My grandmother used to cry whenever we said goodbye – even if we were just heading out the driveway to go home, twenty miles away, and would see her the next day. I loved that woman, and was closer to her than to almost anyone – but sometimes it did “get old” watching her cry. I didn’t understand it, and I was helpless to make her feel better. I didn’t realize, as a child, that I didn’t have to do either. I only had to love her. But yes, it “got old” sometimes – especially when SHE was the one heading off on an exotic vacation to faraway lands – by choice! – and we were the ones staying home to go to school and work. Ho hum! But I always knew it was only because she loved us so, and thoughts of mortality and all that might happen in the world before the next time we met were somehow hard for her to push aside.
My other grandmother always said things like, “See you at Christmas – God willing and the creek don’t rise!” and that “got old” too, this constant reminder that one or more of us might die before the next holiday. Good God, how depressing that seemed to me at the time. No – how dramatic. I imagined this woman lived in a constant state of believing she had one foot in the grave and another on a banana peel. But I was young and she was not and I get it now. Funny thing is, SHE was one of the least emotional women I ever knew, and that was often a source of great irritation to me over the years; I took it as “insensitive,” but I think it was more a matter of faith in whatever was to come. It was all God’s will.
We all process things differently at different times. When my son went across the country for his first semester at college, I was in a funk. I didn’t cry – and somehow that seemed an inappropriate response. Inside, though, part of me was curled up in a warm blankie, sobbing for the “baby” I was losing. I wondered why – I mean, I went through that already with my daughter, and now she’s an independent, amazing young woman who still talks to me almost every day. I already knew that as we lose our “little ones,” we gain grown ups we can be immensely proud of. And indeed, part of me was swelled with pride over the man my son was becoming. Another part was consumed with worry – the world is a sometimes-scary place, but so can walking across the street be. And another part was kind of – well, not at all unhappy at the prospect of two healthy, happy grown children and an empty nest in which to reconnect with my husband. It’s all normal. And we can dance between all of those feelings in a single hour – or have them all tangled up inside at the same time.