It is hard for me to recall a time when my Grandmother H did not have white hair. Like mine, her hair was very thin and very straight. Her hair was cut very short, smoothed back with a small jar of green pomade and a small blue comb. Her back was arthritic and she walked with her body bent forward so I am not sure how tall she actually was. My sense of her, though, was that she was a small woman, except when she stood at the bathroom sink to comb her hair. One hand bracing her on the countertop, she would stand up straight and carefully comb back her white hair. She looks so tall in this vision in my mind whereas my sense of her then was that she was very diminutive. I wish that I could remember her real voice instead of only being able to recall the way it sounded when she was upset with me, shrill and harsh, and the frightened murmurs that woke me in the middle of the night while she was having a nightmare.
I did not know how to love her while she was alive; I did not realize how much I loved her until I sat in the ICU waiting room on the day she died.
She had been in the hospital for a week or longer, and the outlook was not good. We hoped that she would be able to spend the time she had left at home with us. I was sitting in my living room with many of my relatives waiting for her to be brought home. The only person I can remember is my Uncle R. When the phone rang, he was the one who answered it. He was the one who turned to me and told me that my Grandmother H was gone. I remember his face. I remember the numbness that set in. I remember walking through the hospital lobby and seeing my herd of cousins there and being unable to even look at them.
And in the ICU, behind a curtain, the sound of my cousins, my aunts, crying at my grandmother’s bedside. Her hands were thin and cold. She was gone. And I broke.
It was a flood of shame that I was not a better granddaughter, that I had been so ugly to her while she was alive. In the ICU waiting room, I sat, bent over, head against my knees, crying incontrollably, not wanting my relatives to see me, feeling worse because what right did I have to cry when I had been so terrible?
I mourned her because I loved her. I mourned her because I did not love her enough while she was alive.