At the end of 2017, my Grandma Sue was in the hospital. My mom and I visited her before I left Colorado for Portland, from home to another home. I wore a vintage silk printed skirt and a mock neck cashmere sweater. I said I was a little overdressed for an afternoon shopping, but she said, “No you’re not.” We stayed for a while, and then that was it, I kissed her on the head and we left. In the car we talked about having flowers waiting for her when she got home. She loved flowers.
At the beginning of 2018, she died.
It’s funny the ways our lives connect, like a big Venn diagram. When I was little it always seemed impossible that my grandparents had a whole big important life that never intersected with mine. But they did. They were teenagers, they met and married and had tiny kids when they were still so young. They cried and laughed and grew and their children had children, and I was there. I’ve got that tiny triangle of overlap, my circle intersecting theirs.
I would find a chair at my grandma’s table, sitting with her while the kitchen swelled with people. When we left their house I would dash into the garage to say goodby to my grandpa, his grey mustache always scratchy on cheek. I’ll never really know them, the spanning years were a solid thing I could never get through. Maybe if I had asked more questions, maybe if I hadn’t assumed the comforting presence of them was all they were to me, maybe if we had lived closer and I could have gone over for dinner once a week (Friday night, macaroni and cheese night.) Maybe, maybe, maybe.
It’s not just my grandma dying that’s gut-wrenching. It’s the house being sold. It’s the traditions changing. It’s the hierarchy of the family shifting, the possibility that events will be less and less populated until my children don’t know their second cousins, until a birth happens without being known. People will meet and get married, and the family tree will branch out so far beyond what I could even comprehend, beyond what we could fit into anyone’s house, a hundred Venn diagrams intersecting and I’m just one circle.
The traditions I’ve grown up with will dissolve and reform. New ones will rise up and take their places. I’m just one branch dividing into my own family, a new matriarch living the life at which my own grandchildren will marvel at, a life they’ll be unaware of. The shape of my grandparents will get softer and fuzzier with age, until they’re two spots in my memory: one tall and stern, the other sitting at the head of the table, back rounded, eyes bright.