My great-grandmother is dying. She’s nearly ninety-five years old and when I saw her in May, she wasn’t herself at all.
This is not a surprise. People cannot live forever. She’s had pneumonia since December and hasn’t been able to get well. Some days she is quite lucid. Other times she sleeps all day long. She has no sense of taste or smell anymore and she can barely hear.
She’s existing. Not living.
It makes me sad for her. She’s hanging on…a fragile thread separates her current world from the next.
My grandma was old when I was born. It’s amazing to me that I am thirty-two years old and have a living great-grandmother. It occurs to me as I type this that she is the last one. The last of the great-grandmothers. I had several when I was born and when I was a small child. When she is gone there will be no more. My children are fifth generation. I have pictures of us all together.
Just last week my children and I were talking about all of their grandparents. My father is their only grandfather. The sperm donor’s father died last year (or maybe the year before…I can’t recall) and my husband’s father died when he was ten. I think.
My son asked me, “What about your grandfathers?”
And I said, “I don’t have any.”
The words caught in my throat.
I don’t have any.
I used to.
I used to have people. I used to have family.
Now I find myself on this little island. I have my children and my husband and my dog. We have this fortress around us. For our protection? I don’t know. It used to feel like it.
Maybe not anymore.
I have sisters. I have a brother. I have a mom and dad. I don't feel like I know any of them all that well.
I say this with no blame or malice. It is what it is. I don’t think any of these people are bad people, even me. I just think none of us, not one of us, had any idea what it meant to be a family. We took the cards we were dealt and did the best we could.
I always hoped that I would find the elusive “it”. The family I wanted and needed. I’ve created a family to the best of my ability within my own home. And we? Rock it. Really, my childhood fantasies of a family are pretty much living in my home right now. One boy, one girl, one husband, one dog. Stir in the momma and you’ve got yourself a family. Right?
So I find myself confused and perplexed and wondering why I so desperately feel that I need more.
I want to start living, not just existing.
Next week we are going to North Carolina at my dad’s request. We’ll shoot off fireworks at the 4th of July. My dad will probably cook something on his grill. We’ll all go swimming in the pool and I’ll probably stay up much later than I should playing video games with Boy Child.
We will all sit together for pictures as a family. Mom, dad, all four kids, all three husbands of four kids, and all eleven grandchildren. Together. As a family.
I’m going to try to figure out what all this means. What family means. And what, if anything, I can do to make it feel the way I want it to.