The loss of a grandparent: Alice Johnson 1929-2015

Alice Leola Bibles Johnson February 2, 1929 - August 25, 2015
Alice Leola Bibles Johnson February 2, 1929 – August 25, 2015

The moment I found out my granny was going into Hospice I was hit with an array of random thoughts and a deep sadness I can’t describe (which is extra frustrating as a writer).

I just kept thinking about how I didn’t have anything to wear to a funeral and how at my great aunt’s funeral a few years ago she told me my dress had too much cleavage, something I heard from her a lot my adult life, along with  “You left the bottom of your dress at home” (Insinuating it was too short) .

That was my granny, blunt as they come.

This was a trait that did not improve with age lol her last few months with us she shamelessly harassed the poor staff at her nursing home making comments like, “I’ve never seen so much butt and hair,” referring to the big haired, bottom-blessed nurses and aids.

 

I started thinking about the questions I never asked that she was too gone to answer now.

11373632_928911717195540_628817413_n(1) I thought about what a conversation with the sassy young woman in this photo, who was probably around my age when it was taken,                                                                                would be like. Now she was 86, less than 90 pounds and hardly coherent, I’d never have that conversation.

I couldn’t help but think about how being at the office was torture how all I wanted to do was crawl into my mom’s bed and watch Lifetime movies with her and the next best choice was to cry my eyes out in my own bed and just try to wrap my head around something that we all logically understood but made no sense at all; death.


 

When I woke up this morning and checked my phone at 7:35 and  saw a missed called from my mom at 3:03 a.m.and another from my sister at 7:25 I felt my heart sink. I quickly redialed my mom before getting out of bed or even turning on the light.

“Hey.”

“Hey Lois.” ( Lois is our nickname for each other)

What’s up,” I said still holding on to small glimmer of hope, since she didn’t sound like she was crying, just tired.

I thought she would say there was another incident, that my grandmother had a scare but was fine but then she said it….

I’d like to be able to tell you what exactly “it” was she said but I honestly don’t remember the way she phrased it. Not even 10 hours have passed but all I know is what she meant….my granny was gone.

My relationship with my grandmother wasn’t typical growing up. My grandmother and grandfather weren’t just my grandparents they were my parental reinforcements. After my mom and real dad separated we moved  to the country where we lived with them for a while before renting a house down the street. I saw my grandparents almost everyday most of my early years and still multiple times a week as a teenager. My last semester of high school and last summer at home I used their car to get around. Thank God for my grandmother! It wasn’t the dream ride a 17-year-old would hope for but it was great just to not be walking.

It’s funny, I’m sitting here watching This Is Where I Leave You, post The Fault Of Our Stars (Because what else do you do when your heart is broken and your loved ones are hours away but watch sad movies and cry) and thinking wow this is a much more realistic depiction of life and my expectations for the next few days then The Fault In Our Stars…. on the plus side other than a weak moment at the beginning I’ve gone like 20 minutes without wanting to crawl up on a ball on the floor…which I have done.

I imagine getting to my sister’s house tomorrow and just talking about the different things that have happened the past 26 years I had this wonderful and complex woman.

When  I sat down to write about my granny I could only think of one thing, “I’ll slap you blind” I don’t think my grandma ever hit any of us in the face but the threat was enough to make us act right.

How ironic it was that she couldn’t eat that last year on her own because she had a very healthy appetite my whole life.

How even at the end she was feisty. In fact I think the last thing I heard my granny say less than 2 weeks before her death was, “Get out of my face!” Towards the end of her life my granny could only hear out of one ear and you had to get very close and she just wanted to be left alone. It didn’t hurt my feelings in fact it made me laugh because that was her.

I remember leaving the nursing home that Sunday and having the very real realization as I gave her a one-sided hug and told her I loved her one last time that it might in fact be the last time.

What we won’t talk about is the distinct and rare pain in all of our chests. This empty yet heavy feeling that even as we heal she will always be missed.


My grandmother's last Christmas
My grandmother’s last Christmas

Yesterday we laid to rest Alice Leola Bibles Johnson. I don’t know why I had this idea in my head that after the funeral this heaviness in my chest would go away because it hasn’t. I won’t say it was a “beautiful service”, I hate when people say that. I will say she looked beautiful. She didn’t look like the sickly old woman I’d said goodbye to two weeks ago today, she looked like she had before her fall in the spring, before she stopped really eating anything but peppermints last year. In her new white suit, salt and pepper wig she looked like my granny.

As much as it hurts I have a few things to be grateful for. I’m grateful she isn’t in pain anymore, I’m grateful that my mom and the rest of the family isn’t constantly holding their breath waiting for that dreaded phone call that did ultimately come August 25. I’m grateful that the 4 days I spent with my family planning the service and mourning lead me to feel closer to my extended family than I probably ever have in my adult life and given me a desire to spend more time communicating and seeing them.

I’m grateful for the new stories I got to hear about my grandmother from my mother and uncles I hadn’t heard before.

I’m grateful for the desire the loss of her life has given me to really live my own.

I’m grateful for the perspective it’s given me on just how much I love my mom and how lucky I am to have her and that she is the person my grandmother raised her to be.

There is no way to really end this or to say goodbye.

I’ll think about her every time I have a really good piece of buttermilk cake , every time I read a romance novel or do a word search puzzle, anytime I pick up a needle and thread to fix a piece of clothing the way she taught me and countless other times.

 

So I won’t say goodbye, I’ll just leave it at the last words I said to her, I love you granny.

 

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