My grandma died the day the Bay Area shut down.
While she lived here for over 40 years, she didn’t pass away here, instead peacefully drifting away in her sleep far away in Ohio. While she left her body on March 17th, she was 92, and had checked out due to dementia long before. I’m glad, in a way, she was no longer trapped by a body that frustrated her. I think this pandemic would have caused her a lot of suffering.
What’s strange is the aftermath. Due to coronavirus, everything has ground to a halt, including mourning. How do you mourn in the age of physical distancing? I struggle with it at the best of times and these are not the best of times. I feel myself disassociating from her death. It doesn’t feel real. How do you mourn one death when all around people are dying? I am alone, and I feel far too busy with helping others survive in this time of turmoil for a death. Reschedule it for another day, week, month. Put it in the “to do” pile.
While part of me wants to be surrounded by friends, supported by my partner, I feel loathe to ask for help because everyone is struggling. The world is falling apart, capitalism failing on a large scale, and who am I to ask for someone to hold me for a couple of days so I can unravel myself? And that’s without taking into account the risks, the exposure, any time we spend time around another human it could be another transmission of this terrifyingly still not understood virus. I’m not ok, sure, but who is? Who has resources to offer meals when everyone is facing unemployment? How can you be present for others when you can’t quietly hold each other?
So I busy myself with cooking, and baking, and knitting, and writing. In a normal world I would be withdrawing, like a wounded cat, but in this world, especially now, no one really notices other people’s pain without prompting. It’s a blessing and a curse.
I have cried exactly once and I was by myself. I gave myself 5 minutes to weep, and then I brushed my hair, pulled myself together, geared up with my mask and gloves, and went to the grocery store. I don’t know how to feel so I just don’t feel. It comes so easily these days. Too easily. I’m sober now, so I can’t process my emotions through the filter of false intimacy brought about by drinking. In the absence of that, it feels easier not to process anything internally at all, at least for now.
Instead of thinking about her death, I’ve been reflecting a lot on her life, and our relationship. It was tumultuous at times. My grandma could be a passive aggressive nightmare who harped on my weight a *lot* (her last words to me were “your fingers are the thinnest part about you”). She was also the sweetest person who defended my choice to move cross country to California. She helped me grow up.
She loved cakes and cookies but also was constantly denying herself them for her weight — she would then sneak them when she thought I wasn’t looking, like I was going to stop her. However sodium was another thing totally. Her favorite dish to make me was stovetop stuffing with chicken breasts on it, smothered in cream of mushroom soup, then covered in cheese. A 70s salty delicious hell food. She saved everything — I cleaned her pantry once and there was a can of tuna that was older than I was.
We also had some very silly memories. I lived with her when I was in my early 20s and I was just discovering partying, much to her chagrin (and also amusement). She picked me up once when I got lost in downtown Berkeley during a shroom trip and just laughed. She left for the holidays every year and was often gone for my birthday, so one time I threw a sex party at my grandma’s house. We cleaned the house so well, but forgot a sign about safer sex practices. She told me she was happy I encouraged safe sex but she didn’t want to know. Fair enough, grandma. Right before she got sent to a care facility she took her car out from under her caretaker’s nose and went on a joyride. She managed to evade the cops for 14 hours! Luckily she didn’t hurt anyone. When I said “wow grandma, you’re good at dodging cops, huh” she just cackled.
She swore up and down that she didn’t want a pet but when I moved to London she took my cat Squee in. Nothing made her happier in those years as having a cat on her lap shedding on her trousers while she watched Jeopardy. “My little cat” she’d say. “Squee is short for Squeeze!” She was named after a character from Johnny the Homicidal Maniac but I didn’t have the heart to tell her that. Squee hated men, and hated company, so was a perfect companion for my grandma who lived in the hills and was pretty isolated. They became inseparable. When Squee died, I think she gave up. While she was an atheist, I hope Squee came to her near the end.
The end. It’s so hard to believe that it’s the end, that I’ll never see her again. I feel so weirdly selfish having feelings about her death when she didn’t die from this pandemic, it was completely predictable. Not being able to plan a memorial makes it harder. It will likely be months before we can hold a proper funeral. I feel totally numb, but I feel that a lot nowadays.
There’s just too much to do to grieve.