Death and My Grandmother

The past year has been one of major changes, both in my personal life and in the wider world. On a personal level, the past twelve months have seen the death of my grandmother, me leaving that (painful, abusive) living situation to live with two of my partners in Florida, the surgical removal of my uterus, and going off my meds due to financial difficulties. It hasn’t been an environment conducive to blogging, though hopefully that will change now that I’m settled.

I’ve been thinking a lot about death, for obvious reasons. Hela didn’t spare me many of the gory details of my grandmother’s decline and eventual death. There are many kinds of death, went the lesson, and the death of the body is a kindness compared to the death of the mind. And I had to witness the worst of it firsthand, including when she refused all food and water for days on end, and would only talk about how she had to go back to Cuba immediately, when she wasn’t moaning incoherently. It was a hard, hard thing to watch, and I think all of us looking after her were a little relieved when she finally passed. The nightmare was finally over for all of us, not least of all my grandmother herself.

I was still recovering from surgery at the time and my mother woke me from a sound sleep to tell me she’d died, and I literally could not wake up all the way — instead, I found myself sucked into a vivid dream in which she was on her feet again, wandering around the house and looking confused. My first thought was that I had to get her to the bathroom, because that was the only reason she was ever on her feet in her final days. But when she asked me what was wrong, what came out of my mouth was, “You’re dead! Look, your body’s right there!” and I pointed to the bed where her now-empty body lay and started sobbing hysterically. She reached out and pulled me into her arms, and told me everything was all right, and there was noting I needed to worry about. When I woke up, her body was already gone, and I felt strangely calm.

The calm wasn’t constant, though. There were days where I felt the need to curl up on her bed, right where she’d died, and cry. I felt closer to her there, and it seemed like it was the only place I could cry. The rest of the time was spent in the strange detachment of grief, where nothing seemed quite real until suddenly the fact of her death would stab though my consciousness and leave me unable to process anything but that single fact: My grandma is dead.

She was frequently spiteful, passive-aggressive, and outright emotionally abusive. She set the pattern for every abusive relationship I’ve been in since, and there have been several, but she was my grandmother and I love her still. And it’s been a struggle, reconciling the terrible things she did with the good. She felt love for me. I have no doubt of that. But she was very bad at showing that love in a way that were good for her children and grandchild. Her “I love you, therefore ____” script was broken, and so while she felt love, she was very bad at consistently being loving.

Once a year has passed since her death, I may include her as part of my ancestor practice, and may even perform some elevations for her that she may gain the understanding in death that she lacked in life. Right now, though, I’m giving her time to get settled, wherever she is. I hope for her Heaven, but should she be in Purgatory, I’ll offer up prayers to her god and to the Virgin Mary that she move on to something better, and reunite with my grandfather, who looked after her in death just as he did in life.

I love my grandmother, and in death, as in life, I want her to understand how she was hurting the people she cared for and not do it anymore. That may never happen, or it may be easier now that she’s no longer at the mercy of a physical body and its brain chemistry. I hope it is. I hope that, if she decides to reincarnate, she takes her lessons from this life and does better next time. I’m still angry, but the anger doesn’t change the rest of my feelings for her. It’s another thread in the tapestry, that’s all.

If there’s anything I’ve taken away from this, it’s that death can be ugly and complicated, and so is coping with the aftermath. We’re not obligated to immediately forgive someone for the things they did in life, but we owe it to ourselves and to them to acknowledge that it is complicated. My ancestral line has had its share of problems, not even touching on the centuries of colonialism, but in the end, we all have to come to our own peace with our dead. Sometimes that means cutting them out entirely, and other times it means taking some time to work things out, knowing that it may take years, if it happens at all.

For me, for her, it’s worth taking the time. Right now, my job is to come to some kind of peace within myself where she’s concerned, and her job is to settle in and decide how much attention she wants to devote to her former life. In nine months’ time, when I move the dried remains of the rose I kept from her funeral to my ancestor altar, and put her picture up, we’ll see where we stand. Despite all the pain between us, I’m looking forward to it.