When You Can’t Go Home Anymore

I learned that my grandmother passed this week. When I first got the call, ok actually it was a text, I integrated the information into my always busy, on-the-go life. I was texting and then speaking with my family about our loss, while already thinking of which boys needs new dress shirts for the services and whether the baby had anything dressy enough in her closet that fits her? No, I decided in an instant, “this is going to require a trip to the mall…” And just like that- as my grandmother’s life had ended, it had also been
added to my list of growing to-do’s to be checked off this week. Writing is cathartic for me for many reasons, and I see no bigger reason than death, to sit down with my thoughts and just, write.

I want to sit here, letting time stop for just a little while, to allow myself to process this loss amidst my always chaotic, sometimes barely manageable, but always interesting life with four children, a marriage, a household, and a full time job. I often wish for more, time. Time to think, time to be, time to appreciate my life. So this morning I will pause, in honor of my grandmother, to let life swirl around me, as if suspended in time, and think.

Reflecting on my grandmother’s life gives me an opportunity to reflect on my own. which is important, so thank you grandma, for this moment. The passing of a parent or grandparent who lived to a natural advanced age, dying peacefully in their sleep once their body’s parts, much like a clock, wound down to their final seconds, feels different than any other passing. Maybe because it is both a loss, and a marker in time. There is only so much time we have left in our own lives now that this generation before us has completed theirs.

Its moments like these in life that to fully comprehend, make sense, make peace with a passing, it seems appropriate to reflect on the life this loved one lived, what they gave to the world, so that we can fully appreciate what it is we have lost. I sit here and wonder, what typically comes to mind first when we think about someone’s life once they are gone? Well, that of course depends on the person, and who they were to us. For myself, when someone passes, I tend to think of the measure of their contribution to this life. I know for my grandmother, who with eighty nine years of contributing to a story that eventually became my story too, her life could be measured in a number of ways. She was a wife, an artist, a quick-witted woman who gave birth to ten souls and mothered nine of them to adulthood. She could be measured by her strength, surely; keeping seven young men in line, two daughters respectful, and all of them good. I’ve long heard stories that my grandmother didn’t take any flack, and the result is evident in her now grown children: each and every one of them good people, of strong character, successful as it is measured by societal benchmarks, and great parents themselves. Add that my grandmother was also a devout catholic to the end, she could be measured as a servant; reverent; certainly devoted both to her faith and to her family; and of having true, absolute understanding of what it means to be dedicated to the relationships in her life. Thank you grandma, for teaching me to be dedicated to my relationships. And thank you, in this often frenzied life, for the reminder, that if you can successfully raise nine to good, I can do my best to successfully raise four to good.

I think what fascinates me most about my grandmother’s time here on earth was that she managed to live a full, rich life amongst the many inevitable cultural and generational changes that naturally occur over a near ninety year timespan, that’s nearly a century of time moving.. while still holding firmly to who she was. Born in 1924, my grandmother clearly saw her country and her world change. Time kept marching on while she grew into herself. Married to her best friend, and in love until death parted them; his time was up first. She persisted on five more years without his love by her side, but planted in her heart and seen in the family they created. Perhaps more than anything, she was a contributor to this life. I am just one example of many that exist in part, because of her. Her time here, her story, continues now in mine. She didn’t touch millions through global cyber-connectivity, because in her lifetime, millions weren’t within her reach as accessible as they are today, such as my writing this here in this platform open to the world; but those she chose to connect with in her physical life, she touched profoundly because those connections were rooted in a time when relationships were measured in the physical time spent- quality over quantity. What a ‘retro’ spective notion. How would the young mothers of today even fathom raising nine children? Let alone without the help of blogs, forums, the internet, to ease their every worry and assure them they are doing it “right”? It really boggles my mind to think of the personal fortitude my grandmother had, to rely only on her self (and Grandpa of course too) to raise their children. Another lessoned realized as I sit and reflect in this moment alone with my thoughts and memories of my grandmother. This is proof positive for me, as a mother too, that I can build strong character in my children, by parenting them with my own- which was passed down to me.

In a parent or grandparent’s passing, I think about my role as both a child and as a parent. My dad is now parent-less. He is without parents still on this earth, and I am now exactly half-less of having all four of my grandparents still on this earth, and long since having any of my great grandparents, as my children still have, although now one more-less. This is a marker in time, in my time. Has my dad realized yet that he just became his father? There is noone else above him to pass, in natural theory; his time is coming next. I also, in turn, just became my father. I now have a parent who is at the top of our living generational tree, and my children will see his departure much as I am seeing my grandmother’s today. Time is short, life is precious. Children grow and become parents, and then grandparents become great grandparents in a blink. And the world keeps moving because time keeps marching on. And the hope is that we all leave a little bit of ourselves behind, to teach the ones we love who have and will come after us, a little perspective.