I’m not sure where I saw the photo—a scrapbook layout somewhere, maybe, or on Pinterest, or maybe in a magazine ad. A three-generation photo, nothing unusual, but it sparked something in me, a memory that I once took a four-generation picture of Kendell and his daughter with his mom and his grandma, a realization that it would be nice to have a three-generation picture, a whole series of them in fact, Kendell and his mom and each of his kids.
When she's recuperated from her surgery, I told myself. Then I'll take them. When she's feeling pretty and confident again, despite the missing body parts, but before she starts the chemo.
And that is how death tricked me, by letting me think I’d have more time, a future that included (among so many other moments I didn’t even imagine yet) a photo shoot that would have been unbearably frustrating (one husband who hates having his picture taken, one teenaged son who does, too) but rewarding, too, in the end. Processing the photos, having them printed, giving some to my mother-in-law Beth, who would’ve hung some on her fridge and scrapbooked the rest.
But I didn’t take those pictures yet
was, ridiculously, one of the first thoughts I had when Kendell called to choke out the words "she’s gone."
But tomorrow is her birthday and we were going to take her to Red Lobster for lunch to celebrate
She can’t be dead because I just took her some library books on Saturday
I also thought.
And someone made a mistake and they just need to fix it and then she’ll be OK.
Of course, none of those thoughts hold back death. My mind’s inability to accept it: here/not here—despite its unbearable inescapability, here it is, another grandparent gone.
And I could tell the story about her death, how she’d done so well with her mastectomy a month ago, sailed through with no complications, and how she was trying to decide if she’d have chemo or not. How the heart attack seemed to come out of the blue, how her daughter was with her and gave her CPR and called 911 and did everything she could and how it wasn’t enough and Beth just did not make it.
But the other story is what I am in now. That inability to know it is true, because when we walked into her house it still smelled like her and so it seemed like she was just in the other room. Having to share that inability with each of my kids, who loved her in different ways, and how my grief grew because of their grief, a breccia lodged in my rib cage. How they don’t know it yet, the hundred thousand moments they won’t get to have with her: no Grandma Beth at weddings or baby showers or random Sunday afternoons hanging out on her couch. No three-generation photograph, but this isn’t about pictures. It’s not even about death. It’s about sorrow, right now. It’s about grief and how we are in it and how it is the only thing left that binds each of us to each. And how there is that whisper, which my kids can barely hear but which is loud in my ears: it is Margaret you're grieving.
(For my mother-in-law Beth, who passed away at 10:30 on Tuesday night.)