My grandmother passed away about an hour before the New Year. I was in the midst of a fun weekend in Nashville with friends – dancing around like fools, getting happily drunk, feasting at great restaurants, and partying with various women. Exactly what you would expect from a bachelor who is almost 32 years old.
This occurrence certainly ended my trip on a deaf tone. My grandmother was almost 90, and from my impression, she lived a full life (though the last few years she was bound to a wheelchair and managed daily tasks via caretakers). Alas, it was her time to bid farewell.
While I was growing up, my family was a lot more connected. We would visit my grandparents and uncles (mother’s side) in West Virginia once or twice a year for the holidays. Occasionally my late aunt, a couple cousins, and great uncle/aunt would pay a visit at the same time as well. Even during the early years my great grandfather and great grandmother were still around to spend time with.
We would enjoy family feasts prepared by my grandfather at his house, ride four-wheelers, feed animals, play with the dogs, and shoot guns at my grandfather’s farm, and even enjoy a smattering of games during down time. It was simple, fun, and wholesome all wrapped together. At least from my perspective.
And then life sets in, dynamics shift, priorities change, and age takes hold. It feels like it happens overnight, when in reality it shifts over a number of years.
-I no longer have a father.
-I no longer have any great grandparents.
-I no longer have any grandparents.
-I no longer have an aunt.
-Two of my three uncles have also dealt with health issues the last several years. I’ve seen them walk recently and it hurts me.
-My other uncle (my dad’s twin), brings back a flood of memories of my father every time I see him.
-My cousins live their own lives several miles away.
-My older brother and I don’t have the same brotherly bond we did growing up, though I’ve made some effort to shift that the last few years.
-And most importantly, my mother is battling liver and gastrointestinal problems. This scares the shit out of me more than anything.
To put it frankly, it’s not the simple, fun, and wholesome way it once was. I know what loss feels like.
When my father unexpectedly passed away when I was 24, I went through a down period for a few years. I was sweeping my emotions under the rug, neglecting my mental health, and just floating through the days. When I was 27 I shifted my way of thinking, and began valuing life. I began valuing the moment.
Because of this changed mindset, it caused me to make a solo trip relatively recently to spend time with my grandmother. I knew she only had so much time left, and I hadn’t seen her in several years – mainly because West Virginia transformed into a depressing shell of its former self compared to what I experienced growing up. It became a sad and gray place to me. I knew it was going to be hard. However, I had to face the music and show her the love she deserved.
For the most part we just chatted and played dominos for a couple hours each day (she gave me a run for my money in the first game). And wow, could she still chat up a storm! That never changed. And although it gave me a sense of fulfillment in my heart, it still crushed me to see her physical state. Waking up to have her diaper changed every morning, taking medications, being bound to a wheelchair, mixing up names of people, and spending 90% of the day in the same spot in the kitchen just making phone calls and writing a few things down. That was it. That was her day. But I know she enjoyed every second of it with me. I told her I loved her.
I also spent a bit of time with two of my uncles, both in bad physical shape. It was tough to see them in that condition. One of my uncles was living in pretty dire conditions in his house that could have very well been on the show Hoarders – mainly due to the stroke he suffered that affected his mobility and motivation to de-clutter the place. Nonetheless, I took him out for his birthday to lunch and a movie later that evening. He was ecstatic, and even shed some tears. He told me I made his year. I told him I loved him.
The other uncle, who once stood 6’6” and resembled your stereotypical, rugged mountain man, was now hunched over and walking gingerly, complete with arthritis and various surgeries from before. I met with him the morning I left and we just chatted about life and caught up. He’s far less sentimental, but I knew he really appreciated the effort I made. I told him I loved him.
When I left to drive back to DC, I cried to myself for a while. It was a mixture of sadness, but also fulfillment. I had a montage of the fondest memories in West Virginia flooding through my mind, but also the recent imprints of what was left.
As we get older, we’re going to experience more loss. It’s inevitable. But for one split second, you have the unmatched ability to share your love and to make someone’s day. And I can guarantee that’s what you’ll always remember.
RIP Grandma Annabelle.