Teaching also provides a decent escape, though one class of my AP students welcomed me back with a banner signed by students and staff wishing me well. They’d witnessed my desperate stumble out of my classroom, and then covered my classroom windows with post-it note hearts for my return the next day.
I waited for my mother to return from Maryland. I talked to her every day while she was still there. I needed the reassurance of her voice, to know that she was there, and that she would come back to Colorado. I asked her for some things of my grandmothers: her aprons and muumuus. I’d spent so much time with Ma when she would wear those around her house, and they held such reminders of her presence that I wanted them. I didn’t ask for anything else, other than the lilacs from the flower arrangement she had in her room, and my sister told me she got those for me before I even asked.
I tried my best not to think about Ma. I tried my best not to think about my all-too short visit to Maryland. Sometimes it worked.
My mom returned, and with her my requested memories, plus some more. My mom gave me the sign that always had hung in my grandmother’s back room, “Back door guests are best,” because we always went into her house through the back door. She brought me printed pictures from the viewing and funeral slideshow, and pictures of my family that had hung in my grandmother’s room. She brought me pictures of my grandmother: younger, sassier, quiet power in her defiant gaze. She always hated pictures. I do, too.
She also brought me one of my grandmother’s hairnets.
I had, the day before, thought of my grandmother and her hairnets. She would always put one on before bed; I thought they were funny and would try to put one on but it never worked because my hair was longer. I thought of the nights I would spend in the bed next to hers, asking her questions about her, her youth, her life. I would keep her up well past her usual bedtime, until I fell asleep listening to her voice.
I broke. I dropped the hairnet back in the bag, on top of the muumuus that my grandmother’s smell still clung to. I grabbed my mother, clutched her to me, and cried. I felt my mother’s shoulder blades through her shirt and thought again of her pain, and not for the first time of her frailty. She has, over the past few years, gotten thinner, grown older. We are worriers, all of the women in the family, even my teenage daughter. My mother, though, worries enough for us all. The care shows in her face, and now I see it in her thinness, her hands, I hear it in her voice.
My daughter watched me hold on to my mother. I am not effusive. She doesn’t see things like this from me often. I cannot do this.
I pulled away from my mother quickly enough, because I never give enough time to what I’m feeling. There’s not enough time for that, and of course not feeling is easier. I wrapped my grandmother’s muumuus, hairnet, and some pictures in the bag. I carried it upstairs and sat it on my dresser. I would walk past it, the card from my grandmother’s viewing, and the program from her funeral, her face on the front, for two months without touching them other than to smell them – smell her – every so often.
I cannot do this.