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Sometimes the information superhighway isn't so super, even in this day and age. Firstly, because some people still don't use it, so information doesn't always pass across the world instantaneously; and secondly, because sometimes the information crossing that superhighway is not what you want to hear.
I found out yesterday (Sunday) that my Grandma passed away last Tuesday. Her funeral took place at 2:30pm today AEST.
My parents were just arriving into Bucharest on Sunday, and finally had access to internet after not having reasonably priced access to phone or internet since they heard the news from my Uncle, and my Uncle is a Luddite (this is not a criticism, just a statement of fact), thus the delay. My Uncle had tried to call me a number of times, but he doesn't have to make international calls often, and it turns out he was only pressing '0' once before the UK country code 44, so his calls must have been going to someone else's Australian mobile number.
Either way, despite the fact I knew this was coming, it still felt horrible reading those words in the Gmail email preview as I clicked through to read the full message from my parents. It was like a kick in the guts, and after a relatively positive couple of days previous, was even harder to take.
When I left Australia I told my Grandma to look after herself, and that I'd be back for her 100th birthday. That last day I saw her, I knew I'd be emotional, but was totally unprepared for her crying as I hugged her and kissed her on the cheek and said my goodbyes. I was trying not to cry before I left, but as soon as she started I couldn't hold it in any longer.
I remarked to my parents about it, somewhat in shock, because my Dad's family have never been big on emotion. My Grandma, like all of her immediate family including my Dad, generally held her cards close to her chest. I mentioned it to my Uncle last night when we spoke on the phone finally, and he said that she told him about it when he visited the next day, and even she seemed surprised by her own behaviour.
We both knew that day that there was a pretty strong chance this would be the last time we would see each other. Neither of us said that, but our tears were pretty clear indication that we knew, though I'm sure we both hoped otherwise.
As with my Mum's mother, I only really got to know Dad's mum better as I got older, over the past few years. With living in different states most of my life, my interactions with Grandma were intermittent and brief. Probably the longest amount of time I spent with her was staying with her and my Uncle in 2002 because I was then living with my parents but they'd gone away for a couple of weeks. Not being able to drive, their then home in the Gold Coast hinterland wasn't as accessible as needed for getting to work, buying groceries, etc., so I stayed with Grandma and Uncle John.
Visiting Grandma about every second week during the time I lived in Brisbane (September 2009 to January 2011), we built up something of a bond, though generally not through conversation or shared interests. It just happened, maybe because there are so many things I have inherited from her - good and bad: stubborn Aries traits, small (especially facial) features, worrying and over-thinking things, a love of crosswords (shared with both Grandmothers).
I also keenly understood her frustration and rebellion against being placed in a home. It was a necessity - she was no longer able to look after herself, and it was too much for my family to take on, due to a very bad fall - but to go from being fairly independent and active to being in a hospital and then not being able to go back to your own home was something I understood would be very hard. My Uncle did take her to visit, but it must have been so hard for her.
She did end up enjoying the home, despite her initial feelings. The staff there were absolutely wonderful with her, and she quite clearly touched a nerve with them. Despite being of a generation preceding political correctness (I would often cringe at things she said, but knew it was just a generational thing, that she did not hold prejudices), staff at the home of varying ancestry loved her and joked with her. She often displayed a cheekiness with the staff that we as family rarely saw, and I finally got to see more of that over the past few years.
Also generational, I know many of the things I do (nude self-portraiture), the way I live my life (living with a partner before wedlock, piercing my nose), were concepts she would not have understood / did not understand (she did stop staring at my nose-ring when talking to me after about a week), because her life was so utterly different to mine, but she rarely judged, to my knowledge. Her comments, when she did make them, seemed more concerned than judgmental.
I do regret never asking her about Grandpa and her relationship with him. I would have liked to hear her talk about him, but I suspect she wouldn't have opened up much about that. Unfortunately she burnt a lot of papers and photos at one point, but letters my Uncle passed to my Dad give an impression of their love for each other, and their affectionate joking, with Grandpa referring to Grandma by her sisters' pet name for her, Scraggie Aggie.
I know that my wanting her to reach her 100th birthday was utterly selfish, and even though she didn't reach that milestone I am still proud of her. Since soon after I left Brisbane she was on oxygen, so was pretty much bedridden, and her quality of life dropped quite substantially. She would make comments to my parents about "how much longer", quite clearly tired of life, so it was really just time; I would not have wanted her to hang on for the sake of a number, or for me.
For all that I know that, it was still hard to receive that email yesterday, and still very hard today.
The portrait above was taken on my Dad's birthday in 2007, about a year before she had her fall and was put into the home.