Over the river and through the woods…

It’s been one of those tumultuous sort of weeks when I go from being restless and bored, to excited about upcoming projects, to extremely sad, to ridiculously worried and anxious…wash, rinse, repeat…in a continuous cycle, day and night. There is plenty for me to do, but I’ve been here before and I know that before long, my chemicals will change, and this will pass and I will be productive again.

We are still in the midst of moving. It will be a slightly drawn-out process, but that’s probably for the best. I’m hoping the days between now and when we are settled will buffer the strangeness I feel every time I go to the house and remember that my grandmother is no longer there. It’s been nearly three months since she died and I have been waiting and waiting for it to stop taking my breath away, but it hasn’t yet.

I have also been waiting to write this- to write about her- and now that I’m here I’m not sure I’m ready. But I’m going to try.

The night before she died, we were on stage in Charlottesville, playing the last show of the Bella Morte tour. It was May 16th. My mom called two days before to say that Gran was in the hospital with pneumonia, but she was hanging in there. In her 90s, she’d already kicked pneumonia a few times, and I suppose we took it for granted that she’d kick it once again. But that Saturday, before the show, my mom called again to say that the doctors weren’t sure if she was going to beat it this time. Fluid was collecting around her heart and lungs and it was a waiting game to see if they could get it under control. I wanted to come home then, but mom suggested we just play the show and come home in the morning. Gran was still holding on well enough.

That night, on stage, I did something I’ve never done in the ten years we’ve been performing. I cried. My voice cracked and I had to force my mouth to form the words to a new song called ‘Thirty-Year War’. And I simply could not stop the tears. I knew then, despite the little bit of optimism everyone was trying to muster. I knew because that was how it was between my Gran and I. It always had been.

We drove home that night, and arrived at the hospital around 7am. By noon she was awake and aware, but it had become clear to her doctors that she wasn’t going to be able to get rid of the fluid that was suffocating her. Her organs were failing and, after 93 years, wouldn’t be repaired. We could keep her alive on machines or we could make her comfortable and let her go. I’m still so grateful that there was no argument over the decision. She had always been such a strong, sensible woman.

Around 1pm, the machines were phased out, as the morphine drip was turned up. She and I talked, but not about what was happening. We talked about The Young and the Restless. We talked about the miniature horse farm we’d driven by in Ohio a few days before. We talked about the cats, and how lovely the Mississippi River was on the day we were in Lacrosse, and every other little thing until the morphine carried her away. Initially, I didn’t think I could be there when she died. I was utterly terrified. But as the minutes passed, I did not leave. I laid on the bed with her, kept my hands on her back and on her head, smoothing her hair back from her face. And this was how we were until she took her last breath. It was almost 4:30 in the afternoon.

Maybe I shouldn’t have written all of this. Maybe it’s too indulgent. I don’t know.  I’m resisting the urge to delete it right now, but something is giving me pause. I want to go on, I really do.

I know how lucky I am to have had her for so long, when some never know, or never have a deep connection to their grandparents.

I know she was 93 and had a life full of wonderful and terrible times.

I know everyone loses loved ones.

I know these things. But in the end, it doesn’t make me miss her any less. I’m not asking why, I’m not cursing any god for taking her, nor am I consoled that she’s in a better place. These things don’t matter to me. What matters is that the woman who raised me along with my mother is gone from this world, and I miss her.

When we were careless in the woods, and the wolves would catch our scent and we’d lead them right to the door, Gran would be there waiting for them, unafraid. Even when they got in, she held her ground, and eventually they’d run off, and she’d help us pick up the pieces.

I’m older now, and the threat of wolves is not as great as it once was, but when I get to grandmother’s house, she won’t be there.

She won’t be there to remind me to stay on the path she cleared. She won’t be at the top of the hill with a flashlight to guide me when I come home from the creek too late. She isn’t there to tell my mom and I that things will always be ok.

But I won’t let what she taught me be in vain. I intend to stay on my path, and I will carry my own flashlight in case I stay at the creek too long. And I will know that no matter what happens, things will always be ok.

And as for the wolves…

Well, let’s just say we have an understanding. I am my grandmother’s kin, after all.


July 28, 1915 – May 17, 2009

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