My grandmother died today. It wasn't a surprise. But it hits pretty hard nonetheless. My last attempted phonecall was an awkward thing. She didn't answer, and I left a rather obtuse message, something along of lines of "heard you weren't feeling well, just wanted to say hello, hope you are well, love you." What can you say to answering machine you can't be sure will ever be heard, or if it is heard will probably be heard by someone else, and maybe passed on to her in a state of semi-lucidity. When I left it, I was somewhat relieved. I wasn't sure I wanted to try to talk with her, especially if she was having trouble mentally. Now, I wish she had lasted a little longer so I could convey my affection and love somehow other than over the phone.
I was wondering how I would feel when it happened. My mom's parents died before I could really appreciate the loss, her father when I was a toddler, her mother 3,000 miles away when I was an adolescent. My grandfather died just after college, but his death was after years of pitiable illnesses, and despite spending some adult time with him, we were never close. It was almost a relief when he died, a merciful end to a lot of suffering.
I wish I could view Betty's death that way. But I can't. Last time I saw her, she was spry and together. She was engaged in witty conversation, and able to climb stairs, feed herself and do everything we expect of her. She was very much the woman I've grown to love and admire for these many years. Indefatigable. Of course, I had heard the accounts of my parents and siblings, who living closer to her, saw her decline. But, I wasn't witness to them myself.
I often wonder how I would deal with the death of someone close. I haven't really had to experience it. Would I affect sorrow and tears even though deep down I wasn't bothered? I worried about this. Was I too logical, too practical to be struck by the death of someone close? Was I too distant, too independent to really care? I felt sometimes like Meursault from Camus's L'Etranger. "Mother died today, or was it yesterday." But it was all pretty speculative.
Today, coming home from the park and lunch with the family is when I got the call on my cellphone. And without bidding or thought, the tears came. Not a torrent, but gentle and persistent. There is a hole in me, and emptiness. So. I guess I am not so cold and emotionless as I thought.
She was a wonderful woman, brave, and adventurous. She always seemed to genuinely thrilled to see me, to hear of my life, and to enjoy my children. She will be missed.