June 19, 1991
I'm going on the trip to Idaho with Grandma! Me, who never goes anywhere, will actually be getting on an airplane in less than a week and flying to Idaho! For four and a half days! No kids, no dishes, no laundry, no nasty phone calls from bill collectors, no arguments with Ray ... it boggles my mind.
It's unexpectedly cold, rainy and blustery this morning after several days of warm & sunny. I woke up on the sofa about an hour ago - the girls' whispered arguments over styling mousse and hairbrushes woke me - and immediately ran to turn on the thermostat: the place was like a meat locker. The girls just left for school, wearing the heavy coats we'd already stored away for "summer." Kyle is asleep in Kacie's bed (the lower bunk): I just peeked in at him, and he looks wonderfully sweet and little and warm. Some nights he sleeps on the top bunk with Jamie, some nights he sleeps with Kacie. Occasionally we can get him into his own bed at night, but he really hates sleeping by himself. And the girls actually seem to like having him with them: they fight over who's going to "get" him! At least he's out of my bed. And I'm certain that in time he'll want to sleep in his own room ... I don't see the need to push and nag about it.
Speaking of Kyle ... a sad thought occurred to me this past week. Well, "sad" in a proud, loving, God-isn't-he-growing-up-fast kind of way. It dawned on me that this is the last week I'll have my little boy home and all to myself before he starts school in the fall. Next week school ends and I leave for Idaho. Then I come home from my trip and it's Summer Vacation - all the kids will be here, including Josh and Mak. And then when school starts in the fall, Kyle will be going off with the girls. So this week is the last few days of the comfortable exclusivity we've come to enjoy ... Kyle and me, puttering around the house, watching the game shows, talking, eat lunch, talking, doing the housework with my little shadow trailing behind, talking, talking, talking ...
There are plenty of times when I think his endless jabber-jabber-jabbering is going to drive me straight out of my mind. But the fact is that I love how articulate and perceptive he is, and I wouldn't that to ever change about him. He's going to do well in school, and I have no fears about his ability to adjust, make friends and enjoy learning. But I will miss my little shadow. Even now, three months before he even starts kindergarten, I feel a lump in my throat just thinking about it. Maybe some mothers break out the champagne when their youngest starts school, but I know for me it's definitely going to be a four-hankie occasion.
This has been a tumultuous school year for Jamie, and I sense she's glad it's drawing to a close. Breaking both of her arms, Grandma St. John's death, losing Tigger, the bouts with head lice, difficulty in her Reading class, constant fights with her best "friend" Tia, our lousy Christmas, battles with me over clothes and hairstyles ... as well as her waning enthusiasm for school in general ... all add up to one crummy school year. The worst part is that I doubt her summer vacation will be much better: I'm stuck babysitting Josh & Mak all summer, and as nice as the extra money will be, Jamie hates Josh with a passion. It's not that typical nine year old boy/girl stuff, either ... she truly loathes him. And here he'll be, all summer long. We can't afford to send her (or Kacie) to camp this year, either - another big disappointment she's had to swallow. (And another source of guilt for me ...)
I don't know, Journal. What ever happened to the picture perfect, Disneyland-and-Twinkies childhood I'd planned for Jamie? The older she gets, the harder it gets.
July 9, 1991
My trip to Idaho was wonderful, a terrific break from my usual routine. I just can't believe it's over already! Now it's back to piles of laundry, dirty floors, spiders in the bathtub, warring children, ringing phones, bills and RAY ... sigh ... It was nice to come home. I was thrilled to see the kids waiting for me at the airport, for one thing: they were all over me, and that made me feel really special. I missed them a lot. But as for walking through the door of our house and instantly feeling this major rush of happiness, well ... that didn't happen. Right away there was laundry to do and suitcases to be unpacked, the kids started fighting over the candy I brought home, Ray was asking me for the last of my money ... I was "home," all right, and frankly all I really wanted to do was get back on that plane and head for Idaho again (or Timbuktu, for that matter) ...
Summer '91 is in full throttle. Josh and Mak are here every day, and we also had Danielle for a few hours this week. (Andrea had her baby on June 20th, a little boy named Cody. He contracted meningitis almost immediately after he was born, and is still in the hospital.) There are three things I seem to always be in the middle of doing:
1. Fixing food for kids.
2. Serving food to kids.
3. Cleaning up after kids have eaten.
Also, I don't think I have EVER done as much laundry in my entire life as I've done the past week or so. I swear it is self-regenerating. Wish I was.
Jamie's passions this summer include Sabrina and the four kittens she presented us with last week (three white, one black & white) ... her new Paula Abdul tapes, "Spellbound" and "Shut Up And Dance" ... moussing and spraying her hair every half an hour ... constant phone calls to and from her beloved Tia ... KPLZ-FM ... "Beverly Hills 90210" ... Sun Chips and Koala Springs ... ("Mariah Carey," she just told me to add to the list. "And roller-skating, even though I suck at it") ...
The kids are sleeping outside in the back yard tonight - they've set up a little "camp" next to the garage, with their sleeping bags and stuff. Cute.
Kacie's passions this summer: Sabrina's kittens, especially the black & white one and the all-white one we've named "Spud" ... building forts in the back yard out of cardboard boxes and picnic table benches ... reading ... curling her hair ... riding her bike in the church parking lot ...
July 24, 1991
This is going to be a tough one to write.
I found out today that Grandma V. is dying of leukemia. She hasn't been feeling well for some time, although she's managed to keep up her usual hectic pace. Last month at the family reunion she seemed more tired than usual - she took a lot of "naps" in her hotel room - but otherwise she seemed fine. At the banquet she got up in front of everybody and sang along with the guitar player, even pretending she was playing her "fiddle" while he sang a song she requested. The day we left for home, she hugged her Idaho cousins goodbye. "Everyone seems so sad," I said, and she replied quietly that it was because they all knew they'd never see each other again. Her remark lodged itself inside my heart. Now I wonder if she knew, even then ...
Grandma has been threatening to die for as long as I've known her. Three or four times a year she would phone me, out of the blue and announce that her days were numbered. Then she would bequeath me all her possessions. "Terri Lynn, I want you to have my sewing machine!" she would say. I would protest that she was jumping the gun, that she wasn't going to die, that I didn't want to hear her talk this way. But when Grandma was in one of her "dying moods," there was no point in arguing with her.
This morning the phone call was different: I knew it the moment I heard her voice. She'd been in and out of the hospital twice since the reunion, undergoing tests to determine the cause of the pain and fatigue she'd been battling all summer. A few days ago the doctors told her she was "missing" three pints of blood. They gave her a blood transfusion and bone marrow and did some more tests. This morning her doctor called and said he needed to see her "right away." She called me before she left for his office. "I'm frightened," she said, and I felt a tickle of fear run along my spine. This was not the matter-of-fact, "I'm dying now so take my sewing machine" Grandma of times past: this was a tired, sick, frightened old woman. "Call me when you get home," I said to her tenderly, and we hung up. I had kids to take care of and a mountain of laundry to tackle, but my thoughts were never far from her for the rest of the morning.
I am back in time to a dark March night in 1972: I am fourteen years old, asleep in my bed in the upstairs bedroom of Grandma and Grandpa's house. Grandma has had some heart trouble the past few months, including a mild heart attack she suffered during a family vacation in Sunnyside. We've all been worried about her. At this point in my life, I have lived with my grandparents for ten years, and they are everything to me: surrogate parents, prison wardens, guiding lights, sources of joy and irritation. I have nightmares sometimes that they will die and leave me alone. In one nightmare I see their caskets rolling down a steep hill while I run and try to catch them. On this night, however, the nightmare is real ... Grandma suffers a massive heart attack, and as the ambulance screeches off down the road, taking her to the hospital, I huddle numbly in my bed and pray. The radio plays a song: "Everything I Own" by Bread. I cry. Later, I tiptoe downstairs to her bedroom, stroke the crumpled sheets of her bed, imagine that they are still warm to the touch. Grandma survives this heart attack, but many things change in my life as a result of it, and for the rest of my life I will remember that night of private terror and exhortation to God as a turning point.
The phone rings again shortly after noon. Grandma's voice is tiny, hollow: I have to hold my breath to hear her. "It's leukemia," she says. "The quick kind. Pray for me." And she hangs up. I stand there in my kitchen, still holding the phone in my hand, and it's moments before I realize I am still holding my breath. My heart, pounding in my chest, feels as heavy and final as a cannonball. I hang up the phone and the first tears prick the corners of my eyes. I am numb ... I am stone. The coffin is rolling down the hill and I am watching it roll, paralyzed, unable to catch up with it.
... Another night, nearly ten years later: I am twenty-three years old now, newly married, heavily pregnant with my first baby. I am standing in a phone booth with a stack of quarters and a can of 7-Up in front of me, making phone calls. Grandpa V. died this morning. I haven't seen either one of my grandparents in months, and I am wracked with guilt, remorse, fear, grief. What will I say to my grandmother? How will I comfort her in her terrible grief? My hands are unsteady as I dial the number. Grandma answers the phone, and I manage to stammer how sorry I am, how sad, how ready to comfort. Grandma, as always, managed to completely surprise me: she is calm, matter-of-fact, utterly together. No weeping widow ready to jump on the funeral pyre. I have underestimated her once again; my own awkward outpouring of sentiment seems overblown in comparison. Three days later, at Grandpa's funeral, Grandma is composed, dry-eyed and gracious, and I am struck anew by the resiliency that runs the very length and breadth of this woman. How could I ever have thought she would need comfort from me? ...
My first impulse is an utterly sentimental one. I walk to the living room stereo, pick out the Bread album and huddle on the sofa while I listen to "Everything I Own." By the time David Gates begins singing the chorus ("I would give everything I own/Give up my life, my heart, my home/I would give everything I own/Just to see you again"), the tears are coursing down my cheeks, as chill and unrelenting as this afternoon's rain. Suddenly I feel a small pair of arms around me: Jamie, drawn by the music, is comforting me. Moments later Kacie joins us, and we three listen to the song again, cry, share the pain. I am deeply and indelibly touched by their compassion. The grown-up part of me says, "You should be comforting them," but the grief-stricken little girl in me rejoices in the comforting.
That damn sewing machine. My heart keeps going back to the sewing machine. When I was a little girl, Grandma made nearly all my school clothes herself. She got so excited when she found the "perfect" pattern and material, and I had to stand fidgeting through endless fittings and adjustments. When she finished sewing the dress or the jumper or the blouse, she would be nearly beside herself with pride. Naturally I hated all of it. Never mind the finished seams and the hand-embroidered initials and the expensive material: I would rather wear the same cheap, machine-made junk the rest of my classmates are wearing. You just don't appreciate these things when you're young. I look at the quilt now, at the small square of flowered fabric from a blouse I particularly loathed in fifth grade (it had a small embroidered "T" on the collar) and I think about the hours this woman spent huddled over her sewing machine, pouring all of her love and energies into making clothes for a thoroughly undeserving me ...
The song ends. I wipe my tears, hug my daughters. Some of that automatic Mommyism has kicked in: as private as my memories are, as personal the hurt, I realize that they love her too and deserve some comforting of their own. We spend the afternoon playing "Battleship" and watching the thunderstorm. I feel as though the first hurt has been met and vanquished. There is more ahead - soon, probably - but for now I feel washed clean, however temporarily.
July 26, 1991
The past few days I have vacillated between unbearable sorrow and calm acceptance. I love my grandmother so much ... next to my kids, she's probably the most important person in my life. I can't imagine what my life will be like without her. For thirty-five years she has been my anchor, my mentor, my friend, my safety net. She has always believed in me, encouraged me and expected the best from me; my own personal cheering section. The fact that I'm utterly undeserving of such unconditional love is beside the point. The love has been there anyway, and the support, and there will be an enormous, permanent void in my life when she's gone.
I wish now that I had tried harder to live up to her expectations.
I'm supposed to go over to Grandma's in a little while and "take care" of her for the day, although I suspect what she really wants is an opportunity to talk to me alone for a few hours.
Spent several hours at Grandma's. Cooked her breakfast, cleaned up her kitchen, sat and visited with her. Very little was said about her health or about the house (which she is leaving to Ray and I): I think she just wanted to spend some time alone with me, perhaps for the last time ...
... We sat in her "Inner Sanctum" (her spare room, where she used to do her sewing and painting) and listened to some old tapes of family dinners, me playing the piano, etc. ... Grandpa V.'s dear voice, speaking to us from twenty years ago ... it was an interlude of shared memories, made all the more poignant by the knowledge that it was probably the last time we would ever share such an afternoon.
August 5, 1991
Valerie called me last night as I was making dinner for the kids. "Have you been to see your grandmother yet today?" she asked me. I said no. Ray and the kids were over at Shannon South swimming for most of the day. I knew I needed to get over to the hospital, but I hadn't had a chance yet. "Well, you'd better get over there soon because she's failing fast," Valerie said ominously. I was shocked. Wasn't the blood transfusion supposed to make her better for a while? Valerie's phone calls dashed my hopes. It was past 7 p.m., I was standing there deep-frying fajitas in my shorts and tank top, no makeup, bare feet, hungover and tired, flooded with despair. Ray had come home from John & Lori's totally ripped so he would be no help. How in the hell was I going to get to the HOSPITAL?
More and more often lately I've come to depend on my mother in an emergency, and this time was no exception. I called her: could she drive me over to Highline Hospital? She was here to pick me up twenty minutes later. We didn't talk much during the drive to Burien, but then again there wasn't much need ... we both understood how the other was feeling. (For Mom, this was a poignant reminder of one year ago, when Grandma St. John lay dying in this same hospital.)
Grandma was upstairs on the fourth floor, right next to the nurse's station. She was asleep when we walked into her room, breathing with an oxygen tube in her nose. I didn't want to wake her up, so Mom and I just stood there silently for a couple of minutes, watching her. I choked back a wave of grief, felt a brief sting of tears. "Here it is," I was thinking. "The goodbye time." Suddenly Grandma opened her eyes and looked at us. It took her a minute to recognize me. She was so heavily sedated it was hard to read any expression on her face, and several times during our visit she closed her eyes and seemed to fade completely. But after a while she did know it was me. ("That's my granddaughter," she said to her nurse) and she seemed pleased that I'd come. I sat next to her bed for fifteen minutes, making quiet small talk and watching her drift in and out of consciousness. At one point she mentioned the house. "Go see your Dad. Talk to your Dad," she said, urgently. I promised her I would call Dad the next day, and that seemed to comfort her. Then I gently steered the conversation to more generic matters ... family chit chat, mostly. By 8 p.m. she was definitely needing to go back to sleep - I could see her struggling to keep her eyes open - so I took her hand, looked into her eyes and told her I loved her. "I know," she said. My last words to her were, "Good night, Grandma," and then I left to find my mother in the hospital coffeeshop.
August 11, 1991
Grandma died peacefully about 1 p.m. on Wednesday afternoon, August 7th. Dad and Valerie visited her earlier that day and she was very weak. At one point (Valerie told me later) she tried to say something to them but the words wouldn't come. She died a short time later. Valerie called me around 4 p.m. with the news. I think I knew the minute I heard her thin, exhausted voice, but it was still a terrible, terrible shock to hear her say "Doc's gone." I remember I stood there and watched my hands tremble uncontrollably. I started calling people right away: the need to talk about Grandma was very intense. Part of that was me looking for sympathy and attention, but more than that it was a way of keeping her alive a few hours longer ... as long as people were talking to me about her, she wasn't really gone ...
Thursday and Friday were "lost" days ... functioning outwardly, all systems shut down inwardly.
Grandma's funeral. What can I say about that? Seems like only yesterday we were attending Grandma St. John's funeral (in fact, it was less than a year ago) so the whole thing had a weird sense of déja vu about it. I even recognized the funeral director as being the same guy who handled Grandma St. John's funeral. How's that for a sick irony?? I almost felt like going up to him and saying, "Hi, remember me?" ... I was very composed at Grandma St. John's funeral, but at this one I blubbered throughout the entire service. The minister read a history of Grandma's life, but he got a lot of the names wrong (he referred to Grandma's brother Vaughn as "Van," for one thing) and it was pretty obvious he didn't know Grandma from Adam. We sang Grandma's favorite hymn, "How Great Thou Art," recited the 23rd Psalm in unison and listened to a long sermon about life and death. I sat next to Valerie and Dad and snuffled into a handkerchief through the whole thing. After the service there was a half hour of "family visiting time" in the church parlor, and then a brief graveside gathering. And that was pretty much it.
The night before the funeral I had my "bereavement dream":
I was standing in the parlor of Riverton Methodist Church, waiting for the funeral to begin. There were a lot of people sitting around, and a long table covered with plates of cookies and fruit and bowls of punch. Suddenly Grandma was standing there, all dressed up and her hair freshly done, and she said "I think I have enough time to eat a few cookies before they put me into that hole." I was shocked but everyone else seemed to think this was perfectly normal.
A few minutes later she was laying in her coffin on top of a big hill, and everyone was lining up to take their turn at paying their final respects. The lid of the coffin was open, and I had a note in my hand that I desperately wanted to put into the coffin with her before she was buried, but the line was getting longer and longer and I couldn't seem to get a turn. Finally I managed to climb up the hill, which was very steep and rocky, and I bent over her body and tucked the note into her hand. Suddenly she sat up with a jerk, her eyes flew open and she started walking around like a robot. "It's the saline solution they put into her body," someone said to me. "She's actually not alive anymore." And with that I keeled over into a dead faint.
I woke up from the dream yesterday morning, and even though it was only something like 6:10 a.m. and the funeral wasn't for eight hours, I got up anyway and started getting ready. I certainly wasn't going back to sleep after a dream like that. The weird thing is that I felt the dream was a "message" to me, that I should write a note for Grandma and slip it into her casket during the funeral ... just a little piece of me that could go with her. So I sat at the kitchen table with my coffee and wrote a note to her, telling her that I will love her forever and that I'm thankful for everything she's been to me. I felt a little funny doing it, and as it turned out it was a closed-casket service so I never got the chance to give it to her.
I am glad that I got to see her that Sunday night before she died, and that I was able to tell her one last time that I love her. And I'll be thankful, thankful, thankful, for the rest of my life, that I went to the family reunion with her in June.
August 12, 1991
My cousin Benjamin (age ten) spent the night with us last night. He camped out in the tent with the kids, and this morning Kyle is following him around like a puppy.
Something just happened that really shook me up. Ben's grandma Lois called a few minutes ago to let me know she was coming to pick him up. When I answered the phone she said "Hello? Terri Lynn?" Just the way Grandma V. used to do. My heart completely stopped beating for a second. After we hung up, I sat on the couch and cried. It suddenly occurred to me that I will never again answer the phone and hear Grandma's voice on the other end. I've had other sad little "jolts" the past couple of days, too. I looked at the canning jars and thought, "I've really got to get these back to Grandma." And then of course I remembered. Another time I was washing a sterling silver teapot and I thought, "I need to ask Grandma the best way to polish this." It's such a blow to realize I can't just pick up the phone and call her about these little things.