This last week was the nine-year anniversary of my mom’s, your grandma Jean’s passing. With each passing year, I find the anniversary is less and less on my conscious mind as the day approaches. Your Aunt Kim texted me the day before this year, “I’ll be thinking of you tomorrow” and it took me a moment to figure out why she was saying that. Of the memories I have of my mom, I try not to dwell on her final days. I was in the room – along with her and your aunts – when both her and your Grandpa Huck passed a few years before, and they’re not memories I care to revisit. That said, I will say this: Mom knew how much it affected her kids watching their dad take his last breathes, and so I don’t find it mere happenstance that she did not pass in two or three hours I sat next to her hospital bed reading while Nancy and Susan slept on the other side of the room, but in the twenty minutes after I lied on the floor next to her bed with a pillow and blanket. Her kids were asleep next to her when she passed, given the news by the nurse who came into check on her.
It’s so easy to read meaning that isn’t there into such moments of life, but it’s that meaning that helps us carry on.
I tried not to dwell on mom’s passing on the anniversary, but her being gone did creep in little ways. The day before, a massage client, a parent and grandparent herself, who had known of your impending arrival for several weeks, responded to my stories of my new sleep habits since your birth by saying no matter how old one’s kids get, parents never sleep the same knowing their kids are somewhere out in the world. “Your mom doesn’t sleep the same, Dennis” she said, a well-intentioned sentiment I let pass without comment.
Otherwise, I was just a little off on the anniversary, a little down without thinking about why, except for a fleeting moment here or there.
It’s so hard to sum up with a person with a few descriptions, a couple of stories, and I’m sure by the time you’re reading this, you’ll have seen plenty of picture and heard tales of Grandma Jean from your aunts and cousins and me.
A few months before she passed, I was home visiting, and the family went to a mall. I had just started dating someone new a few months before. By that point, I already knew the relationship probably wasn’t going to last the long haul, but still, I found myself wondering over to a jewelry store, casually looking at items in the glass cases. Grandma Jean strolled up, looked at the rings, and said, “So when are you going to propose?” I dismissed the idea with a laugh, pointing out this woman and I had only been dating a few months, and asked her what the hurry was.
“I want more grandchildren,” she said, sadly.
I can imagine her holding you. She would have loved you.
The last few months, but in particular, the last few weeks, I have had to make the adjustment of looking at my wife- who I have known as Betsy, Elizabeth (her more formal name she’s known by in a few professional circles), Hon, and Love (my favorite term of endearment for her) – as also your mom. Perhaps more rewarding than becoming your dad, I’m watching her become your mom, seeing that how it changes her day by day. Not to say these early days of parenthood have been easy – it’s been a struggle many days – but I wouldn’t trade it for anything. I’ve found myself thinking a lot of the little things your grandma did for me.
I didn’t appreciate my mom enough growing up. I considered myself a much a “mama’s boy”, much closer to her than my dad, and even still, I didn’t wasn’t grateful enough for the hard work of simply being a parent that she did for me day in and day out. I remember once I asked to make me a cheeseburger for dinner, and when she handed me my plate with a cheeseburger only and no fries, I threw a fit because, as far as I was concerned, a request for a cheeseburger was, obviously, also a request for fries. I would ask for a glass of water or tea or whatever with dinner, and then complain if it wasn’t filled all the way to the top.
A non-food related story: One night in high school, my girlfriend was out with friends in another town a half-hour away, and I was afraid she wasn’t safe. (My high school girlfriend had a rough family life, and there’s a story in that about the first high-stakes confrontation I had with an adult, me being a 16-year-old kid, and I’m sure I’ll tell you that story sometime.) Anyway, my mom got out of bed at eleven o’clock at night and drove with me to the other town to go searching for my girlfriend. When we found her, it turned out the entire thing was a misunderstanding on my part (it’s been over 20 years, so I can’t remember the details much at all), and there was no rational reason why I should have thought she was unsafe. Mom gave me just one, fleeting “I’m going to kill you” look, but after that night, she never brought it up again.
Why am I telling you this? Because, again, no child appreciates their mom enough, and having lost my mom almost a decade ago now, I regret all the times I didn’t show her the appreciation she deserved. And now, a little over month into your life, I’m watching your own mom with you, with you attached to her several hours everyday, her literally giving her body for you, and even as I’m saying this to you, I don’t know if I appreciate her enough day in and day out, but I want to make sure you do.
During your cluster feeding phases, I’ve watched your mom breastfeed you near constantly for hours at a time. She’s been with you when your fussy and near-inconsolable all day long while I’ve been at work. While I do what I can, it’s your mom who sits up every two or three hours in the middle of the night to feed you.
And oh yeah, she pushed you through the most delicate part of her body, a 12-hour marathon of pain you and I will only ever be able to imagine.
I imagine pulling up this particular entry on a day in your early adolescence when you’re being impatient and demanding on your mom. I imagine your rolling your eyes at me and mocking me, but I also imagine my message getting through, and you going to give your mom a big hug.
One last story about Grandma Jean.
A few weeks after she passed, I dreamed one night we were riding in a car together. She was driving. We were sitting at a red light, and she was telling me a story about something, I can’t recall what, but she was very into the telling, so much so, she didn’t notice when the light turned green. The cars behind us began honking, and then pulling around. I was just about to tell her when I realized I was dreaming, and she would be gone again once I awoke.
So I stayed quiet and listened to her for as long as I could.