Wednesday, January 14, 2009

I spoke to my grandmother today, which was hard after yesterday's news. And all the more difficult for being hard, I think--we speak every couple of weeks, always with the same easy understanding that we will have the same conversation next time, that I will always order her gently to feel better soon and that she will always fret about the phone call costing me money or distracting me from work. We both know that these chats aren't exchanging new information, since my mother passes on all of the news in both directions much more frequently than our phone calls happen, but this has been our habit since I left Clearwater in 2000 and was no longer five minutes away.

When I sift back through my memories I find it hard to conjure up any of my grandmother being anything but positive. She never pretended that situations were any less serious than they were, but she's a woman who believes in dealing with what is in front of you as well as you can, and it never seemed to ruffle her if we were fleeing to her house in the middle of the night any more than if we were just stopping by to say hello. She's the only family member I have who recognized my tendency to blame myself for things out of my control, to worry tirelessly, and somehow she could always tell when my brain would start tightening. And then it was always a firm look and a, "Now, Sammy, that's not for you to worry about. You just keep your mind on school." She was like gravity, keeping me tethered whether I stopped to think about it or not.

So today's conversation was hard in unfamiliar ways, her voice thin and reedy and her speech slightly slurred. I am by nature a researcher, not willing to deal with what's in front of me before I can gather every single possible fact about it and read thirty second opinions, but of course the very nature of mortality thinks my need for control is pretty funny. She was having a better day, her mind clearer, full of vim and annoyed at the rehab hospital for keeping her hostage. And I was full of terror that this might be our last conversation, and of false cheer while demanding that she be recovered by the time I am in town next month.

But this is how family works, when it actually does work, right? You are the wall when it is your turn to be the wall, no matter if you actually feel less solid than air. I doubt that my grandmother was always as complacent as she seemed but she played the part well because it was what needed to be done. And now it is my turn, no matter how much I would like to avoid calling, to avoid hearing her vanish. It is my turn to pay her the same courtesies of concern, to be as solid as I can, to hold things up for my mother while things get harder and harder for her. It's the only way to be worthy of all the support I have always been given.

It's not going to be easy, but then, nothing ever is.

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