My Grandma Cheryl died on March 26. I heard the news a few hours after writing my last post.
Although I wasn’t related to my grandmother biologically (she is my grandfather’s second wife) she has been my grandmother since before I was born. I loved her as I love all of my grandparents.
She died of cancer, which she had been battling also since before I was born.
I don’t know the words to write.
Instead, I find myself oddly angry. Angry at myself, for not getting to know her better, for being too shy or awkward or too far away. For not expressing how much she meant to me while she was alive to appreciate it. For all the moments that were stolen from her by a fucking evil disease.
I was angry when I heard the news. I was angry on the plane to Chicago and the car-ride up to Wisconsin. I was angry at the funeral, fuming and unable to hear the words of the sermon. I wanted to punch something, anything. To fight against the injustice of a beautiful life shuttered with pain and ended by death.
I’m still angry.
I’m angry that everyone I love will one day be taken from me. I’m angry that before that happens many of them will suffer. I’m angry that some people will be taken unfairly soon while others linger in agony unfairly long. I’m angry that I don’t have the words to make it better.
But I loved my grandmother, and I am old enough to understand that life is unfair.
And if there’s anything I learned from Grandma Cheryl, it is how to be strong without becoming hardened. To go through the darkest days with compassion, kindness, and patience.
And if I’m going to honor her, I want to do it with that same compassion, kindness, and patience. I want to feel what I feel, but with the softness of grief and not the fire of anger. I want to forgive myself for all my shortcomings. I want to forgive myself for failing sometimes.
I want to think about the wonderful times. When she came to my high school graduation, taking the dogs for a walk, the strawberry jello recipe. When she sat with us unruly grandchildren and played a game of Sorry, counseling me not to get so angry at my little brother.
I want to reflect her love to my family, my friends, my kitten Scout.
A few days before she passed away, I had a dream. I was back at the house I grew up in. It was winter and the snow was piled up outside the door. Huddled freezing in the snow were thirteen or more kittens, all of them white and orange, the same color as my cat. I was desperately trying to bring the kittens inside, but every time I got two or three in, two or three would slip back out.
I was growing frustrated and angry, terrified I’d fail them all, until my mother came up to me.
“It’s okay,” she told me, “You’re doing well. Grandma Cheryl is really proud of you.”
Maybe that’s what it is to be alive, struggling to protect and care for what you love, letting some things go and achieving others. It is what I witnessed my grandmother doing, and it is what I will strive to do. I can only hope to make the dream true, that somehow through my grief and anger, I will someday make my Grandma Cheryl proud.