Tuesday, February 04, 2003

Space and Time

My grandmother died today, at 2:30 this morning. Her name was Carol Jean Devers Sadler. When I've been describing her lately I've used the word "fierce," which is odd: She was a good Christian woman, deeply interested in her grandchildren's activities, church mission work, bridge, mystery novels, and as of this last fall, the National Football League. She would not have described herself as such. But I have in my head a picture as she was at Christmas, all her dear Grandma pudge and her white hair stripped away, sitting up at the dinner table like a baby bird, with the same oversize head and ungainly movement and skeleton coming out everywhere, and I think "fierce": Her will to live, her insistence on her independence, her bright observing eyes. She was so tired, here at the end, and the pain for us then lay in the slow diminishing of that fierceness as she let go, was forced to let go, of the calm independence that made her who she was.

Tonight I used my cell phone (yes) to call the Lawyer and say I would be late for dinner, and afterward I was scrolling down through my list of contacts, and there was Grandma's name and phone number. I knew when I programmed it in mid-January that it would be used for last attempts to connect, and in the end I don't think I ever called her on it. (The last time we spoke was before the Super Bowl nine days ago; she picked the Raiders.) Today, pragmatically (I had just come from a good day of work), I thought "Well, I'm never going to call that number again"; I chose the delete option, and it flashed at me "This number is ERASED."

And it was then I felt truly what her death means. My grandma, her fierce independent spirit, her intelligence and sense of humor and sympathy, her crotchetiness and wisdom and strength, has been erased. It is an absence, a nothing, where once there were so many *things* -- so much richness of experience and desire to experience, love and bitterness and generosity. Her bitterness at my grandfather, but never her cancer. Her love of church music, her faith expressed in the solid oom-pah-pahs of the greatest hits of the Baptist Hymnal and her tinny piano. The stories of her many boyfriends in high school. Taping A&E, discussing "The Corrections" and "Moulin Rouge," traveling to Italy and Great Britain and Old Faithful. Reading and writing. Emptiness. The infinity of space, when those we love aren't around us. That is the pain for us now.