By Troy Headrick
It’s possible some of you may have noted my absence these last couple of weeks. There’s good reason for that. My maternal grandmother, a woman with whom I lived when I was growing up because of the instability of my parents’ marriage, died eight days ago now. She was 103 years old.
If you read my last two blogs, you’ll recall that I was “giving thanks”—I referred to this as a series and was thinking it would run three or four entries long—to people whom had played especially influential roles in my life. Back when the idea first came to me for the series, I knew that I’d do one on my grandmother, my Mema, as I called her. Little did I know at the time that she’d die before I had a chance to get it written.
This blog will be a mash-up of sorts. Part of it will be a narrative of her last day and how witnessing her demise affected me. The other part will give thanks for some of what Mema passed on. Of course, I’ll limit myself to approximately 600 words in this piece. To truly thank my grandmother, for all the wonderful things I learned from her, I would need many more words than that.
I want to begin by saying that we knew she was dying because my wife and I got an ominous telephone call announcing this tragic news. We immediately loaded up a few things into our car and headed out to a small town, called Eldorado, in western Texas.
When we got there, she was almost entirely unconscious. I did speak to her all that day, and on one wonderful occasion, after I’d announced that my wife and I were with her at her bedside, she nodded her head ever so subtly to let us know that she’d heard what I’d said and was aware of our presence.
For the rest of that day, I watched my Mema—the woman I’d remembered having more strength and stamina than just about anyone else I’d ever known—slowly decline. My cousin, an RN, kept whispering that her breathing was changing. Even I, with my untrained eye, could see that. Then, suddenly, around 5 p.m., she seemed to rally, so my wife and left to go check into the one motel in little Eldorado. We vowed to return as quickly as possible. Unfortunately, before made it back, she passed…
Grieving is physically, mentally, and spiritually hard on a person. The night she died I had my first serious stomach ailment in years, and the day she was buried, a Saturday, three days after she’d left us, I got a case of the flu, my first in three or so years. These were not coincidences.
I want to focus on two very important lessons my Mema taught me. She taught me to love everyone. She loved all those she came in contact with and would often tell near-strangers, people she’d known after having only a single conversation with them, that she “loved” them. Some might see this as an eccentricity. I saw it as her way of closing any sort of distance that might separate her from the person she was interacting with. For her, she had a very spiritual connection with people, and in fact, with all living things. She thought that we were all made of one subject, and were, for all intents and purposes, all of one body, mind, and spirit.
Mema also taught me to remember where I came from—an important lesson for someone who’d spend nearly two decades roaming the world—and to cherish family. Often, unfortunately, with the death of a strong matriarch, kinfolk can become disjointed and estranged from one another. Our family, at the time of Mema’s death, had some major fissures that were threatening the integrity of the whole. Because blood ties meant so much to my beloved grandmother I am going to honor her memory by doing my part to keep those fault lines from widening and deepening. I am going to help mend wounds and to close divides.
This was both hard and easy to write, and I’d truly love to hear your responses. Thanks for reading.
Troy Headrick’s personal blog can be found here.