Like many people, I use to live for the weekends. With only 90 minutes between getting home from work and bedtime, I constantly thought “There’s no way I can do [this] today, I’ll do it this weekend!”
[This] being writing a blog post, folding clothes, organizing the linen closet, whatever!
Then the weekend would come and I’d be too swamped with laundry, dishes, grocery shopping, etc. to actually enjoy spending time with my family like I wanted to.
Meanwhile I was working 40+ hours every week with a 45 minute commute each way and still barely making ends meet.
“She died, didn’t she?” The nod that followed my question shattered a part of me forever. My worst nightmare had come true; Grandma had died while I was away on my eighth grade trip.
March 15th 2001 was the last time I saw Grandma alive. I walked to her house every day after school, but this time my step-father drove me there so I could say goodbye before I left for my class trip to Washington D.C.
I’ll never forget how frail she looked, a shell of the powerful woman who had helped to raise me. I stood at the edge of her bed and fought the staggering urge to cry; crying would make it real and this just couldn’t be real. So I bit down hard on my bottom lip, the taste of mercury filling my mouth, and I kept myself numb to it all.
As I moved closer to her bed, her eyelids fluttered open and she gave me a feeble smile.
“Hi, honey,” she croaked through her chapped and swollen lips.
“Hi, Grandma,” I replied. I could feel my throat begin to swell and burn as I attempted to swallow those unshed tears.
“Leaving for your trip soon?” she asked. I knew she was excited for me to go on this trip as she’d previously made it clear that under no circumstances was I allowed to stay behind and watch her die.
All I could bring myself to do was nod in reply.
“Well…have fun, okay?”
I again gave a soft nod and turned to leave. To this day I cannot say for sure whether or not I even told her “I love you.”
When I returned from Washington D.C. a few days later, I stepped off the bus and with a quick glance, I saw my mom waiting for me beside our little blue Ford Focus. I had to force myself to look up at her.
“She died, didn’t she,” I asked.
My mom’s lips remained in a tight firm line as she made eye contact and nodded.
It’s that nod that still burns in my brain.
Grandma’s funeral went by quickly and yet I remember so much.
Almost as if thirteen year old me is still stuck there, forever looped in time…
I remember looking down at her in the casket, soft and frozen in time, willing her to just breathe. To just please come back to me.
I remember my school friends stopping by with their parents, awkward hugs and hand drawn cards.
I remember sitting in the bathroom with a friend, both of us sobbing into the couches and begging the pain to stop.
I remember the final glance I took before once again turning away from Grandma, this time forever.
The time following her death saw me tumbling into darkness.
First, my step-grandpa died of a heart attack.
Then the dog I’d had since my first birthday had to be put to sleep.
A month later, we adopted a puppy only to watch it slowly die of Parvo over the course of half a week.
And then as the summer faded to fall, my mom announced we’d be moving. We left Chicago and I became “the new girl” in a town that had less people than my grade school.
Every morning my eyes would flutter open only for my brain to immediately beg for the release that sleep provided. I lived each day simply to move on to the next.
With no friends and a mother lost in her own sorrowful oblivion, I let myself fall away from reality.
Then one night, a dream…
In it, I was sitting at the feet of my grandmother as she stroked my hair and soothed my sorrow. For a moment, I relished the comfort.
Then suddenly, I looked up at her.
“You’re dead,” I stated as if it were a fact we’d both just forgotten.
“I know,” she replied, still stroking my hair.
“But…but you can’t be. You’re here!” I cried.
“I am,” she said softly.
“You’re not supposed to be. Please, please come back,” I clung to her, willing the dream to continue on forever.
“It’s time to go, Amber,” she told me with one final caress, “You have to wake up now.”
With that, I felt a white light pull me toward the front door. I reached and screamed and begged…
And woke up.
It’s been seventeen years, three months, and twenty-seven days since Grandma died. Surviving in a world without her was (and sometimes still is) almost more than I can bear, but I push on.
I look to my children now and think about how she would have adored them. Unlike most Grandmas, mine was fairly strict, much more a mother than a grandmother. But oh how she would’ve spoiled my babies, especially my little girl, who was given the same middle name as my grandmother – Arlene Margaret Lewner.
I often think about how different my life would have been had she beaten that colon cancer and survived beyond her fifty-three short years. Oh how different the path would have been, but surely the destinations would have remained the same.
Every day I will work harder. Each day I will push a bit more. While I may never be as great as she once was, I will be a Lewner woman. I will make her proud.