This evening I caught up on a little blog reading at Bus Girlie’s site, and one of her entries really threw me for a loop. It isn’t that anything she wrote ticked me off, offended my sensibilities or made me want to write my congressman about something. Actually, she describes driving past a really bad auto wreck and mentions how the family members must be wondering where the people are.
In 1989, the year I was a senior at the local tech college and didn’t yet have a car, my grandparents drove me to campus in the mornings and picked me up in the afternoons. One afternoon, they were late in arriving. For my chronically early grandpa who couldn’t stand being made to wait, this was really unusual. I stood out in the May sunshine, glancing at my watch every so often, and waited. Finally a friend on his way home asked if I wanted a ride.
We drove toward my town, and on the way we looked down off the expressway to a sidestreet below and noticed a car wreck. By the time we got home and my mom’s landlord came running out to tell me I needed to get to the hospital, I knew the feeling I’d had was right on. That mangled piece of metal was my grandparents’ car. I hadn’t recognized it when I saw it by the side of the road, surrounded by EMT’s and squads. Maybe I didn’t want to recognize it.
Shirdan drove me to the hospital. He was driving stickshift, but held my hand at the same time; I can still feel his warm hand when I let myself remember that day. We arrived at the ER and I walked around until someone noticed my questioning look — doubtless a familiar look there — and took me aside. Again the touch. Only this time it came in the form of a little grey-haired ER nurse. As I cried out “Where are they? Where is my grandma?”, that little nurse took my hand.
She said, “Honey, it was a really bad car wreck. Your grandma was hurt really, really bad…..She didn’t make it.” All the while patting my hand. At the time I don’t think I even felt her touch. But I remember it now, over a decade later.
My mother, who’d received word separately, was there, too. I don’t remember who got there first. I remember clinging to her and crying, some of the few tears I shed during the whole ordeal. Grandpa was hurt, but would make it. I can’t imagine the anguish that must have pierced his painkiller-induced grogginess! His wife was dead! He was obviously in pain, but he made his (and her wishes) clear when he uttered two words: “No wake”.
They ER was ill-equipped to handle his injuries, so he was sent to a hospital in Columbus. My mother and I followed the ambulance, ambulance chasers in a somber sense, and arrived a few minutes after the squad brought him in. And again we waited. Another ray of light appeared in the form of my friend Rosa. She appeared and enveloped me in a big, squishy Rosa hug. Thank God for full-figured mamma types. 🙂 Again the touch. This time in the form of Rosa brushing my hair. Right there in the ER, she got out a hairbrush and brushed my hair. She and I have lost touch through the years, but I vividly remember that tenderness.
Grief is such a strange thing. My grandpa had to stay in the hospital for quite some time, and missed grandma’s funeral as a result. Mom and I, propelled by shock I suppose, were the most “together” at the funeral home. We went around comforting others. Grandma was an English teacher, and active in her church’s ministry with developmentally disabled adults, and the calling hours preceding the funeral saw many unfamiliar faces filing through the room. All of them had been touched by her. But still we walked and ministered and shared good memories. I still don’t know if it was shock or if it was just God’s comfort. I suppose they’re equal in most ways.
I hardly cried. Relatives converged on my grandparent’s house to gather and reminisce and take care of “business”. But grandpa was still in the hospital, so being there in that house with all those people not normally there — that was surreal and awful. One day during all of this, I retreated to the woods which abutted my grandparents’ property. There, in my familiar and safe getaway, a bed of pine needles in a pine grove, I sat cross-legged in the softness of that spring day and howled out my grief. It was so raw.
But then I was done for a while. My teachers at college were all very understanding, especially my accounting teacher. Alex Roletta is his name, and his wife Lois and he used to drink coffee and talk with my grandparents at the doughnut shop. Again the touch. His eyes were so sad and sincere when he spoke his condolences to me. You don’t have to touch someone physically to touch her heart.
Grandpa lived until 1990, as I recall. He tried to be brave and keep some normal routines in his life, but it was hollow and meaningless without her. It was for all of us. They had a big picture window in their livingroom, and as far back as I could remember, they’d stand with their arms around one another waving to us as we backed out of the driveway to leave after a visit. After her death, we’d pull in the driveway to see a different inner world at that house, with my grandpa slumped in his recliner watching TV or dozing. I was young and selfish, hurting and confused about things of my own, and couldn’t face the rawness of the pain there, so I avoided the house. I feel terrible about that to this day, even though I know why I did it.
It wasn’t all doom and gloom, but there was a shadow cast over everything. He came to my graduation, though. He beamed, so proud. I know he was thinking of how proud my grandma would have been. We started going to restaurants for holiday dinners. It was painful trying to be cheerful on those days. I think all of us would have rather just stayed home and denied the holiday was even there. It just felt so empty.
When he was in the hospital later, with congestive heart failure, I visited him. I’d just sit and read while he dozed or watched TV. Again the touch. This time, it was just the action of being present that touched. My mom told me later how he loved how I’d just sit and be there. He hated small talk, so that’s the best gift anyone could give him.
Writing this is so painful; I’ve never actually thought about it and put it down in writing. I’ve related bits and pieces to those close to me, but never the whole story and the incredible import of the little things which transpired over its course. I am saddened to think they never got to meet my wonderful husband or my step-dad. Tears did not come easy to me then. Today, especially as I write this, they flow freely when my heart is touched.
But there are many gifts I carry with me to this day. I love nature, especially birds. I love to read — I have to read. I am excited about learning. Oh, when I think of the fun they both would have had on the web…Once they got over the technology of it, they’d have loved it. Okay, now I’m smiling again, and I think it’s a good place to stop.