Like most things in life, you don’t know what you’re going to miss until it’s gone.
I spent the first 19 years of my life living on a small family-run dairy farm. For the majority of my teenage years, this involved milking cows with my mother and my grandmother, morning after cold, early morning.
I mostly hated it.
Waking up at 5 am, throwing on piles of ugly clothing, marching down the path to the barn. Grunting hello as we fell into our milk-maid routine together. Every day, same thing. I felt like those years would stretch on into eternity.
And then one day, it stopped.
I grew up. I left the farm.
And then, the farm left too. The cows were sold, the yard was sold, it was all sold, everyone left.
For the most part I hardly noticed — I was finally getting out, making friends, and I’d met Andrew. I was so dazzled by my happy life, I didn’t much notice the only place I’d called home evaporating under my nose. And like most things, you don’t know what you miss until it’s gone.
Now when I recall those years, I remember stunning scenes such as this: grandma throwing open the double-wide barn doors, standing there, taking in the glorious sunrise. My heart would catch in my throat. And haunting truths would hit my cold, sleepy morning brain: This is important. This is beautiful. This is significant.
This won’t last.
My grandma passed away this past week.
I knew all along that hers would be the grand-parental death I’d find the most difficult.
I didn’t visit my grandma much these past few years, and there’s no excuse for this.
And yet… there’s one possible reason.
I think the rarity of my visits might have had something to do with my dad’s illness and death. During that time, I visited him often. It was devastating. Others stayed away because they didn’t like to see him suffer and wanted to remember him as he was before he got sick. Was that selfish? Or kind? I think that in the case of something sad and bad like this, there are no right answers. It’s all terrible. People are hurt, people are scared, people are processing what this means for them.
So, I was there a lot for my dad. And then not really for my grandma.
Mind you, my dad had three kids. Grandma had 16 grandchildren. Maybe I shouldn’t project too much meaning onto this. I felt uncomfortable visiting her these last few years, trying to help her remember my name, and that I was the daughter of her deceased son. I wondered if it was really necessary to put her through this series of mental gymnastics every time she saw me. She did a lot in life, and while she was a huge part of mine, I was a much smaller part of hers.
So I’ve been trying to figure out how to process my feelings.
I think it’s a good thing I didn’t think too much about it before the funeral. I would’ve driven myself insane, going in circles, pondering what to say, what to convey about my relationship with this remarkable woman.
Now that the funeral is past, I can maybe take some time to think about it.
I’ve written about my grandma before.
But here’s something I’ve never told anyone, aside from a few very close friends, as I recently realized a fairly painful truth: for the period of a few years, my grandma was actually my best friend. Not that I was hers, but that she was mine.
I’ve always been quite socially awkward. I suppose a psychiatrist could have a real field day analyzing my strange social tendencies. But suffice it to say that in spite of having been born looking quite adorable, it wasn’t long before I evolved into a frumpy bookworm who was excellent at alienating, and feeling alienated by, any and all peers. Living out on the farm, I didn’t have many occasions in which to improve my sadly lacking social skills. And so, while my peers were socializing with each other like normal kids, I was playing Dutch Blitz with my grandma whilst consuming all her cookies. I also read all her books and went for a lot of long walks with her. For the stretch of several years, this was pretty much the extent of my social life. And then suddenly… it wasn’t. My world opened up, and I bounded off into it.
I think Robert Frost put it best: “Nothing gold can stay.”
Not those awkward years when your grandma was your only social outlet.
Not family farms.
And… not the people you love.
I think the best lesson I can learn from this today, is to acknowledge the treasures currently in my life, because it’s all fleeting.
And so, excuse me. I must go snuggle with Andrew.