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SarahAnnAlien's Journal: Goodbye, Grandma. I Wish I'd Known You.

Journal by SarahAnnAlien

Well, room 209 is sure different from room 131!

209 is on the second floor, which isn't really surprising. Since I brought about twice as much crap as last time, it was really almost inevitable that I'd have to drag it all across the parking lot and up a flight of stairs. 131 was on the first floor, and the whole time I was there, I managed to park less than six feet from my car.

209 has a pair of double beds; 131 had a single king size bed and a comfy chair. I miss the chair. 209 has a desk-like table next to the ethernet port.

The wireless doesn't work in 209, either. But at least this time I knew enough to bring my own ethernet cable.

131 had a toilet that would sometimes run forever; the float valve needed to be adjusted a bit but I didn't have a screwdriver. In 209, the toilet is fine, but the bathroom fan is very noisy. I still don't have a screwdriver, but I wouldn't try to fiddle with it anyway. The toilet in 131 only needed about a quarter-turn of a screw.

One of my neighbors has their tv on very loud. I should probably add earplugs to my travel kit. 131 was at the end of the building and noise didn't seem to be a problem.

But other than those little differences, last week's hotel room and this week's hotel room are remarkably identical.

Isn't that terribly exciting?

Oh, and it's very windy here. Very windy. Rip down the trees windy. But it's been worse; on one of my visits some years ago, they had about three dozen telephone poles snap in the middle from the wind. Actually, Dad and I drove up in that storm! It didn't seem so bad in the truck, but when I got out I immediately noticed that it was difficult to remain standing.

I hope the trees and telephone poles will be okay.

* * * * *

Grandma died early Tuesday morning. Tuesday night family started arriving. Thursday at 2 was the "viewing", to give the family members that didn't make it in time a chance to say goodbye to her. It was... difficult.

No, not because of Grandma.

I remembered the mortuary from when Mom died. While they got Grandma ready for us, we waited in the conference room where Dad and I made the arrangements for Mom. Then we went into the casket showroom where we picked out Mom's coffin. That was where they had Grandma. (Someone else was already in their chapel.)

The place brought back a lot of memories. Sitting across the table from the mortician, talking about the services, the options, and the burial plots they had available. Dad picked out Mom's coffin; when I asked him why he had chosen that particular one, he said that he and Mom had been together for a long time and he thought that was the one she would have liked.

That time, the showroom had been empty, except for my former self, Dad, and a whole bunch of shiny empty coffins. This time, there were eight more people in the room, seven standing, and one wheeled in on a gurney, pale and fresh from the fridge, and covered with a blanket.

The old woman they showed us in the showroom looked about as much like Grandma as the old woman in the bed did... which is to say, not much at all.

Honestly, it seemed as though someone probably could have put some other random grandmother-ish person in her place at any point in this whole dying-dying-dead process, and I'm not entirely sure I would have been able to tell, unless the other person was radically different. I would easily have remembered, for instance, that Grandma had never been Chinese. Or male.

I've thought about this puzzle on and off for the last couple of weeks, and one strange conclusion I reached is that I had never really seen Grandma in a horizontal position before!

Also, Grandma smiled a lot. And was huggable. And always seemed to have something nice to say, even after she lost most of her marbles.

The old woman in the bed wasn't like that. She just sort of laid there. She couldn't talk, but would occasionally let out some monosyllabic noises: "Oh. Oh. Oh. Oh." "Ah. Ah. Ah. Ah." No conversation and little or no awareness of what was going on around her. Mostly, she stared into space, but occasionally there seemed to be a little bit of eye contact.

I think she looked at me for the last time last week after I said, "I love you, Grandma."

That was all she had left. The last marble she had to give me, so to speak. I'm very happy I was there to receive it.

The old woman on the gurney didn't have anything left to give us, except closure. Which I suppose is a gift too.

Seeing her lying there wasn't particularly painful for me.

Watching my family cry was rather painful, though.

* * * * *

I've found it hard to grieve for Grandma.

A friend at work ran into me in the ladies' room earlier this week and asked about Grandma, and she said that she had lost her mother in much the same way (Alzheimer's or something similar) and that she had difficulty grieving, too.

The hardest part about losing a loved one this way is that they don't die... they just sort of drift away. As the mind goes, a lot of what made the person special seems to go along with it. By the time the body dies, the mind has been gone for a while, and there's just less to miss, in recent memories, anyway.

This has been especially problematic for me.

Former Self loved his Grandma, because... well, because of course he loved his Grandmother. That's what you're supposed to *do* with a Grandma, silly! You love her!

His love for her was just that, the default, expected affection of a child for his Grandma.

His issues and problems made any deeper relationship very difficult to achieve... his world was very small, and like everyone else, Grandma didn't have much of a place in that world... and for this reason, he always felt a little awkward around his Grandma.

Once we figured out his issues, and he became me, I was finally capable of having a deeper relationship with Grandma... but by then, her mind was mostly gone, and she was no longer capable of the deeper relationship that Sarah would have loved to explore.

The old woman who died was, in a very real sense, a stranger to me. A stranger I remember loving, but a stranger nonetheless.

My grief is more about the loss of an opportunity to have a relationship with a person I loved. I wish I'd been able to get to know her. I wish she'd been able to get to know me.

I think we would have gotten along just wonderfully. Actually, I'm sure of it, because she got along wonderfully with pretty much everyone. And she was loved by everyone. Everyone.

Grandma used to work in a hospital in Dallas, for instance. She retired and moved out here about fifteen years ago.

Next week, there will be another memorial service for her, at the hospital in Dallas.

When I think about how wonderful this Grandma must have been, so wonderful that even after sixteen years her friends and former coworkers will gather to celebrate her memory... I do start to cry.

I've certainly lost someone special.

* * * * *

Today was the "go through Grandma's stuff and pick out what you want" day.

I spent the day writing code on my laptop.

The process of decommissioning a life is something that turns out to be very painful for me. I simply couldn't bear to go into the living room with everyone else and sort through the stuff.

In part, I couldn't figure out my place in the social structure. She was something of a stranger to me... so where do I fit into this subtle process of allocating her stuff? She was my Grandma, but she was my Aunt and Uncle's Mom, too! And the other cousins knew her better. Heck, everyone knew her better than me! What of hers do I even want? I had no idea.

Finally, I talked to my Aunt and explained to her that the situation was very difficult for me and asked her to save a few pictures for me. She went through them all again and was picking out a set for me, I think. I'll probably get those tomorrow.

She did had me one picture today... a small black and white photo of a little girl.

My Mom.

And Dad gave me Mom's baby book.

I haven't been brave enough to look through it yet.

And some pictures that Mom had sent Grandma when we lived in Japan. Pictures from a Christmas morning in the late 1970's. And pictures of the Kintai Bridge, covered in snow. Just snapshots. But more memories.

After all the aunts and uncles and cousins left for the day, I took a deep breath and went through the box that I was told was for the trash.

Some pictures... and cards people had sent Grandma. Birthday cards. Christmas cards. Pictures of other people's grandchildren. Pictures of random old people I didn't recognize.

I was somehow very frightened to ask if anyone would mind if I kept the trash that nobody else wanted. I guess somehow I was afraid that they would say, no, nobody wants that, so we need to throw it all away.

Somehow I managed to leave with quite a lot of "trash". I tried to leave all of it in the car tonight, but I couldn't; I had to drag everything up the stairs to the hotel room and re-pack it to make sure it was all safe and secure. I was terrified that some of it would blow away in the wind. After a little repacking, it turned out to be two tidy boxes of stuff.

Two boxes of clues to who this Grandma person was. Two boxes to help me understand who it is that I've lost.

* * * * *

When I was here last week, I spent some time sorting some of Grandma's papers. Mostly old bills and that sort of thing. I don't know why, but I really enjoy classifying and sorting things into neat piles.

I came across some interesting little bits, too. One piece of fairly recent junk mail read:

"Dear Mary, Congratulations! You're on your way to a more informed, more powerful, more in-charge way of life with LADIES' HOME JOURNAL!"

I thought about the old woman dying in the next room, and the notion of offering her such a magazine subscription at this particular point in her life made me giggle.

I found a calendar that had some comments written on it, apparently from one of her caregivers. They were all like this:

"August 21, 2005: Shower. Shampoo. Great Mood! :-)"

"September 15, 2005: Shower + Shampoo. Great mood. Visiting Viola :-)"

"December 8, 2005: Shower shampoo not Happy Hit Me! :-("

"December 29, 2005: Shower, Shampoo, Great, great mood :-) "

Even with most of her mind gone, she was still usually in a good mood! That made me smile. I wonder what happened on December 8? Oh well, everyone's entitled to have a bad day now and then!

I also came across her birth certificate. Her middle name was Isabelle. I didn't know that. It made me cry. I didn't even know her whole name.

* * * * *

The memorial service was at 4pm on Thursday, after the viewing. The pastor, a friend of Dad's, came over to the house, and we had a little service in the living room.

He's the same guy that married Dad and Stepmom three and a half years ago.

And the same guy that helped us say goodbye to Mom seven years ago.

More memories.

And, in a strange twist of fate, the pastor also happened to grow up in the same small town in Illinois that Mom, Aunt, and Uncle grew up in!

It was a nice service. A little prayer. No preachy stuff.

Lots of people chiming in with memories of Grandma. Or, for some of them, Mom.

I learned a lot about her. She sounded like a wonderful person. She was always the peacemaker in the family. Dad told stories about dating my Mom, and dealing with her parents. She was close to her sisters. One of them called her "Bill" because when she was little she couldn't pronounce "Mary Isabelle". It remained a running joke for the rest of their lives.

Dad read some emails from family members that were unable to attend. They were long and very thoughtful, and made us all smile or even laugh out loud.

I could only remember one funny story about Grandma, and I wasn't brave enough to tell it.

For many years, we ordered Chinese food for my birthday, year after year. One year one of the dishes we ordered was Egg Foo Yung, and as we were unpacking the takeout boxes, I asked her, "Grandma, what is Egg Foo Yung?"

"This is Egg Foo Yung!" She pointed to the styrofoam container.

"No, I mean, what ingredients are in it? What's it made of?"

"Oh, some eggs," she said, "and a little bit of foo..."

We both laughed.

To this day, I still don't know what Egg Foo Yung is... I could look it up, but a part of me doesn't really want to know, now. Egg Foo Yung is made of fond memories of a Grandmother I never had the privilege to get to know.

Oh, and apparently, Dad neglected to tell his friend the pastor that I'm an alien... but when Dad introduced me to him as Sarah, he didn't bat an eye. I'll bet he's been a pastor for a loooong time, and I hope he tells *that* story at his retirement party!

* * * * *

While Grandma was still alive last week, I spent some time sitting with her in her room. I knew she couldn't really communicate but I hoped that a part of her would realize that she wasn't alone.

There was a photo of album of Grandma's on a table by the bed, so I looked through it. Pictures of my family, and aunts, uncles, and cousins. And something I didn't expect. A newspaper clipping.

Mom's obituary.

I remembered that it had been in the paper.

I didn't remember one of the last paragraphs.

To paraphrase: "Because Ms. Alien's father supervised so many city employees, and because he and his family are so respected, most city services will be closed so that employees can attend the funeral."

Yeah, they pretty much shut down City Hall. So that they could all be with Dad and the rest of his family while we all said goodbye to my Mom. The church was packed. I remember that it seemed crowded.

I'm sure I'd read that obituary before; I know I have a copy somewhere. I didn't remember that part.

Yeah, that's the kind of guy my Dad is. That's how people feel about him.

And some of the stuff I wrote to him in my email a couple weeks ago was way off base.

I also began to realize something that hadn't previously occurred to me.

I've always fretted that, because I don't live in the same town, Dad doesn't have enough time or opportunity to get to know who Sarah is. People *think* that the alien thing is no big deal because, after all, I'm the same person on the inside, but the truth is, that just isn't so, and it's frustrating and scary when Dad treats me like Former Self.

But what I've realized lately is that Sarah doesn't know who her Dad is anymore, either. I can perceive emotions and relationships in a way that Former Self simply couldn't, and it gives everyone an added dimension that I never knew before. From my perspective, Dad's a different person, too! I'm going to have to work on that.

I'd like to get to know him better before I lose him like I lost Grandma.

He seemed a little more unsettled than I expected on my last visit, and as a result, I stayed an extra day. He didn't seem upset, or sad, just... troubled, somehow. I couldn't figure it out but I felt like I should stay around.

Then at one point, he told me that Grandma wasn't just his Mother-in-law, she was someone he had known for 44 years... and a good friend.

At the memorial service, someone pointed out that Grandma had once said that my Dad was the best son-in-law a mother could ask for... but an even better friend.

And, yes, this was my Mom's mom, that Dad spent so many years taking care of. When I tell people this, they seem surprised, but, yeah, Dad's that kind of guy. Not only did he feel responsible for her, he also loved her. And they were good friends.

I struggle to understand his loss as I struggle to understand mine.

And... Stepmom? Another puzzle. I remember Dad telling me that she was more than willing to help take care of Grandma in her last years. Before they married, and for a year or so after, Grandma lived with them. And Stepmom had been a frequent visitor at the retirement home.

We've all suffered a loss... but each loss is different. Each person has lost a different relationship, with a different background, different feelings, and different memories.

Many, many little puzzles. And to understand them all, I have to learn to see the tiny little details that are different in each relationship.

Much more complicated than comparing hotel rooms.

I have quite a bit of work ahead of me.

But I think everything will be okay.

I'd rather be led to hell than managed to heavan.

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