Tuesday, April 13, 2010

And Then Came Mourning

This past Saturday morning my phone started ringing at around 9:30 AM. My first thought was not "who in the world would be calling me this early on a Saturday?" as it would have been most any other time. No, instead my thought was this: "Grandma Ann must have passed away." I answered the phone and found that my prediction was true, and that my last surviving grandparent had passed away sometime around 5AM. My parents gave me the details, and I visited with them for a little bit before they had to go because someone was at the door. Once I hung up I immediately sent a text to several friends, and then posted the news on my Facebook status, and then went back to watching whatever it was I had been watching before the call came in. By that afternoon I had received dozens of condolences from friends, family, and co-workers, chatted briefly with a cousin about plans for services, and watched several more hours of movies and TV.

I had not, however, yet shed a single tear.

This, as those who know me well can attest, was a bit unusual. After all, I'm the sort of person who tears up at the drop of a hat; tears of joy, tears of rage, tears of despair -- if the emotions are powerful, they escape from my bleary, reddened eyes, and there's nothing I can do to stop them. At best, I can delay them; when I got word of my Grandma Kidwell's passing several years ago while I was at work, I almost managed to get to the front door without losing control. But then my shock-induced clumsiness caused me to accidentally rip a box of markers from the wall next to the whiteboard where I was signing myself out, and all pretense of self-control went crashing with them.

Still, while the lack of overwhelming emotion was odd, I was able to rationalize it. After all, when my mother first called me to say that Grandma Ann had started to go downhill and the doctors said she probably wouldn't last a week and that I should probably head home immediately if I wanted to say goodbye, I had a breakdown so overwhelming that I was glad TopGun wasn't at home to witness it. Then I got a call from dad several hours later saying that Grandma had bounced back a little bit and wasn't in quite the danger zone they had originally thought, but it would still be a good idea to come say goodbye if I wanted her to know who I was. So I headed to Miami so I could find closure and peace with the idea of my Grandmother's impending mortality.

That was a month and a half ago.

Since then, Grandma's health has been a roller coaster ride, with her going back and forth between periods of confusion and coherence, times where my dad and uncle were sure she was about to pass and times where it seemed like she might last for months. But every time she'd fade, the bounce back would be just a little less than the time before. And even when she seemed to be making progress, he health had deteriorated to such a degree that she was unable to take care of herself and needed supervision 24-7 -- a situation that was complicated by her unwillingness to go to a nursing home. Back when she was in full control of her faculties, she even threatened to starve herself to death rather than go into a home, so my dad and uncle were put in the unenviable position of trying to balance respecting her wishes against doing what was best for her. For most of the last few months, my uncle had been staying with her full-time, first at the nursing home and then at her own house, but he finally had to return home to Maine, at which point my dad took time off of work to stay with her. By that point the writing was definitely on the wall, as Grandma was sleeping the majority of the day, and even when she was awake, she wasn't really there. In less than a week, she finally went to sleep and did not wake up.

All of which is to say, in effect I've been mourning the loss of my grandmother for the better part of two months, so maybe the fact that I didn't have a repeat of my initial breakdown wasn't that unusual.

Except, of course, that it's me we're talking about, and a lack of overwhelming emotional response should really be a red flag to anyone around me.

Now, that's not to say I wasn't sad, or that some tears hadn't fallen. When I read the card a friend from church had written, I teared up a little; words of comfort and support from my best friends did the same. But when Sunday evening rolled around and I still hadn't really been able to feel the impact of her passing, I started worrying a bit. As I told L'il Brother late that night, I was a little scared of when and where the emotional dam was finally going to break. I even tried to jump-start it as I lay in bed, focusing on the sense of loss and the realization that I would never see her again on this earth, but all that did was make it harder to go to sleep.

The next morning I got up at 6 AM to get ready for my morning work-out with TopGun. While waiting for TopGun, I started watching an episode of Torchwood, the slightly darker spin-off of Doctor Who. Although the tone of this particular episode had been fairly light-hearted through most of it, towards the end the characters attended a funeral, at which the estranged father of the deceased sang "Danny Boy." And while that didn't quite bring on the waterworks, I could tell it had primed the pump.

Shortly after the funeral scene ended, TopGun came out of his room, cranked up the music on his iPod docking station, and it was workout time. We started doing Hindu push-ups, and I found myself struggling with them more than usual; I switched to regular push-ups, and found that even those were proving unusually difficult. I punched the ground and cursed at myself in frustration. TopGun shook his head at me and said the same thing he always said when I let my frustrations get in the way: "Stop with the negativity; it doesn't help, just makes things worse."

Cue the waterworks.

I did manage to walk hurriedly into my room and close the door before really losing control, but for the next several minutes it all came pouring out -- all of the sadness and sorrow that had been building up in me for the past two days. After I had exhausted that first torrent of emotion and had composed myself a bit, I headed back into the living room. Not too long after I had gone into my room, TopGun had taken his iPod and went back to his to continue his workout; I could hear the music coming from the other side of the house. Feeling strangely invigorated, I dropped down and knocked out a couple of sets of push-ups with no problem; apparently my earlier attempts had suffered from the emotional weight I had been carrying around.

TopGun came out to check on me, and I told him I was feeling much better. He said that he could tell I'd been holding everything in, and he was glad I was finally able to let it all go; I told him that I had been trying to let go and had failed utterly, and then joked "Who knew all it was going to take was you yelling at me?"

The mind is a funny thing; two days of sympathy and condolences and sad thoughts hadn't made a dent in my emotional shut-down, but let me watch one British Sci-Fi show with a funeral and have my good friend give me the same advice he's given me time and time again, and the dam gets blasted to smithereens.

Some of you may be reading this and thinking that it's not a very fitting memorial for my grandmother, and you would be right; very little of this post has been about the person she was, or what she meant to me. I'm not sure I'm quite up to that at this point.