I have crazy respect for people that are fearlessly able to live life on their own terms – those that know who they are, what they believe in, and have instincts that rarely lead them astray. My grandmother Sandi was just that type of person, and over the weekend she left this life just as she lived it – on her own terms.
Sandi was probably the most vibrant, if not the most ornery person in my entire family, if not my entire circle of acquaintances. She was my last living grandparent, and had lived independently until last summer when she moved in with my aunt. She was 87 years old, married four times (I think, I lost count after she married my grandfather twice), and smoked cigarettes for as long as I can remember (and probably looooong before that.) She would never allow herself to be called “Grandma” by me, my siblings or my cousins, so, she became known to us as “Sandi Mom”. Pretty sure that she came up with that one – and she was scary enough that none of us dared to argue, and funny enough to make us not take it too seriously.
My sweet mother has had so much to deal with as of late, and my whole heart goes out to her as I know she is having an especially difficult time with the loss of her mother. I hope she isn’t offended with my public disclosure of who Sandi was – good and bad – and what I learned from her. A lot of what I know about Sandi before I was old enough to remember comes from just a few assorted stories I’ve had to kind of piece together in my mind, because they weren’t your typical family stories – you know, the ones told and retold at every family gathering because they are funny, embarrassing or meaningful. Sandi, in her younger years (for lack of a better definition) was sort of a “functioning” alcoholic. As I understand it, she was very abusive to my mom, aunt and grandfather in the days they lived together under the same roof. To this day, my mom carries so much emotional baggage from this time of her life, and while she hasn’t expressed it, I can assume that Sandi’s passing has brought many of these emotions to the surface. Emotions that she had buried to keep a peaceful relationship with her mother as her health failed in the latter years of her life. So, if you are the praying kind, I humbly ask for your prayers for my mom and aunt right now.
I was quite close to Sandi Mom, and loved, and even respected her in spite of her history. I respected that she essentially subdued the beast that was her addiction to alcohol as she grew older, by educating herself and finding a religion and way of life that made her want to be a better person, which helped her to get control of herself and her actions. And while I am certain she had some degree of guilt for what she put her family through, she chose to never live in the past. She didn’t wallow in the mistakes that she had made, she chose to focus on each day as it came, and faced each day with optimism and vigor. I remember her talking about “people her age” back in the early to mid-1990’s, and how she chose not to spend time around people that acted like senior citizens, even though her age defined her as one of “them”. If someone would ramble on about their health problems and trips to the doctor, she’d tune right out. She was always in denial of her age, which I think may have stemmed from vanity. She worked as a model prior to getting married and having children, so I gather being part of that industry influenced her mindset. As it turns out, this denial served her well as she got older. She was never one to complain about her declining health. She and I talked fairly often, and she would always tell me how proud she was of me, and how much it meant to her that I kept in such good touch with her. I am thankful for that, too. I have a lot of good memories of Sandi Mom, even if most of them took place over the telephone since I left Arizona in 2003.
Thinking back on who Sandi Mom was and the things she struggled with has had me thinking a lot about my current behavior when it comes to living a better life and trying to be a better person. It’s funny, I look at myself and see that I have some of Sandi’s best attributes (honesty, resolve, common sense), but if I am honest I also reflect some less pleasing traits like denial, addiction and anger. Anger is the one I’ve been obsessed with lately. I know I have anger, but I push it down, and don’t express it. So much, that I wonder what all that anger is even about, or where it began. So, I’ve been doing some reflection and self-examination on that one, and we’ll see where it leads.
As of this moment, I am thinking the anger is related to regret. Regret, I think comes from lost time. Time that was lost because I wasted it. Time I could have used to go to school, take a risk, make a friend, eat better, go for a walk, or to reach out and do something kind for someone for the simple reason of making them smile.
Sandi Mom was aware of the journey I am on and the weight I’ve lost. I never got around to sending her a photo of my progress, and I do wish I had. I hope that wherever she is, that she can see how far I’ve come and that I’ll still be able to hear her voice within me, rooting me on. And I hope she’ll know that thanks to her I am looking at myself and becoming more aware of what I want from my life. I also hope my awareness will stick, and eventually lead to ACTION. Sandi Mom would have wanted that for me.
I last spoke with Sandi Mom on Christmas Day, and I could tell that she was failing. The typical wit, spark and fire in her voice was considerably subdued. She had taken a fall (one of at least four or five I can think of in the last ten years) and was feeling pretty rotten about that, plus, to top it off, she’d had a cold and cough that she couldn’t shake. Sandi hadn’t been to the doctor, which wasn’t surprising because medical treatment wasn’t an option she would consider because of her faith. She believed in meditation rather than medication and self-healing, and it worked for her so I never tried to convince her otherwise. She didn’t even keep aspirin in the house; she would lay down and meditate to make a headache or other pain go away. She took no daily prescription meds whatsoever… how many people over 50 do you know that could say the same thing?
As the new year came in, Sandi Mom didn’t improve, and seemed to become progressively more combative with my aunt. Caring for her, I think, was becoming more than my aunt could bear. My great aunt (Sandi’s sister) came to visit a week ago Monday, only to find what I’ll call a “situation”. Law enforcement had been called to the house, health department was involved – basically, it was not a good situation. It was determined that Sandi needed to be in the hospital, so she was transferred via ambulance 90 miles to the nearest competent medical facility. She continued to struggle, and in spite of that had discussions with my aunt about her future living arrangements, which included her returning to Prescott (where she lived prior to moving in with my aunt) to recover. Then on Saturday my dad called to let me know they had received word that her doctors had reason to believe Sandi Mom was suffering from cancer, and that they were running tests. I wasn’t surprised, because my gut always believed nothing short of lung cancer could take her out, and given the fact that she was a lifetime smoker, cancer was a scenario I’d begun to accept long ago. Before we even got the tests back, Sandi was gone. Apparently she took a turn for the worse Saturday afternoon and evening, and passed in the early morning hours on Sunday.
I wasn’t surprised to get the news, and when I’d seen that I’d missed a call from my sister, I knew why she was calling, so I had to swallow hard, take a breath and call her back. My heart aches that Sandi had to suffer as she did, and I suspect the pain was probably more intense than she let on. I pray she is whole again and free of all pain, physical or emotional, that she may have carried in her life. I’ll miss her, especially when I visit my old town of residence, Prescott, Arizona – where we both ended up for a few years, and we were able to spend happy times and become close with each other. She always made me laugh, and also made me remember that family is important, and not only has a huge role in us becoming who we are, but also in understanding who we are.
It was ironic and appropriate that I spent yesterday hosting a birthday dinner for my father-in-law. I finally understand why funerals are always accompanied by troughs o’ food: There is obviously comfort in eating for someone who’s obese (me), but I also discovered there is comfort in preparing a meal for loved ones, and giving them an opportunity to gather, relax and share time together. I’ve never been a fan of cooking, but yesterday I prepared (for 10 [TEN!!] people – ACK!!) a comfort food feast of roasted turkey, mashed potatoes, homemade gravy, stuffing, brown sugar glazed carrots, rolls (a la Walmart’s bakery) and a chocolate cake baked from scratch. I grew up in a small-ish home in a family that never really had company in our house. We pretty much lived off beans and casseroles, so my experience isn’t very deep, and I was crazy nervous about feeding that many mouths. For days I was trying to convince myself that my food would probably be edible. Yes, I pretty much lack confidence in everything that takes me out of my comfort zone. Well, getting the news about Sandi Mom oddly distracted me enough to take the pressure off, and the meal turned out pretty darn delish.Yeah, I did that. And what a comfort it was to have a group around that knew Sandi personally, who could share happy thoughts and memories with me. Have I ever mentioned that my in-laws are super, duper and awesome? They were the silver lining to a very gray day, and I am so grateful.
So finally, in other news… Malcolm sent me an email from his very favorite spot (way out in left field), and told me he wants to go on a very last minute getaway for a few days. He suggested we go HERE. I am totally on board with the whole spontaneous getaway thing… but have you seen what the temps are looking like in Grand Marais this coming week?!? So you got to let me know – should I stay or should I go?