The last time I was with my grandmother I fed her her dessert at my cousin's wedding.
It was one of those full circle moments, this woman who had held me the day I came into the world, first baby of a new generation two removed from her, was now being tenderly cared for herself. She was different by then, but she had many moments of clarity. Snippets of my sharp, funny Gram. I can still see her form an "o" with her thin lipped little mouth, her left hand falling against her lower left cheek when she was pondering something you told her, and responding in her sweet little old lady voice, a drawn out "ohhhh yeah?" I can't still hear her say everytime I went to leave after a visit "ohhhkay. I LOVE you." And she'd touch my face with her tiny arthritic hands and kiss me square on the lips. She wrote me letters in college, and I would write back. I can perfectly imitate her loopy cursive "L" that became progressively shaky and unsure as the years marched on.
I can't believe she's gone. When I went to her house while in town for her funeral, I couldn't imagine that when I sat on the couch she wasn't making her way carefully down the hall with her walker to take her usual seat in the corner of the couch. That I would never again see her puttering around her kitchen making tea. The way she would laugh in the middle of telling a story, and have to pause because she was so tickled. How she would flippantly toss her hand dismissively toward my grandfather, my uncles or my dad when they teased her. She raised four boys and a girl. She could take it. She collected angel figurines and they were scattered around every bit of shelf space in her living room as though she was building a tiny army to carry her home. A picture of the Pope leaned against the candle on her coffee table.
She is gone. Admittedly, having been moved to Arizona from Illinois as a child, I didn't talk to her as much as other family members. But I'd been with her long enough in my first several years to know how much I loved her and how much she loved me, her first grandbaby. I still called her. She still sent cards. I still stopped by to see her every single time I was in town. Kissed her goodbye. Told her I loved her.
I tried desperately to get a plane flight back while she was in hospice, working around the frenetic schedules of a busy job and a large blended family. Two hours after buying my ticket and preparing to leave the next morning, she was gone.
Change had come, without my consent.
In January this year, my aunt, the one whom I just wrote a Christmas post for, to honor her for what she's been to me, fell at home, splintering her femur. She underwent surgery, spent a week in the hospital and was transferred to a nursing home rehab facility, where she is unable to walk or move around on her own; she slurs her words from the narcotic pain medications that numb both the physical and emotional pain she's in. She is not her; she is only able to relay when the care is subpar and how desperately she wants to be home, if she's ever able to reside there again. The sadness and melancholy of her voice makes my heart ache and long for the aunt I knew all my life. She is hidden somewhere, behind a tired, battered woman trapped in the shell of a body that fails her. She isn't able to hand out advice; her strength has gone, at least for now. I couldn't call her to talk about the meeting at the school today about my son's academic challenges; the one after which I cried in the parking lot, unsure of what to do and feeling alone as a parent. She was a teacher, she'd know what to do.
Except now I'm on my own in that.
Change has again come.
I sit next to my son in that same meeting, discussing learning difficulties he has, feeling helpless as to the future course of action. I look at him; the little boy is gone. He grows, exponetially it seems, in a matter of days. His face is dotted with the blemishes of new and unfamiliar hormones, a wispy mustache is appearing above those perfect little boy lips. He still throws his arms around me, but I can't pick him up and walk the house with him clinging to my hip, asking for bananas and snuggling in for an episode of Blues Clues. His voice has deepened, the distance between mother and son, for so long tiny and immeasurable, now sometimes feeling like a chasm that won't be bridged until the maturity of adulthood has fully bloomed. It will be different; it already IS different and that one little boy I had can't, under any circumstances, be seen as a little boy anymore. My heart cracks a little more every time he shares an inside joke with his father, or has a conversation that I'm not privy to with a friend, as his bedroom door closes on my Mom feelings. He'll always be my little boy, and yet he won't be.
I visit with my parents, active, fun and full of life; yet can't help but see the signs of aging on their hands; pronounced veins, bonier fingers, crinkling skin. They aren't rushing off to work and I'm not safe nestled on their couch, our family life swirling around us, talks of dances and little league games and what's going on at work long forgotten. They are retired; but thankfully are more close by than ever. Their focus has transferred from the boy and girl they raised to the two little boys and two little girls their own two have brought into the world. It's a beautiful sight to see your parents loving your children so well; and yet you know you never get to be that little girl, that hopeful teen, that enthusiastic college girl home for the weekend again. It is no longer your turn.
Change, time, marches forward.
You. 41, an age that you couldn't fathom in 1992, so far removed from your everyday reality then. You see those tiny sharp lines at your eyes that signify four decades of smiles. Overall, you look and feel much younger than you are, but see the changes in the texture of your neck, the lessening ease at which pounds fall off. You begin to accept that the four lost babies in your 40th year means that this body, or your husband's, can't quite handle the jobs done so easily in the early 30's. Pregnancy was so easy then. Taken for granted that once pregnant, staying that way for the next 40 weeks. Your elbow hurts most days. Sleep eludes you more than ever, the changes swirling around you keeping you up and anxious at night. There is no turning back that clock. And so you are thankful for every normal minute, feel good day, happy news that comes, because you are now so very familiar with how quickly it can all be pulled from beneath you.
I feel changes every day.
And so, What Now?
For me, the Change That Breaks My Heart is given over to the knowledge that, for me, the Creator of the Universe is fully aware of these hurts; is fully in control and fully standing by for when I move up the chain and am standing in the place of my grandmother, my body giving way to forever.
There is no stopping it.
So, in my humble opinion, it all comes down to Love , because we truly have nothing else.
The social media fights; the political discourse, the stupid obsession with all things Kardashian, none of it matters. They are all distractions from the pain of change we're all fighting every single day. The only thing that heals is the love that I both give and receive. The arms of my husband after a bad day. The quiet bike ride with my daughter on a warm Sunday afternoon. The calls to my aunt to say "I'm still here and I love you". The time spent with my Mom and Dad, making sure they know how grateful I am for them. Encouraging my friends. Helping my coworkers. Spreading joy and silliness through my podcast to give our weary hearts a break and maybe laugh a little at our irreverence.
Change hurts but it grows us; expands our appreciation, deepens our understanding of the universe around us. It may inspire us and give us something, someone, or a memory to live for; to be better for. Nothing ever happens by accident.
All we can hope for is that, through the struggles and fires of change, we figure out who we are supposed to be, in the midst of all of the tangles.