My grandmother wasn’t part of my everyday life. We lived far away from each other, after all, and in recent years I did not call her as much as I used to. I used to talk to her at least once a week and write her maybe once a month, though she wrote me every single week without fail. Over the last few years, her writing slowed, and it became harder to talk to her. She sometimes got confused, more due to the morphine she took for crippling arthritis than to any kind of dementia, and she couldn’t always quite hear. I’m ashamed to say that I sometimes dreaded calling, and put it off, because talking to her could–again, only in the last five years or so–be an uphill battle.
But apparently I thought about her much more than I knew. Apparently an enormous part of everything I do or say is somehow linked to my grandmother. Turns of phrase, scraps of memory, places we went or places she told me about, little things sitting around my house (a lamp she gave me, a picture frame, a box, books, china) remind me of her constantly. I didn’t quite realize this before she died–you don’t notice every step you take until there’s a painful pebble in your shoe. Now I’m brought up short dozens of times a day. Depending on my mood, I either find it comforting (she’s everywhere, and will be forever) or intolerable. I miss her. I suppose I always will. This is how it goes, a friend of mine told me (his mother died, and he knows a thing or two about grief). You miss them until you die.
I’ve been rereading letters she wrote me over the years, and reading some of the letters I wrote her, which I swiped from a drawer in her desk last week. Her letters are astonishing. She was incredibly prolific, and had an epistolary gift that I unconsciously tried to imitate when I wrote her back. So there’s more of her in my letters to her, if that makes sense, than there is of me. I did my best to ape not only her style, but her way of seeing, her manner of describing, her chattiness and humor, her voice.
I’m lucky still to have so much of her, to be reminded of her so often. And I know that this is how you learn about grief, if indeed you are as lucky as I have been. You reach middle age and a beloved grandparent dies after a long and busy life, and then you know what sadness feels like. It’s not a brutal education, it’s what we all earn, what we come to, if we’re lucky. It’s even what we deserve. I’m trying not to fight this grief, nor fetishize it, but rather to live up to it, to bear it nobly and well.