Posted by: angelnorman | September 27, 2008

In search of Granny

I don’t expect you to read this, but I felt like I needed to say it anyways, to get it all out of my head. I know it’s long. I’ve been trying really hard not to burden my 3 readers with long, drawn-out blogs 🙂 Forgive me? (You can skip ahead to pics by clicking here.)

Me, September 27, 2008. Liberty, TN.

You know what my problem is? (As if I had just one. Pfft.) My problem is that I have tremendous guilt still when it comes to my Granny. Honestly, I feel like I did her a terrible disservice in her last years, particularly when I think about all the times I should have visited her but did not. I’m pretty sure this is why her death is harder for me to deal with than what might be deemed “normal”. Okay, maybe not. Maybe there is no standard of normalcy when it comes to grief. Fine. But maybe I’m on to something here anyways.

My grandmother and I were super tight, in case you couldn’t tell. We were friends. I spent most of my youth thinking she wasn’t cool, not as cool as my Nanny (dad’s mom), who was about 15 years younger and hipper if you will. I never chose to visit Granny when I was younger unless I was seriously bored. See, Nanny was the grandmother whose house offered the cool movies, the cool games, and the endless amounts of fun with cousins. Granny’s house offered nothing but RC Cola and Channel 5. All. day. long.

Plus, Granny’s husband died when I was six years old, and he had been the fun grandparent between the two of them. I barely remember my Granny showing me affection in the first years of my life, but I sure do remember Grandaddy getting in the floor and playing Barbies with me until he couldn’t breathe and would need to rest. He had emphysema, see, and he pushed himself to his limits for me and my entertainment. Granny always seemed like she was the one who would break up our fun- coming in and talking Grandaddy into no longer playing with me, when really she was trying to urge him to rest, to not sit down in the floor if it was hard on him.

As I got older, Granny and I grew closer, especially when I saw how my family treated her. To me, it was never fairly. I know she was no angel, I know she was imperfect. But I felt sorry for her to my very core because I felt like our family took her completely for granted. They all whined and complained anytime she needed them to do anything for her. She never learned to drive, and being that she lived alone, she would often need to be taken grocery shopping or birthday/holiday shopping. My mom and I drove there a lot to take her, and I used to delight in the old fashioned way she would charge her groceries to her “account”. We’d spend the first ten minutes of our trip to the grocer’s paying the account off from her last shopping trip. Then we’d buy the new groceries and re-charge the account with our new total, which we’d pay first thing the next time we were there. It never made sense to me, but she preferred it. And she let me use it a time or two when I first moved out of my mom’s house and to Bordeaux, where I was dirt poor (but completely, for reasons unknown, happy.)

But I listened to people complain about the things they had to do for her and it made me sick to my stomach. I couldn’t understand how people could not want to give their all for someone who obviously loved them so, their own mother for Chrissake. I thought it terrible that people could depend so much on her for the littlest of things– my mom and I both depended on her to be our alarm clocks every single day (and what a way to start the day with her sweet voice asking me if I was awake yet!) and I’m sure the other kids had things for which they depended on her. So anytime I’d hear them complain, I would promise her repeatedly that as soon as I was 16 and driving, I would take her to the grocery store every week. I wanted to make sure that she knew she could depend on me.

When I turned 18 and was regularly driving, I frequently made good of this promise. In exchange, she opened her home to me whenever I was fighting with my mom (which was a lot back then) or whenever I needed to nap between school and work. She was there to feed me, put a roof over my head when I needed it, and to help me not struggle as much when I moved out on my own. We talked every day on the phone, and she was super proud of my every accomplishment… especially when I married Mike, whom she always teased was her boyfriend. (Mike still refers to her as his girlfriend, by the way.)

After I married, I got my own apartment. She really adored spending time with my at my own place. I lived in a pretty nice apartment, but I had no idea how to decorate it or make it cute. It was pretty rank, too, thanks to failed attempts at house-breaking my dogs. I was so worried that she would come in there and tell me what needed to be fixed or chastise me for not being a better housewife. But the very first time she visited, she went on and on about how cute it was. Never once did she say a single negative word about the place and once when I complained about how it wasn’t decorated the way I wanted, she reassured me, “It’ll come with time.” I still use that advice now, whenever Mike is complaining about how we need better furniture, a new car, financial stability, etc. It’ll indeed come with time.

In the 4 years between my marriage and her passing, Granny moved into the first stages of dementia. She was forgetting things left and right, calling me sometimes and telling me the exact things she’d tell me in the conversation we’d just had. I would always pretend as though she’d never told me anything like that before, and I’d ask questions and be just as interested in her stories as I was the first three times she told them. There was this one afternoon, though, that I will never forget. She called me up and asked me if I could come to her house and stay the night. I looked at the clock and noted that it was 4-something and that Mike was still working. So I said, “Well I can’t right now, I’ll have to see if I can come after dinner.” She said okay, and we hung up. Almost instantly, she called me back. “Can you come and stay the night with me?” I said, “Granny, I will need to wait till after dinner. I was about to cook, but it’ll be probably 6:30 before I can get there.” She sighed and said, “Ask your mom.” I  started to feel a little frustrated and so I said, “I don’t live with my mom, Granny. I need to ask Mike, not my mom. Is something wrong? Do you need me right now? ‘Cause I can’t come right now but maybe–” Then she yelled, “OH JUST FORGET IT!” and hung up on me.

It was so sad.

A little while later, she moved in with a caretaker. Her name was Alice and she lived in Hermitage, near where I grew up. My aunts and uncles sold all of Granny’s things, an act I could not be a part of because she was still living and I was so torn up about them just fighting over her stuff and going through it all. It still makes me cringe when I think about it. I wish I would have went there though because I got very little of hers, really. I wish I had her whole house, perfectly intact, to still visit.

Once Granny moved to Alice’s, though, I stopped visiting her. I was busy with my own stuff, working and trying to make my own way. And this is from where I feel my guilt stems. I don’t really know if I thought maybe she’d get better, that maybe I’d still have a really long time with her, or what. I just… I don’t know. I just did what people do, you know? I just lived my own life. The saddest thing to me is that I don’t really remember her much, from after she moved. I don’t recall visiting her except for one time. I saw her at family functions, of course, but I never just went and hung out with her after that.

Easter before she died, I walked into my aunt’s house and they asked Granny, who looked up at me, if she knew who I was. She just stared at me blankly as if trying to place me… and all my stupid family was just looking at me and her. I remember feeling so angry, so on the spot, and then someone said to me, “She didn’t remember Jason (my cousin) either.” And I remember immediately thinking, “Well to hell with Jason! Of course she didn’t remember Jason…! But this is ME, this is her Angel!” Finally I said, “It’s Angel, Granny.” And she smiled the biggest smile at me. The rest of the day, we talked to one another like normal. If I didn’t know she had dementia, you could have fooled me really. She asked about Mike and she talked about normal things with me, like if I was trying to have a baby still, etc.

A few months later, my mom called to tell me that Granny was in the hospital. I went to her immediately. She was in ICU, and she was only allowed two guests at a time, so I didn’t see her but briefly. I talked to her and she smiled at me, and everything was the way it was. It was, I knew, a precious time, a fleeting moment. So I was waiting in the waiting room for Mike to get there, and my aunt Judy came into the waiting room and said, “She wants to see you.” I heard my mom say, “Me?” And Judy clarify, “No. Angel.”

Courtney and I went back into the ICU area, to her bedside. She smiled again at me and for the first time, asked me, “Do you know yet if you’re having a boy or a girl?” I told her that I was only three months pregnant and wouldn’t find out for at least two months. I told her I wanted a boy, and Mike wanted a girl. And she seemed genuinely happy for me. We laughed and cut up with one another about the ICU, the beeping of something which she said she thought was a hoot owl, etc. She seemed like she’d get well again.

But she didn’t. She got worse. And a day later, she was gone. I will never forget that call in the middle of the night that she had died. I knew, deep down, that it was coming. I knew but I hoped it would never come. I hoped I would have time to rekindle our relationship. I hoped that she would see my child. I hoped that I would be able to see him in her arms, you know? And all at once, with one simple phone call, that hope was taken away from me.

The furneral was so hard. Hard because it deeply affected my family more than I’m sure even Granny herself would have dreamed. Harder still on me because it destroyed my mom. I remember being at my mom’s house the morning of the day that we went to view the body, and I remember that I heard the faint sound of wailing under the rushing of the shower. I ran to the bathroom to find my mom unable to move, totally distraught by her grief. I had to help her dry herself off and everything. It was a terrible pain in my heart.

Then the funeral itself was just incredibly tough to bear. No one would let me cry properly. Everyone kept telling me to not get too upset because they didn’t want me to miscarry. I wasn’t allowed to grieve the way I needed to. I needed to cry my eyes out. I needed to wail, too. But I couldn’t. Everyone always kept their eye on me, or so it seemed.

And now I’m faced with this grief even after all these years. It comes and goes, thankfully, but it seems abnormal still in some way. It feels like, after 4 years, I should be over this. It seems like I would be getting more accustomed to the loss, but I’m not. Sometimes, all it takes is one simple thought of her to send me into a crying fit. Other times, I can visit her grave and not shed a tear until Nick innocently asks me to call her on the telephone because he doesn’t understand why she’s not at her grave.

Today we made it a point to take her some flowers to where she is buried in Liberty, TN. It was an hour drive down 40 E, so we tried to make a day of it by also visiting a local apple orchard that I had heard was awesome. So we go to the orchard first, and we find that it’s closed for the season– much to Nick’s chagrin. He was so bored, bless his heart, and we kept getting on to him for his constant complaining. I finally had to tell him to stop talking completely, to which he inhaled deeply, folded his arms, and said, “Hmph.”… something like every 5 seconds for a good solid minute. It made Mike and I laugh a lot, and I even took a pic of it.

Driving through Watertown was awful because today was their mile-long yard sale and the slowness of the people in front of us was awful! We finally got to Liberty though, and located her grave. My mom had been there only a couple hours before us and had placed the prettiest sunflowers in both cups on the headstone. I knew it was her by how pretty the flowers were 🙂 Nicholas didn’t understand how someone could be underground, so I spent a lot of time telling him about how our spirits go to Heaven but how we don’t need our bodies there, so we bury them. And he starts pulling grass off her grave, and I’m all, “What are you doing?” And he’s all, “I’m trying to  dig so I can get to her!” I shed a tear and then said, “But we’re not going to see her today, ’cause she’s in Heaven.” So he said, “Can you just call her?!”

I let him place the scarecrow and the flowers we bought. I also made a point to introduce him to “her”, and tell her all about how much of a mess he is. We sung happy birthday, and like a complete ass, I started to add, “And many more” afterwards. I said, “And– Um. Oh.” And Mike was like, “Um is right.” And then we just burst into laughter. I’m pretty sure Granny was laughing with us.

We took some pics, had lunch at Cloverleaf Cafe, and then headed to Temperance Hall, where my Granny lived as a child. We spent the majority of our day getting lost, having to turn around, and exploring backwoods areas that we really didn’t want to see. But we saw some of the lovelist fall colors, and we drove over to Center Hill Dam to see the “big water”. All in all, it was a nice day trip.

Pictures are here.

Regarding my guilt, I know it’s natural. I know that everyone who’s lost someone feels that “shoulda, woulda, coulda” feeling every once in a while. I know that healing will, just as Granny says, come with time. I know this and yet it’s hard for me to reconcile my emotions and my logic. Normally I would spend my September 27th wrapped up in something else, pretending that I had forgotten it would have been Granny’s birthday. Hoping that I wouldn’t think about it too much and get too sad.

I think that’s why I had to do what I did today- use a half a tank of gas just exploring places that I used to hear her talk about. Places that I saw such beauty in today. It didn’t make the pain any less, but I definitely do not regret the way I spent my day– in search of a closeness to Granny.



  1. I think that no matter what you are experiencing, it is normal. Grief is normal no matter what it looks like. And I think that writing about it and driving around to places that make you feel close to her is very very healthy. Perhaps another thing to think about is that maybe you didn’t get to grieve properly in general at the time of her actual death (very similarly to me and losing my mom) because you WERE distracted with pregnancy and then shortly after, nearly losing your child and having a kid in the NICU. Then comes the full-time job of being a mom… no time there to grieve. Our society puts a sort of unspoken time limit on grieving. Like, here is the one year anniversary. You should be over it already. But it took me 2 years of therapy, support group, and acting like a total jackass to start to feel some relief. The truth is that you can’t go over it. You can’t go around it. You must go through it. And it sounds like that is what you are still doing. And that is totally okay. You take your time grieving your sweet granny. It was a major loss and you deserve all the time you need.

    Now, related, I’ve been dying to take a trip to eastern Kentucky and to drive around the mountains of Appalachia. My mama always felt a kinship with those folks. She read about them and talked about them all of the time. But she never got to take the trip because NO ONE (ahem) would just take her (but they don’t mind taking their new wife on cruises and such). So, I’d like to make cookies, or bread, or some other small token and take several care packages up there for the folks and disperse them randomly in her honor. I’d like to visit craft shops and talk to the locals. Maybe one day, huh?

  2. grief and guilt suck, they share the same zip code and are close friends… is normal but still stinks….i feel that way too, life gets in the way and it is hard to do things you should do….

  3. i think i have the same guilt… i remember i didnt go to the hospital the night she died (not knowing she was going to die) but i know the last thing i said to her was “i love you and i’ll be back to see you soon” and she said “i love you too hun.” and i remember my daddy came into my room and woke me up to tell me she died. and then i called you right after. you know we were her favorites and probably still would be to this day. i am also sad because she died 6 days before i got my drivers license and i told her as soon as i got it i would come take her out of the house. and i never got to. this post made me bawl like a baby, remembering the funeral and all. i do remember you were pregnant and i do remember being in the room when she said the machines sounded like “hoot owls” cause we cracked up. anyway, i know it will get better with time. i love you tiss.

  4. Mandy: Thanks for that. It makes a lot of sense, the way you explain it, and makes me feel a heckuva lot better about feeling the way I do. You should totally do the Applachia thing, if only to just be somewhere you know your mom would love to be.

    Shea: I agree, they do suck. Getting preoccupied with life does indeed make it hard on us to do the things we know we should do. But I’ve found since her death that I’ve really placed a higher importance on family and familial ties, particularly with my parents and my sister. It’s nice to be able to say that I’ve learned at least a little from it. There are still things I should be doing. I barely see my dad’s family at all, and that’s awful really. But I can say that I’ve improved at least a little from the experience I had with Granny’s death.

    Tiss: I’m sorry I made you sad with my post. I cried while writing it, too, and then even more when I read it to Moma over the phone (she’s been having internet problems she said.) It is very hard to remember her, but if we don’t, if we try not to talk about her, I think we’d be dishonoring who she was. She was a source of light and love in our lives, not of darkness and grief. She was a source of happiness, and to remember her is to remember that light, that love, and that laughter which she brought to us. To remember her is to keep it going.

    There will always be things we want to do that we just can’t do. And it doesn’t mean that those hopes and wishes were in vain, because don’t you believe that Granny was happy just knowing you were about to start driving? Don’t you think it made her heart glad to know that you wanted, first thing, to take her out on the town? That shows how much you loved her, Tiss, and she felt it, even if she never got that trip around town 🙂 She knew she was loved.

    You certainly would have been there with me to do everything we would have done on her birthday, to celebrate her. No doubt about it. We would have had a ball! She would have spilled cake crumbs all over her, because she was just THAT graceful (it’s where I get it, apparently) and she would have said, “I mess like a baby!” to which we would have laughed and laughed.

    Funny thing is, just picturing her saying that makes me laugh again. How awesome it must be to have such an impact on people even years after your death that anytime those folks think of you, they can’t help but smile.

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