A week ago, my grandmother went to the hospital for surgery: she had an aneurysm that acted as a ticking time bomb, and doctors were reasonably sure that they could fix it with an experimental surgery, grafting some arteries together. I received text messages over the course of the day from my sister. The projected seven-hour affair stretched into ten then twelve and finally, fourteen hours before everything was completed.
The next morning, she didn't wake up.
It was Saturday morning when Keelia broke the news; the tests hadn't gone well, and grandma was gone. Family members had gathered by her bedside at the end, and she had said her goodbyes before she passed.
I didn't expect to learn that grandma had died. I knew that the surgery was risky, that there were always the possibilities of complications. But those complications were the ones that would mean she would be sitting in the hospital bed for a while longer that she expect. The shock left me numb, sad and reflective. My best memories of Grandma take place in her long-time home in Lincoln. I remember the faded yellow clapboards clinging to the side of that farmhouse; the smooth wooden floors and the very steep stairs to the attic. I remember the living room where we watched grainy looney toons cartoons and the dark basement that we never quite ventured into. I remember the ramshackle barn where there rested a number of ancient things long forgotten. I remember the garden that sprouted up every couple of years. I remember bowls of m&ms that my sister, brother and I took liberal handfuls from, often with her encouragement.
Most of all, in this moment, I remember grandma seated at the kitchen table, in the center of the action at the many reunions, visits, dinners, birthdays and holidays. I can hear her voice, hoarse from years if smoking. I remember her exclamations and delight at our stories of what we had been up to. I remember her visits to our home, when she turned on her stories and lost herself for the afternoon hours.
I remember the one time I ever drove grandma, driving her back home to Lincoln. Her hands gripped the seatbelt the entire way, even as I drove (under orders from my mother to take it slow), five miles under the speed limit. If that blue van still exists, the seatbelt likely still has the creases. They moved from that home and it's memories. Plaistow is she a new set of memories emerged. Here is where I would stop by on my way down or home to tell her of everything that was going on. It was in the back yard near the pool where she'd be sitting and talking during the summer parties. It was here where she met her first great grandson, and several months later, her second. It's the memories that create a family, the long tail of history and stories and emotions that form bonds that last a lifetime, inform our decisions and provide comfort in our later years. I can hear her voice over the chatter of those gatherings in Lincoln. I remember that car ride. I remember her visits and our conversations.
I'm sad that there won't be more of those memories, but the ones I have are more than enough to keep her alive for me for the years to come.