On February 3rd I got a call I had been dreading. My grandmother has been fading for a bit now, and in the last month she had been going fast. The phone call was from my aunt who was caring for Grandma for several months since she moved down south from Northern California. In the last month Grandma had been under hospice care and the nurse had determined that based on her condition, she only had about five days left. While our family had no intention of doing a traditional service or wake of any sort (Grandma didn’t want that) there was no question that I’d make the trip to San Diego. After some phone calls work had been canceled, I had a flight and a pick up at the airport, and I was packed. I made it to San Diego Saturday evening.
I got to my aunt and uncle’s house close to seven p.m. Grandma was in a coma. I sat with her and held her hand, talked to her a bit. We went home after a couple hours, planning to come back on Sunday. Not long after falling asleep, the phone rang. I was so out of it that I couldn’t even remember where I was let alone recognize the ringing phone for what it was. The next morning, my parents told me that the call was from my aunt and that Grandma had passed. I had made it home just in time to say goodbye.
Sunday was filled with phone calls and family visits. Another of my uncles was with my aunt in the night while the hospice came to collect my grandmother. She had made the arrangements in advance; they just had to be there to see her off. Neither of them got much sleep that day, but we got to talk to her and see him. I spoke with my brother over the phone and we both barely got through the call. Batman flew in later that evening after we sent one cousin home and met up with another. It was a full day.
Grandma meant so much to so many of us. She had six kids, almost a dozen grandkids, and more than a dozen great-grandkids. When we were children Grandma fostered over 100 foster children, all boys between the ages of 14 and 18, and took them in four at a time. We as kids called them Grandma’s big boys because they were all older than us. They were the kids in the system no one really wanted because they were so old, or they were trouble makers (being in the system a while does that), or just because they were boys. Any of them that were trouble makers got straightened out by chasing us kids around the backyard or keeping track of us at camp grounds.
She was our lynchpin. She was why all of us cousins were all close as kids. When the parents needed a weekend for any reason, they’d drop us off at Grandma’s and we’d either go camping or sleep on cots in the living room. Camping was always a riot. If it was a big group the girls would sleep in the tent trailer with Grandma and the boys would sleep in tents outside. Being southern California, it was never really cold so it’s not like the boys were banished to the Arctic, it just kept their gross boy-stench contained outside with a healthy draft between us and them. If it was a smaller group then she separated us by age putting the little kids inside and just the older foster boys in the tents. We’d wander around all day playing mini-golf, fishing, swimming at the pool, or crawling around looking for some form of animal friend. Once the sun went down we were around the camp fire. Grandma taught us how to make kindling and start a fire. She always had camp-specific recipes we would make along with the traditional S’Mores. Quite honestly I still don’t know if she really meant it when she would tell us, “Don’t worry about lighting the marshmallow on fire, I like them that way, I’ll still eat them,” or if that was just a thing she said to make us feel better. I kind of hope I never know, actually.
A weekend at home with her, though, was still just as rustic in some ways. The cots were always fun. Being young we had early bedtimes but the teenage foster boys had later curfews. If they came home after we were in bed, they had to Mission Impossible over and around us without waking anyone up. In the morning we’d wake up to Grandma in her chair in the corner, watching her morning news with her mean Siamese cat, Kahn, on her lap. After breakfast we’d be off, climbing the fruit trees in the back yard, over watering her various plants, and eating everything growing back there right off the plants. We were so spoiled in those times. Later in life, we weren’t as close, but we still came together around Grandma.
In 2007 I had the unique opportunity to go on an Alaskan cruise with her. Just the two of us. As soon as we got on the boat, Grandma fell going up some stairs and the resulting injury involved a black eye from her glasses popping the skin around her eye. I was certain the whole family was going to have me skinned for that. She was always a tough cookie, though (ahem… 6 kids! 4 of those kids were boys!), and hated being treated like she was fragile. I fussed a bit and she promptly reminded me that she had four teenage boys and this wasn’t her first black eye. We got on to enjoying our trip until, a couple of days later, after so many of the cruise occupants had fretted and fussed over her, believing her to be doddering or frail, she came back to our room and declared, “I’m not telling anyone else that I fell. I’m telling everyone else that asks about my eye that you hit me.” Bahahahahaha… haha.. ha…hehhh… Um, could we not? Elder abuse is a felony… But that’s how she was. She wasn’t frail. If she got hurt it was something extraordinary that caused it, not some piddling accident.
I didn’t see her much by then because I was living in Virginia. I had a vague hope for a short while after moving there that she would be able to come see the place I had chosen to settle in but her health wasn’t up to long travel. I made it back a few times, not nearly enough, and for her 83rd, many of us made it. It was the first time in a long time that I got to see my cousins and goof off with them (and my uncle’s awesome great dane). This past week, everyone who could made the trip when the time presented itself for each of us. I missed several people in the shuffle. Like I said before, we aren’t having a service now. She didn’t want it. Later, in the summer, we will all get together for a celebration of her life.
This has been my week, off and on. Monday my mom had foot surgery and I’ve been doing my best impression of a helper monkey. I had no desire to run around town seeing people, or really doing much of anything. I cuddled the dog, cooked, and tried not to think about it all. Tomorrow I fly home again. Batman only stayed in San Diego for two nights, we couldn’t afford him taking any more time off, so it will be nice to curl up next to him again. Although now he’s sick so I will probably be refilling Kleenex supplies and emptying trash cans while keeping a bit of a distance, but at least we’ll be together again. Part of me still doesn’t acknowledge it all. It will be a while before I think it will really settle.