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Birthdays go on, even after life ends E-mail
Saturday, 02 November 2013 10:05

By L&T Columnist Rachel Coleman

Tomorrow is Nov. 4, my grandmother’s birthday, and that seems wrong to me. Grandma aspired to live to the century mark, but her body wore out and she wearied of the struggle. By the time she died in August, the number 100 no longer dazzled her with possibility. She was ready to be done with it all.

I understand, at least as much as a silly 45-year-old baby can. Nobody wants to see loved ones suffer, and my grandmother was suffering. I should be grateful — and probably I am — that she found a peaceful death.

Even so, I feel Nov. 4 should be cancelled. Let’s skip Monday, and go directly to Nov. 5.

This is not such an odd notion. I’ve heard people talk about the sense of outrage that descends after the death of a loved one. The sun came up? Traffic continued to flow? The world went on as if nothing had happened?

All that feels so very wrong.

This is where the five famous stages of grief come into play. Denial, the first stage, is what enabled me to meet deadlines and pay bills as my grandmother’s death neared. Of course, I knew what would come, and soon: she could no longer swallow. I didn’t cry about it ahead of time. I knew in my head, but not my heart, and I suppose my heart held out for last-minute miracles.

Anger, the second stage, set in as I contemplated how hard my grandmother worked, from her childhood until her death, and how little acknowledgement she received. This is no judgement of fellow family members. It’s just a description of how a father viewed a daughter rather than a son, and how the world viewed a woman in the workplace for most of the last century. The wage gap is still there for many women — 77 cents to the dollar earned by a man — and I feel more infuriated by that when I recall how Grandma counted and recounted her savings as her money, and her life, dwindled.

Bargaining and depression, stages three and four, are just too complicated for me to sort out these days. I suppose I could reckon the value of my grandmother’s life by assessing how well my cousins and I live out her legacy. Or I could console myself by making lists: the people she helped, the qualities she exemplified, the lessons I learned. Then again, I feel too glum to compile the top 10 of anything. Does that mean I’ve reached depression?

Acceptance, of course, is where I’m supposed to end up. My desire to cancel Nov. 4 proves I’m nowhere near that place.

Instead, I wish I could time-travel back to the 1980s, when my grandma’s house was the best place in the world. Just lying atop the fuzzy chenille bedspread in her dim spare room felt special, as though I had arrived in a different land. Tea tasted better when I sipped it from one of her fancy Royal Albert cups. Dinner often featured the same recipes my mother prepared, but the food somehow tasted better at grandma’s house.

And I wish I could hear my grandmother’s vibrant voice as she told stories with dialogue directly quoted from friends with exotic names like Roxy. Grandma would pause, recollect the conversation, and slowly unroll anecdotes and adventures that hypnotized me. Then again, my grandmother was such a skilled storyteller, she could describe a trip to the Swedish bakery in Omaha so that the errand kept the listener on the edge of the seat.

My grandmother combined all the brisk efficiency of a German farm girl with the sophistication of an executive officer, the kindness of a Sunday school teacher with the grim determination of someone who knew ordinary depression was nothing compared to the Great Depression.

When something pleased her, she deemed it “wonderful-good.”

When a situation disappointed, it was “not so very.”

If Grandma knew I wanted to cancel Nov. 4, she might chuckle, her eyes twinkling, a pleased look on her face. Then again, she might shake her head and suggest that “we should just keep going.”

That, of course, is what the calendar and the rest of the world will do as my mother and her siblings, and I and all my cousins pause on Monday to remember the woman who brought us into the world. The day won’t be the same without her.

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