Mourning the living.
This won't be short.
*If you're in it prompts, they're at the bottom.
Today, we visited my grandma ("mein oma"). I've only seen her a handful times over the last several years. My grandmother has always been a strong and independent woman. She's got a wicked German accent and was once quite sharp with her tongue. If I could describe her in a few words, it would go something like this:
Direct and yet quiet.
Stubborn yet funny.
Organized yet artistic.
Structured yet carefree.
She loved to laugh, sing, and dance but hardly smiled for the camera. As if to not have a record keep of joy in the moment. She painted all my life and taught me sketch and oils. We used to watch Bob Ross together and paint our own "happy trees." My grandma loved to cook and entertain. Summer days were spent laying in the sun in her terry cloth tube top romper, taking long drives, doing crossword puzzles, walking along the creek, and taking care of all the cats and dogs she could humanly care for in and outside of the home.
I spent every single summer with my grandparents for weeks at a time. I'd visit them for long stretches on my winter and spring breaks from school. Until I was about 16 year old or so. When I had a job and a boyfriend, I guess.
Some kids are "daddy's girl" or "mama's boys" -- my grandma and grandpa both were that for me.
My mom got pregnant with me at 16. Had me in high school. There's a complicated story about me being adopted by the nurse who delivered me. Back in the 80s, I guess paperwork wasn't a thing? The details are iffy on that story but my grandma had to fight like hell for days/weeks (depending on who I ask, it's days according to some and weeks according to others) to bring me back home to my mom.
Let's just say, I've always been incredibly close with my grandparents.
Until I grew up.
My grandma has had two strokes. The first one was missed on her part. The second one took place months after the first. The doctors discovered and concluded that she had her first at some point a few months back. It's why her second stroke was so severe.
My grandmother always took care of my grandfather. He, a tall stubborn man that had the best smile. He loved to sing and whistle. When he walked, he bounced, as though he danced into the house. Whenever I smell wood chips, they remind me of him coming home from working the saw mill.
When my grandma was recovering from her strokes, my grandpa really had to step up and care for her. Something he never had to do, nor would she have allowed anyway. But she couldn't speak, nor could hardly move. So, his help was it. He was completely beside himself, stressed and in pain himself. She needed assistance for most day to day life stuff. And we think his sadness, paired with his own issues was all too much for him. And only exacerbated his own deteriorating health.
He died shortly after those two strokes.
When my grandpa died, my grandma could somewhat manage day to day, with help from my mom on the weekends. The whole stocking of fridge, paying bills, cleaning, laundering, etc could be done and she'd be good for several days.
She very much wanted to live alone.
And she's managed ever since. She no longer needs my mom's help and hasn't for years.
I haven't visited her much throughout these lasted several years. And today, I realized why. I've been running from pain.
It has been almost too painful to witness my grandmother as herself but not the way I remember growing up.
Devastatingly hard. And I feel terribly guilty for running.
She is the same but not. Her speech is not the same but her accent is. Her words come out but they're not as quick or sharp as I remember. One arm still holds slightly stiff but the rest of her body moves just fine.
I want her to be the way I remember her.
Like I'm holding on to her in a way that is downright impossible.
It's like I've been afraid to make new memories of her that would end up replacing the ones in the terry cloth romper sunning out in the backyard or us painting "happy trees" together. I don't want to forget that she taught me German and my first funny phrases, letters, and numbers. Or the memories of me pouring coffee for guests at the restaurant she cooked at all those years ago.
I don't want today to replace yesterday.
She asked me today to count in German and I did, I could feel pride in her wide eyes and smile. But I'm not sure she could do the same. I was too afraid to ask. And too afraid to not hear her the same.
Because I am mourning her now.
And have been.
I stopped running today.
And I have to stop mourning my grandmother who is living.
She's alive. She's here.
Today, she smiled for the camera in every single photo we took.
And I'm going to return for her smile, whether we capture it on camera or not.