My maternal grandmother died this year at 89 (89!) years old. We were pretty tight and I miss her. She was kind of a complicated lady, full of contradictions: she could be really needy, but underneath, the woman was made of steel. She was a Lady-with-a-capital-L but loved gambling and took to swearing rather colorfully in her 80s. I related to her a lot, except I took to swearing rather colorfully at about age 10.
My grandmother was a Midwestern German Catholic, which meant she didn’t do—or tolerate—much wallowing or whining. She’d adopted the expression “Uff-da!” from my Norwegian grandfather and her flat South Dakota vowels made the cast of “Fargo” sound like amateurs.
When my grandfather died several years ago, she missed him terribly. But my grandmother did what prairie women do: she laced up her proverbial boots, pulled herself up and got on with her life. She said she talked to him in the morning while she had her coffee.
She was matter-of-fact about her grief, I suspect because there simply aren’t words to describe losing your husband of over 60 years. My grandmother was not sentimental, nor was she a bullshitter, so her simple words, “I miss my man,” as her cane guided her through the cemetery, reverberated loudly in my heart.
I am scared shitless of dying. I wish I could be more Earth-Mother-y and Zen about it, but the fact is, when I imagine that last moment, that last breath, that huge void of not knowing…cue tunnel vision, shallow breathing, and claustrophobia. I’ve had more than one panic attack on the subway. And for all her years of devout Catholicism, I always kind of had the feeling that my grandmother was as afraid of death as I. But now I’m not so sure.
See, my grandmother showed up in my dream last night. She seemed to be crocheting beside a hospital bed. Someone (one of her parents, or perhaps my grandfather) was asleep in the bed while we talked. I asked her if she’d been afraid to die.
With her signature Midwestern accent, and clicking her tongue the way she always did, she replied, “Oh, no, never afraid. My parents worked so hard all their lives to make sure I was okay. It’s exciting for me to be able to make sure they’re okay, now that we’re home.” I guess by “home,” she meant “Heaven” or some sort of afterlife.
It’s possible that I had some sort of mystical encounter with my grandmother in my dream. It’s also possible that my mind was just wandering in deep REM sleep. But the magic of the message stays the same: my grandmother is always with me, in my heart and memory. And who knows? Maybe there is someone waiting to make sure we’re okay when, someday, we go “home.”