Sweet Dreams, Grandma

I missed her funeral because it was 48 hours before the Bar Exam, which is just as lame and short-sighted as it sounds.  I didn’t know it then, though, because I was frazzled from weeks of studying. I just couldn’t get my head out of my ass long enough to consider the regret I would feel if I missed her funeral.

It was weeks before I understood what it would mean to choose not to celebrate her life with my other family members because I wanted to take another practice exam.  My parents let me off the hook when they called to tell me she had died. Don’t worry, we understand about the Bar Exam. She wouldn’t want you to miss that.

The morning of her funeral, I checked flights one last time from the library.  I replayed my last conversation I had with her.  I had visited her in the assisted living home, where her freedom and stature both kept shrinking.  Her eyeglasses looked huge against her emaciated face, and her energy for criticizing the staff’s dedication to Jesus Christ was less vigorous than normal.

Something made me mention marriage that afternoon.  As in, “Grandma, I may never have one.”  Then, I cried and started to apologize to her through gasping sobs. “I am so sorry that I will never get married. I am sorry I am sort of a fuck up.”  She studied me as if I suddenly started speaking Sanskrit.  She had never said a word to me about getting married; she never shamed me for being terminally single. I guess that was my issue. She listened with a perplexed look on her face, and she patted my hand as I steadied my ragged breath.

We both knew she would not live to see me in a union blessed by the State.

The dreams started right after I passed the Bar Exam.  In them, I was always crying and she was always sitting beside me, listening without looking directly at me.  She didn’t offer me comfort, but I woke from the dreams feeling consoled.  I dreamed of her once a month.

I assumed the dreams proved theories about why funerals are important for closure.  I was walking around with an unhealed heart yearning for closure.

Then, one morning in the queasy first trimester of pregnancy, I found myself on public transportation reeling from the heat and stench.  I was going to be sick or faint, but I was trapped on a slow-moving train with Chicago’s unwashed masses. I crouched down to catch my breath, hoping that someone would know what to do if I passed out.  A tiny, old woman reading a religious book saw me faltering.  She didn’t speak English, but she convinced the man sitting next to her to give me his seat through pantomime.

CTA Train (image from http://www.visitingdc.com/airports)

CTA Train (image from http://www.visitingdc.com/airports)

I slid next to her. “Thank you,” I said, as I rubbed my stomach to indicate I was pregnant.  She patted my hand, just like my Grandma did in every single dream.  Choked up from hormones, I fought the tears as we rode the train together the rest of the way without looking at one another.  I imagined telling her, “You look like my Grandma who passed away several years ago. I dream of her every month. I missed her funeral because I was busy preparing for a career I probably won’t want in a few more years.”

We rode in silence.

And I haven’t dreamed of my Grandma since.

Hooking up with the fine folks at Yeah Write. Grandma would approve.

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61 thoughts on “Sweet Dreams, Grandma

  1. Great post, OM. I got side tracked I think, when you mentioned closure. It seems to me that I think closure means forgetting. I know there are things I want to put behind me forever, but that never happens. I’m glad you can still be loved by a Grandma who knew how to touch you when you let her. It seems she can still do that.

  2. Oh, my friend.
    I hope you don’t beat yourself up about this too much. The only time that relates to that last week of bar exam prep is the first week home with a new baby. At least, in my experience. I probably would’ve made the same decision you did. And I had to miss my grandmother’s funeral for the simple reason that we just couldn’t get out there.

    I’m glad you found a little bit of closure. And glad you passed the bar!

    • It’s true. That was an insane time. I never thought how much it was like that first week with a newborn. Oh lord the fatigue and nerves. I am sorry you missed your grandmother’s funeral too.

  3. so touching, you went right for the hole in my heart. you know my grandma still visits me. now i’m sad, man. but forget about the funeral – i get why you’d regret your decision – but it’s done and your relationship with your gma was from her life, not her death. she’s with you. you know i believe that.

  4. My huz had to take the bar when our daughter was six weeks old, so I understand what an ordeal it is. I totally get your decision, and I’m sure your grandma would too. Loved reading this.

  5. oh cripes. i’m so close with my grandma. this hurt my heart. i have tears in my eyes right now. i just saw my grandma on Saturday and every time i do, i wonder if it’s the last time. she’s not well; she hasn’t been for some time now. sorry for the ramble that has nothing really to do with your pain, your loss. i’m glad that old woman was on that train for you that day…

  6. Moving story. Well written — kept my attention the whole time and tugged at my heart strings as well as appealing to the teacher part of me with excellent phrasing and imagery. Great job of “showing” v. “telling.”

    • Really? I was afraid it was too treacly or pulling at the heartstrings. Thanks for the feedback. I am not a good judge of what is “good” when it comes to something I wrote.

      Thank you MAMAMZUNGU!

  7. This is a powerful story and very beautifully written, Christie.

    And, if it makes you feel better, I missed my grandmother’s funeral for nowhere near as good a reason as you did and I still regret it. I wish that choices that seem so obvious in retrospect seemed more so at the time.

    • Well, and of course, it was more complicated as funerals always implicate family dynamics and fishbowl decisions. We do our best, right? If my kids’ kids blow off my funeral, I plan to haunt them until they bury my remains in Bali.

  8. Your posts about MawMaw get me every time. I’m sitting in carline bawling. She would be very proud of you. I think she loved that you always followed your heart and didn’t let things hold you back. I sometimes wonder what she would think of my decisions but then I read your posts about her and I know that she would be beside me patting my hand.

  9. Oh Christine, this whole post gave me the chills. I’ve been there, too. And i totally, wholeheartedly believe in people from our life who have died sending a message to calm a worried heart- I’ve heard if it happening too many times not to. you’re lucky and blessed not only to have had a grandma that meant so much to you, but that you were smart enough to get the message when it came. This is one ofmy favorite posts of yours. X

  10. I missed my beloved Gram’s memorial because we were leaving on a vacation. It seemed too complicated to change tickets, accommodations, etc. It was a full year before I broke down and cried.

  11. Beautifully written, and no it didn’t sound treacly at all (I have that worry myself sometimes). Your painted a beautiful portrait of regret and love with a healthy dose of self flagellation which I get all too easily.

    Becca.

  12. This gave me chills. Goosebumps, honestly. I love to hear about the little things that we take to be signs of something beyond our reach. I’m big on signs. And I would have done the same as you – when you are that far along in studying for the bar, you can’t conceive of taking an hour or two off, nevermind getting on a plane. I know it doesn’t make it easier, but I think what you did was totally normal in that situation. So glad to hear you finally got the closure you needed. Some really great descriptions in here.

  13. I can’t tell you how many times my lost loved ones (and they are many) have come to me in my dreams when I needed them. My aunt, who was a spiritual medium, told me the reason spirits visit us in our dreams is because they don’t want to frighten us in what we consider our reality.

    I could go a step further, and I will, and say I believe your grandmother sent that woman on the train to you. I really do!

    Beautifully honest post. It touched me on such a personal level. I absolutely loved it.

  14. I agree with Kathleen completely. We do, after alll share the same woman- my grandmother is her aunt. We both have written about her.

    Very powerful. Very moving. And I so get it. I will tell you that as my own self of being a fuck up- in my mid 20s I decided to be a Bride of Frankenstein for Halloween just so that I could take a wedding dress to her and have her alter it (true story). I remember being in a room with my mother and her trying it on and told myself that at least I had that. She hasn’t been gone a year now and I think of her all the time.

  15. Christie, your grandmother would be so pleased with this post. She’d also likely tell you that she was fine with your choice because grandparents get to do that — they get to love forever.

    I was only 8 when one of my grandmothers died, so I barely remember her funeral. When my other grandmother died, I was 8 months pregnant with the twins and my cousins elected me to give the eulogy because I was the least likely to lose it while speaking. So I did what I do best and wrote, wrote, wrote my best for her. And I believe that she heard every word of it — like your grandmother read every word of this.

  16. Christie, my Gram visits me in my dreams, also. She passed away in the middle of my first nervous breakdown. She wasn’t able to comfort me as she suffered from Alzheimer’s. Near her end, she cried to me for her “Mommy.”
    Wonderful post, Sweetie.

  17. Ugh, why did we think that stupid bar exam ruled our life? Reading this, I am remembering all of the things I missed out on that summer. Weddings, seeing new babies, trips home to see family. And I am asking myself whether it was worth it. I think, as you do, that it was not. I am so glad that you got the kind of closure that you did. I have a soft spot for elderly strangers who help us out when we need it most.

  18. I get the closure thing even though I’m terrible attending funerals. Your story reminds me of my grandmother who doesn’t visit me when I’m sleeping but when I bake chocolate chip cookies that never turn out like hers. As the mixer is doing it’s thing, I always smile for her. And I’m happy you GOT your closure on the Metra. She “came back” to give you that (I believe in that stuff). I also know about those sacrifices that are totally questionable later!

  19. The dead reach out to us in the strangest of ways. My mother hates funerals. I’m under orders not to throw her one when she dies. (Which will hopefully be many MANY years from now.)

    I plan to violate the orders. But don’t tell her.

  20. When my mother died I dreamed of her often as you did. Finally in a dream she spoke to me and told me she had to go on alone, and I never dreamed of her again, at least not in the same way. I believe your grandmother spoke to you through that lady on the train. We all find closure in our own time. Heartfelt post. Nice.

  21. This was excellent. Heartfelt but not too much. Sad with a touch of… I don’t know what… hope maybe? I’m not sure what I’m trying to say. I felt it. That’s all.

    Grandmas have amazing powers over us, I think.

  22. Christie – wildly inventive writing elevates this above other posts about death, loss and dying. It’s a coming of age for you as well – and it resonated with me. I missed my grandfather’s funeral because it was on the first day of law school. Little did I know…

    • No way. Oh, thank you for sharing about that. I have kept this under wraps because of so much shame about being so dumb about the Bar Exam. These comments, especially from my lawyer peeps, have helped me forgive and move on. (It’s everything inside me not to blunt the tenderness right now with a joke about the bad timing of our grandparents. I won’t do it. Because I have grown.)

      Thank you.

  23. Pingback: Understanding Your Dream Career Means Realising It | The Career Advisor

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