My mother's mother, Pearl Trent, died last week. Josh and I went to Kentucky for the visitation and the funeral. My grandmother was quiet with Alzheimer's for 13 years. Half my life and there I stood looking at the casket trying to remember my grandmother ever saying my name. I couldn't even remember the sound of her voice. I do remember one summer I went to live with my grandmother for a couple weeks on the farm. There was fishing and cats and land going back and back and back. I remember the farmhouse like a wood paneled dream and how the carpeted floor popped in places. I remember the smell like the land was in the walls and that somehow the walls were very old and still very alive. There were noises all night--the coyotes screaming outside and neighbor dogs barking back like they could do a thing about it. And my grandmother. Quiet as far back as I can remember. She was so at one with the farm that to remember one is to remember the other, and to go back to the farm now would be like visiting a grave. I didn't even think about driving out there. I should have.
My mother's family doesn't get together often, but there was a reunion around my grandmother's body. It looked little enough like my grandmother that I had to keep telling myself what we were there for. She was so preserved and clean. I knew chemicals and makeup were doing that. They were keeping an image of rest. My cousins kept saying how my grandmother looked asleep. She'd lost a lot of weight and you could see that in her nose. It had the sharp flares of an orchid. The lighting was a soft red so my grandmother's skin looked like it still had blood running under it. I have seen recent pictures. My grandmother has not looked that way in a while.
One of my uncles didn't get far from the casket. He didn't say much until after the funeral when it seemed like all of a sudden he realized other people were there. The grieving was like that. My mother spent a lot of time looking at her hair and nails and arranging every little thing in the room. One of my cousins fainted. Another was fine until she wasn't. People were talking about old cars and she just sat in the middle of them and cried. I didn't know how I felt until we got back to Kansas City and I remembered everything like I had seen it in a movie. I don't remember how anything smelled. I don't remember being cold or hot. I ate, but I don't know that I tasted anything. All I did was see everyone else.
Bringing up all those memories and seeing those people I hadn't seen for so long made me sick with guilt. I drove back to Kansas City with a cold. There is an entire branch of my family I have ignored for going on a decade and they were all there saying, "Remember when?" I pulled up those memories and they looked like trees grabbed at the roots by a tornado. How dare I put one arm in the ground and try to walk away from it when my grandmother had no choice but to be buried little by little until she was all gone with no way of coming back? I'm only here because she was here first. Oh, Pearl.