I've been so, so lucky.
To have reached my thirties with all but one grandparent still alive (my mom's dad died of emphysema- from smoking- when she was 19); to have my 2 blood parents in great health; to not have experienced the awfulness of someone near to me dying... I am superstitiously afraid to type these words in case the gods are watching and decide it's time to reverse my luck.
Yesterday morning my brother phoned me: "Has Dad called you yet?" Instantly my heart plummets, thinking it's bad news about our stepmom, about to begin her second round of chemo. But no: "Grandma Jenkins died this morning." And I can not even begin to conjure up the right feelings about this, if there are any "right" feelings.
Phyllis Jenkins: Hyperchondriac all her life, using illness as a weapon, as an attention-getter. Finally gets her wish with a vengeance: Lewy body Dementia. It took 5 neighbours to help cajole my tiny, almost 90-year-old grandmother into the car that would take her to the respite home. Where she contracted an infection and died. This is horrible of me, but I can't help thinking that if she could have, she would have timed her death to happen while her sons were celebrating my brother's wedding in Mexico: that's the kind of person she was. She wrote letters to my mom when my parents were first married that made Mom shake with fury. She was a poisonous, bitter, unhappy woman. I know that she was orphaned at an early age, grew up too fast, married young and stewed in sneaky, silent fury throughout her long marriage. What twists and turns did her life take that she was like this?
I hope my father has some good memories of her; I know he and his brother agonized, despaired and joked with black humour over her for as long as I can remember.
I spoke to her in January; I only ever talked to my grandparents when I was visiting my dad, because he would phone them every weekend. I am a terrible grandchild- I live thousands of miles away from my parents' families and I haven't liked my dad's parents since I was old enough not to choose the family members I would love. I haven't seen them in about 15 years. Whenever I talked to her she would always lament the fact that we live so far away from England- but I know that my lifestyle would have been a total enigma to her. Talking to the grandparents was something that my brother and I would roll our eyes at and try to escape ever since childhood, the double-shot combo of guilt and deafness that they served us over the phone too rich for our blood. Now my brother the nurse describes the horrific type of dementia my grandmother had and it seems that her death in its early stages was indeed the cliched "merciful release".
With Grandma gone, with stepmom June battling terminal cancer with chemicals that may kill her, I clutch my family (diminished by one person) closer. I grow weepy when I think of how much I love my mother, my brother, my dad, June, Jon. I want to be there for them through thick and thin but my heart quails at the thought of the agonies that lie ahead.
Phyllis, I think your life was full of bitter resentment and disappointments. I hope your spirit is finally at peace, wherever it is.