My grandma and I were best friends as I was growing up. My mother worked intensely long days so we spent a lot of time together, eating ice cream or cereal for dinner, her in her brown cozy armchair and me sprawled on the couch, watching Matlock, In the Heat of the Night, and Diagnosis Murder. These shows were events for us. We made sure to catch all the reruns too. Back then, I thought into future of the day that Andy Griffith would die and how unimaginably painful that would be for me. That day is here and so much time has passed since my first thoughts of this day that my reaction has turned out more complex than I could have actually expected.
I wasn’t in unbearable pain as I had thought I would be back at the age of 13. I think what I have experienced in the last couple of days pondering his death has been the residual grief of my grandmother’s passing several years ago. Our family doesn’t have a good history of coping with grief. When Grandpa died, Grandma sat cold as a stone. Mom only remembers her ever crying once in her lifetime and that was decades before.
When it was Grandma’s turn, Mom and I clutched together in the front row at the calling hours, accepting people’s condolences and comments of our amazing strength with dry eyes, sucking our grief into some empty vestigial organ we cultivated in our bodies to capture all emotions we didn’t want to surface. It was weakness and Grandma wouldn’t want us to cry. At the cemetery, our eyes started to leak a little as we watched her casket fall into the sandy hot ground. Mom turned to me as she was losing control and said, “You know that’s not her.” I nodded and we wiped our faces. I was starting to panic because the tissue I’d been using to keep my image together was a wad of sticky saturation and it was quickly becoming useless.
Last week, I had a quiet contemplative moment at work when a song came on that instantly brought me to my own funeral and that if I were to have one, that song was what had to be played. As it’s not in my wishes to have some elaborate funeral, my thoughts quickly turned to my mother’s passing and how I’d like to play it at hers. I think we spend our whole lives somewhat preparing for our parents’ end. And this song seemed to get me closer to accepting this inevitable pain. I saw myself speaking to a crowd of her loved ones who had known me and our family and I came to the decision that I knew how I wanted to honor her.
I will bawl. I will hold myself strong and erect in our usual way, with my face bloated red and my eyes puffy and let everybody see what it really looks like. In that moment, I will feel the weight of what it’s like to truly be on my own and I’ll squeeze every bit of emotional ooze that’s been bubbling in that pocket of suppressed grief deep inside my belly. It’ll pour uncontrollably from my nose and there won’t be enough tissues in my hand to keep my face from being completely mangled. And somewhere in this mess, I will tell them a funny story and a sad story and an angry story until they have the most completely authentic view they can have of this experience that they all will go through with me.
Until your elders are gone, you don’t feel like a complete adult. When Mom is gone, I sense the transformation will be instantaneous and I will grieve for the phase of my life that will end then too. Grief is what I have learned since my grandmother’s passing. I learned that we did not handle that correctly. I still grieve that loss. Every once in awhile I wake from a dream and think about calling her only to realize that’s not possible. Andy Griffith’s death brings me a bit closer to coping with hers. In my mind, he sits as an icon of the time my grandmother and I had together and their fates became entwined.