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February 3, 2010

So far, I’ve lived 35 years, was lucky enough to have known, and remember, three of my four great grandparents and all four of my grandparents. I lost both of my granddads last decade, both to prolonged illnesses after years of sickness, both smokers, both World War II vets, both Parkinson’s sufferers. Can I just tell those of you that don’t already know that Parkinson’s sucks, and every time I watch my dad’s hands tremble when he’s doing something with precision, lining up a nail and hammer, let’s say, or putting on my nephew’s sneakers, my heart sinks a little.
Now, both of my grandfathers played huge parts in my life. If it wasn’t for them, I wouldn’t know how to ride a bike, or swim, or appreciate the loony, racist humor of the Peter Sellers version of The Pink Panther. If it wasn’t for them, I never would have known the rough, musky scent of Old Spice. But I don’t know if this is a commentary on men from that generation’s connection with girl children, or girl grandchildren, or if it was just that we all knew they’d die eventually—and soon, please, I wished, in at least one case; get the man out of his goddamn misery—with the prognosis already in place and the list of ailments getting longer by the minute. I don’t know if this was the case, or if a relationship between a grandfather and granddaughter is much different than one between a grandmother and granddaughter.
I learned at a fairly young age how to deal with death and dying. My first experience was with my great grandfather when I was 10—he clocked out in this sleep, right in the living room in his favorite chair, the best way ever, I swear it—so I was old enough to observe, register, and replicate my family’s actions at his wake from that point forward. Because we’re Portuguese, everyone thinks we’re a big, throbbing vein of emotion, the whole lot of us, just waiting to burst, just waiting for any given opportunity, especially at ceremonies like these, to throw ourselves down into open graves and claw at the casket with overwhelming devastation and despair. I don’t know why people think this, but some do.
This isn’t my family, though. We are a stoic crew that speaks little of feelings. We hide most emotion. We’ll crack a joke before we shed a fucking tear, I tell you, I promise you this. Wakes for my family members? They’re like cocktail parties, minus the cocktails. My mother is always the woman with the beautiful, straight face, not a tear, never a quiver at her lips. Even at my grandfather’s funeral, after months of taking care of him, months of showering and feeding by spoon, after 50-plus years of calling him “Daddy,” you’d never know she felt it, that loss and sadness.
Vavó (that’s grandmother in Portuguese, by the way, and what I call my mom’s mother) is no doubt proud of my mother’s death-time demeanor. Strength and poise are important to her, having a strong will, asserting what you want and need. I could probably count on one hand the times I’ve seen her show sadness. It’s just not something that, as a family, we do.
Well, that is, except for Grandma—and that’s dad’s mom. Grandma could show emotion, the only one of us. I think there was one time, though, and I don’t remember who it was, someone described her as “weepy.”
At first I was pissed. There was too much going on, in my life, in my sister’s, and it seemed like Grandma was only giving us half-stories. The week my parents left the state for a month-long stay in the Dirty South, she was suffering from a stomach bug and urinary tract infection, of back pain and insomnia. Grandma called us to tell us this: her symptoms were not improving. Why weren’t they improving? More Gatorade, Grandma. More rest.
But for a while, and for a long while, it turned out, there had been blood in her stool. Then she mentioned a blood test she had taken to Lauren, my sister, that same week, with Doctor No. 12 or whatever (this woman had doctors like you’d never believe), and that her platelets were low.
Lauren had to explain the significance of all these symptoms to me: low platelets and black stool implied blood loss. And so, two days after my parents were gone, she and I readied to play the role of next of kin: the two, supportive granddaughters that would get the old lady into the ER, have her pumped up with IV fluids, maybe address this whole black poop issue, and then get her home to bed, pain free, to sleep.
“I’ll go now,” Lauren said. “I’ll let you know how she looks, what hospital they take us to.”
Lauren called me back sooner than I expected. She said, “I’m calling 911 now. She doesn’t look so good.”
I was close with my grandmother. She’d call me every Sunday night—sometimes on a weeknight, but that was seldom (unless there was a snowstorm and we’d talk snow and all its icy perils, how only a few inches could trap her in her house for days)—between the hours of 7:00 p.m. and 9:00 p.m., and we’d talk for exactly five minutes. That is, unless I trapped her into a conversation that would take longer. I’d do this sometimes, just to see how long I could stretch it out.
When I came out when I was 18 years old, I was most afraid of how she’d react. The rest of them, it seemed to matter little then, but I couldn’t figure out how I’d live my life with Grandma in it less, with her thinking different of me. My dad told me he’d do it, that’s how fearful I was, of her strong traditions. But the next time I saw her, she put me in her arms and squeezed.
She loved everyone I dated, except for when I no longer dated them. She came to my wedding.
She’d take me to restaurants and pay with her credit card. Only grandmothers use Discover, am I wrong? She’d say things like “When are you going to write that book?” It was awesome. She knew and remembered my dreams, was sure I wouldn’t forget them.
I’d say, “It’s written, Grams. It’s just not done.
She’d say, “At this pace, I’ll be dead before it is.”
“I only need, like, a couple more years, Grams. You can do that for me, right?”
And there was one time she looked at me with a face that’s hard to describe, but I know now I’ll never forget.
I was five, ten minutes ahead of the ambulance. Outside Morton Hospital in Taunton, everything was cold—the wind, my hands and nose. The sun did nothing that day, showed up to work only to prove it still had a place in New England.
The ambulance belonged to the Raynham Fire Department, so I knew she was inside, even when the EMTs opened up the back doors, even when they pulled out someone I barely recognized on that gurney, someone that resembled my grandmother, who I had seen only two weeks ago and was healthy, laughing, and chatting with all the other old people at my nephew’s third birthday party, who ate cake, and lasagna, and maybe even a little salad with me, and we had made plans to do something together soon, especially with mom and dad leaving for vacation. We would do something soon, like Olive Garden and a movie, her treat.
But what I saw was yellow skin and a sunken face, a swollen belly bigger than it’s ever been. What I saw as my grandmother in pain, IV in one hand, the other resting on her forehead, shading her eyes from the uselessness of the sun.
In the ER’s little examination room, she said to me and my sister, “You girls are so good to me.”
After Lauren had left to bring my niece to a birthday party, she said, “Your sister is so smart. She wrote down all my prescriptions on that pink pad of paper and asked all the right questions.” I fanned through the pages with my fingers and smiled.
Later she said, “I don’t want to die from colon cancer. I don’t want what happened to Farrah Fawcett to happen to me, so sick she was.”
This was a Saturday morning. Grandma was dead from stomach cancer in exactly one week and one day, just like that, her last wish granted.
At my grandfathers’ wakes, I remember tearing up at that last moment before the service director kicks you out and locks up the casket. I remember tearing up for one more than the other, and it surprised me when fewer tears came the second time around, but whatever. I remember feeling emotional, I remember feeling loss, and I remember hoping for what I always do: That at any given moment during the family’s “final goodbye,” my grandfather would drop the fucking rosary, wipe the wax from his eyes, and move a finger to his lips to rip out the stitching. Starting off with a chuckle, and with black thread sprouting from his lips, he’d finally open this mouth to say, “I got you there, huh? Did I get you or what!” And, yes, we’d all so be gotten.
But Grandma’s was different, Grandma’s funeral, to be precise, because I got through the wake pretty well, staring at her tucked in the corner, hair all wrong, and thinking, This isn’t possible. I refuse to believe this.
And I don’t know if it’s because I had to go to church—I had to go to church—and watch a disinterested priest go through the motions, or if it was because I realized back at the funeral home that I am now of an age where men I don’t know will offer to help me with my coat, or if it was because Grandma lay just at my right in a finely shellacked wooden box, after one week and one day. But with the priest droning on and with me on my knees and with Grandma not putting up the type of zombie fight I would’ve liked to have seen—why did she not put up a zombie fight?—I had, what I at least considered then, momentarily, a breakdown of historic proportions. Mark the date: February 3, 2010. It was hard to remain silent, yes, but I did so. But with every swallow I took, it seemed, more tears would come from my eyes, run along the sides of my nose, and drop on to the empty pew in front of me.
At first I felt ashamed, and then I felt bad for feeling ashamed, and then I just cried. If tears should come anywhere, at anyplace, it should have been then, for her. And so I finally saw my big, dumb crocodile tears less as a breakdown and more a gesture done in her honor, and she’d know what they were for, of course, for all that I lost.

11 responses to “February 3, 2010”

  1. Avatar enid says:

    Wow. That's an amazing post. Angela, I'm so sorry for your loss!

  2. Avatar tee says:

    Thank you Angela . . . for the heart felt memories, for the ones you shared, and the ones you stirred inside of me. My heart breaks for you – as I to have those same conversations with my grandmother on Sunday, and not sure how I would breath without them – and yet, we all know the day will come.
    Thank you for the tears – and forcing me to not take forgranted the minutes we have left with the ones we love (even when they might be driving us a little crazy).
    (hug over miles and internet space)

    • Avatar angelatav says:

      Thanks, Tee. My best advice and probably something you already know? Don't postpone dinner dates with your Grams, like, EVER.

  3. So very touching and intimate, Angela. Excellent writing.

  4. Avatar The Tailor says:

    Angela, all I can say is, wow. For the guts to write something so personally difficult, and the skill to do it so well. I've been lucky enough not to lose anyone important to me yet (knocks on wood), so I can't really imagine what this must have been like. For my part, I'm moving from my home state in a month, and this, if nothing else, has shown me to value time with family.

  5. BB222 BB222 says:

    Your writing is so wonderful Angela, what a beautiful testament to your grandmother and family/generational bonds.
    To paraphrase her "finish the damn book already!"

  6. Avatar llxt says:

    another great leadoff post, atav. and by "great" i mean Pretty GOD DAMNED DEPRESSING in a very, very good way. it's so easy to take these "scenes"…so personal, yet so {potentially} cliche…and make them too big; that's where Romanticism comes from, i guess. but your skill at writing is that you give each moment appropriate space in the narrative. <jealous>

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angelatav About angelatav

On the eve of her 30th birthday, Angela Tavares found black metal, and life has been awesomely grim ever since. When she’s not walking the forests on cold winter nights or crafting inverted crosses with twigs and twine, she’s writing a novel, like everyone else you know. On an unrelated note, she talks for every animal she meets, a habit she’s finding hard to quit, and loves Greek yogurt.

Read more by this author on 30POV .


December 2010
November 2010
On My Honor
October 2010
Witch Hunt
September 2010
If, Then.
May 2010
Small Crimes
April 2010
February 2010
"It's Complicated"
January 2010