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What it Takes

On Dec. 12, 2019, my stepfather’s father woke up and told his wife he felt like going to the doctor. She said, you have an appointment today, or do you mean go to the emergency room now? And he said you better take me. So my grandma got up to get dressed, and by the time she got back to their bed, he was gone. He had been sick that spring, but recovered. We didn’t know he was dying. 

In late April, 2020, my father’s mother broke her nose, and was rushed to the ER, and on top of the lung problems she was already having, by May 3, she had died. None of us could see her because of the risk we’d bring Covid into the hospital. Hospitals were closed to visitors. I got to watch, for a few hours, from outside on a patio at her hospice, but she never regained consciousness. 

My father’s father went into memory care after his wife passed away. When he went in, he tested negative for Covid-19. In five months, he was exposed three times. He tested positive again last week, was in the hospital Friday, hospice Tuesday and passed away this morning. We never got to see him either. 

I understand it’s a luxury to even have four grandparents at my advanced age of 38. And I had seven total. I lost my first at 7 years old, and there’s nothing that prepares you for that. But really, there’s nothing to prepare you for it any time. You live your whole life knowing, as a rule, that your relatives older than you will probably die before you will, and you just compartmentalize that and tuck it away in some “deal with this another day like Scarlett O’Hara” folder, but then it comes back.

And then three of your grandparents die in nine months and you don’t get to say goodbye to any of them. Humans can’t control viral pandemics, nor can they control time. 

Bill, Robert, Jean, CL, Betty and Stan: you are inseparable parts of me. I have hand-picked bits of your personalities to carry on in your stead:

• Bill: humor, cynicism, sarcasm

• Robert: fun, great food, dangerous cars

• Jean: joy, card games, great clothes

• CL: never taking shit from anybody, smart-ass-edness, will encourage others to do things in the spirit of “well, hell baby, if that’s what you want”

• Betty: acceptance, kindness, ready to stand over our Scrabble games with the dictionary as an objective third party

• Stan Sr.: listening, ice cream, comedy (he’d wake me up if “Who’s On First.” or Red Skelton was on TV, drag me out to the living room in my jammies)

And if that’s what I get, as the amalgam of my forebears, that’s what I get. And I will take it, fairly and openly and evenly. But I will also take what they showed me: acceptance, indulgence, pride in my accomplishments, pride in me being good at things they taught me (you never wanted to play Spades if me and Beba were partners), and love and love and love. I will also take the sadness, the weight, the burden of carrying this on and the challenge that nothing will never be what it could have been. I’m young enough that I can decide later if that will be a huge regret or just one of my many smaller regrets. 

I have one grandmother left now, my stepfather’s mother. We’ve known each other more than twenty years so our opinions of each other are pretty set. But she likes me. I’m OK. And, where’s the fun if she had 15 grandkids who all totally agreed with her? Somebody’s gotta be the outlier. The black sheep. The lost sheep.

Nothing’s easier, you’re just older and maybe stronger, slicker, so all of it just rolls right off your back like a duck.

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