Enlightenment comes in odd shapes and sizes, and I've never found that to be more true than when my grandmother was suddenly diagnosed with a terminal form of cancer.
Like the rest of my family, I was stunned to learn that we would never again share another Christmas with her, but while I shared deeply in my relatives' concern for Grandma's welfare, the thought of losing her left me oddly bereft of tears. It gave me no comfort to realize that although I loved and respected my grandmother, I really didn't know her.
In spite of my active imagination, I saw her simply as a quiet old woman with white hair, who didn't drive, and who spent most of her days making quilts. She was so much like every other grandmother I knew that I struggled to find a distinction that set her apart beyond our shared bloodline. But try as I might, I couldn't see past the trappings of her age.
Regret wasn't an emotion I wanted to live with, so I attempted to console my conscience with a promise to do whatever I could to ensure that my grandmother's last days were comfortable.
Two days later, my mother asked if I would sit with Grandma before her next doctor appointment and I agreed. But as I sat beside Grandma in the waiting area, I found myself unprepared to deal with her anxiety over her deteriorating health. To distract her from her concerns, I gestured to the corner television and asked, "Grandma, have you ever watched this soap opera before?" She nodded her head, then began to speak, detailing the many conflicted characters on the program and all of the scandalous plots and schemes they were involved in.
Now, considering her earlier complaints, I found this terribly endearing. After all, this was a woman who struggled to remember the names of the medications she was taking, and yet she could relate with gusto the plotline of John and his wife, Margo ... who truly loved Tyler ... the man whose love-child Margo was secretly carrying. Why, the truth was so obvious I couldn't understand why I hadn't realized it sooner.
My dear grandmother was a bit of a romantic. Just like me.
Suddenly, I saw her differently. The common ground we now shared changed my perception of her dramatically. The hair I'd always termed as white didn't seem so much white anymore as ... blond. Platinum blond. Like ... Marilyn Monroe. And the woman's inability to drive wasn't so much about being dependent upon others, but very much like the heroine of "Gone With the Wind," Miss Scarlett O'Hara, who had always relied upon the kindness of strangers for all her needs. And perhaps Grandma's preference for spending her days quilting was less about whiling away her time and more about adding a bit of color to an otherwise dreary world.
I was reminded of Hester Prynne, the Puritan woman in Nathaniel Hawthorne's classic, "The Scarlet Letter," who used her gift with a needle to embroider a brilliant red letter A on her bodice -- the badge of shame she wore for succumbing to the temptation of forbidden love.
So, as I begin to prepare for a holiday season without my grandmother, I mourn the loss of a fellow romantic as well. But while I no longer feel the sense of detachment I earlier felt, I am still without tears. Though I can certainly feel my grandmother's absence as I place one less gift beneath my Christmas tree, I find I cannot weep for the gift of her memory, re-wrapped and bound to my heart with a tie stronger than blood.
No, I can't cry because I lost her. I can only smile ... because I found her.
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