Passing peacefully

Grandma's 100th Birthday
Grandma’s 100th Birthday on Aug. 13, 2011

On Saturday, September 17th, a little over a month after my grandma turned 100, she passed away peacefully in the company of family. I was supposed to go over to her house that night and see her one last time, but I just couldn’t do it. I knew I should, but I just couldn’t get myself to go. I went to work instead. And while I was there, I got a text message at 8:44pm telling me she’d just passed away. I went right back to work.

I wasn’t close to my grandma. We didn’t speak the same language so we couldn’t communicate, but her sons and daughters, my aunts and uncles and my mother while she lived, loved her like mad. They all took care of her as she got older. She was the family matriarch and ruled over all of them. She was fierce and unpretentious, and expressed her unabashedly uncensored opinions freely. She was a kind of hellion and smoked and drank beers all day until she was in her 70s. She still drank beer even at her 99th birthday.

She had an arranged marriage to my gangster grandfather whom I’ve never met. He died when the kids were still young. My mom was nine, but she was the 2nd to youngest. The older ones took care of her and the family. She was of a generation of women that were completely uneducated. She didn’t even know how to count money. But her kids all grew up to be successful, and they all took care of the matriarch.

At her 100th birthday, I noticed one of her socks had fallen off. She sat in a wheelchair, and used an oxygen tank. She slept a lot. Her mind had been sharp for a long time, and she’d been physically fit into her 90s, but by 100, she was less sharp, more quiet. I wasn’t sure she recognized me at all.

I put the sock back on her foot. I told her I was going to do it then bent under the wheelchair and she lifted her leg up. Her foot was so small but swollen. I put it on and she left her foot up until I set it back down for her. And I wondered if it was because she was so used to having people physically manipulate her body for her, or if she couldn’t tell I had finished putting the sock on, or if she hadn’t understood at all what I was doing. I wondered if the simple act of replacing a sock and the physical motions involved and the physical sensations it produced was now out of the range of comprehension.

And that’s what I think about now. Her swollen foot. How small and fragile it looked without that sock on. How cold it already was from missing that sock for just a little while. And that’s what breaks my heart. That and the fact that my aunt called me today to make sure I knew the funeral was tomorrow and then broke down crying. I can deal with the passing of my grandmother. She lived a long life, surrounded and loved by family. But I can’t deal with the pain my aunts and uncles feel. I can’t do anything for them. And it makes me feel useless.

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