By Ty Phillips
She passed away a few hours ago.
These words don’t register at first. I shake my head, confused and uncertain. What did I just read? I look again, “I wanted to let you know that your grandmother passed away a few hours ago.”
I sit up, shocked, still confused. I think to myself, “Dead? I didn’t even know she was sick.” My fingers are shaking. I fumble and try to reply. “What? How? When?” I am informed that she was being treated for a blood illness of some form for several months and that she had cancer.
How did I not know this? Why had my father or brother not told me? Why was a distant cousin telling me now and not my father or brother?
Memories come flooding in.
Weekends getting away from my mom and having the lax rules of grandma’s—cable, MTV, cinema after dark, candy—essentially everything a young boy loves.
The final memories of my father in the same state as me happened there as well. We were never close, yet the few times I spent weekends with him, we were at grandma’s house. We would rent Arnold movies and get pizza and wings and for brief hours it felt almost like a normal relationship. He wasn’t the scary tyrant of childhood anymore, he was just—I don’t know what he was, maybe an attempt at being a dad for an evening.
Grandma would make us breakfast the next morning—biscuits and gravy. It was always amazing. I haven’t had her version in probably 15 years but I still remember the smell and the taste and the way she would hum Amazing Grace while she cooked in her night gown. Once everyone was eating, she would slice a tomato and cover it in gravy and hum as she ate. We would always tell her how good it was and she would just nod and say “mmhmm.”
Shortly after my dad would leave and it would be just the two of us. My time with my father was brief, unemotional, and full of distraction but she would pick up the pieces of me that he always left behind.
I would sit down on the couch which I can still see the pattern in my mind—one of those 80’s couches that almost everyone had, and she would ask me over and over if I was hungry or thirsty.
Eventually my father moved away and being ever the doting mother, she followed after him. I would only see her one more time after her move but the memories of the first 15 years of my life remained.
When I got the message that she was gone, I was cold yet shaking, dry eyed, yet in pain. I placed the book I had been reading down on the table and just sat for the next few hours.
My father never called me, nor did my brother; neither of whom I have seen or talked to in years. They have moved out of state and on with new families years ago. I can’t say that I am shocked not hearing from them, but even with years of distance, I can’t say that it didn’t hurt.
I looked down at the book I was reading, a treatise on the Four Noble Truths by Gelek Rimpoche and I chuckled at the painful irony as it lies open to the truth of suffering.
Death comes upon us all, most of us unaware, most of us unprepared, and we suffer. We fight back against memories and doubts and there I was, laughing at myself with all of my knowledge and none of my wisdom. Folding my my legs and shutting my eyes, I place my hands and breathe out, “I miss you, grandma.”
And I say my goodbye. I breathe in aware of her and my past and breathe out, letting her go.
Maybe I will see you in my sleep.
Editor: Dana Gornall