A year ago today I took my grandmother shopping for the last time. She had always been a whirlwind in the streets of Charleston and in the malls. No matter my age, my phsyical fitness or the number of sitting rests I took outside fitting rooms, she always whipped my butt on our shopping trips. I went home exhausted every time.
Last year, in a departure from tradition, I drove, I parked, I helped her with her oxygen and her walker. I figured out the location of stores she wanted to visit. I stood beside her as she sat on the tiny seat affixed to her walker. I was in charge of this shopping trip and the significance of that fact saddened me. I'm not an in-charge kind of person. I like someone else to take control and make decisions and someone always had.
At one point we were taking one of our many rests, and a former neighbor stopped by to chat. She had a friend with her who lived near my grandmother but had never met her. I remember thinking how sad that this woman was seeing only the elderly frail version of my grandmother and not the energetic, always interesting, artistic and elegantly attired version. I could see in the woman's face that she was completely indifferent to meeting my grandmother and I thought how pervasive it is that people overlook and ignore one another, especially those older than themselves.
My grandmother and I hit Macy's on one of our last stops. She was pretty tired at this point and was inadvertently knocking merchandise off the racks as I scurried behind her picking it up. She bought a cute pair of shoes and there was a mistake when the cashier rang it up. The reason escapes me, but she had to ring it up again. My grandmother sat down while I handled the transaction. I told my grandmother twice to check her credit card bill when it came later in the month to make sure they hadn't double-charged her.
There was a funny moment for both of us in the restroom when Grandmama couldn't get out of the stall for a second. We both laughed once she got the handle turned. She said she was just starting to panic and I said that the thought crossed my mind that I'd have to crawl underneath the stall on my belly to rescue her.
I drove her to her house and she sat on the couch looking small and tired. I hugged her and wondered if I'd ever see her alive again.
I don't know if she ever wore the shoes or ever saw the credit card bill. She died a month later.
This year has been filled with the firsts that we all experience when we lose a loved one: the first birthday of my life without my grandmother, the first spring, summer and fall, and of course the first holidays. I've been thinking about her a lot lately. I'm coming up on what would have been her 90th birthday (coincidentally, the same day as Kari's mom's birthday)--January 7. She died on January 30, 2010.
I haven't handled the grief in my life very well. Still working on trying to feel it and not stuff it. I'm finding myself repeating the mantra, "I remember you. I remember you. I remember you."
May it be so.