Remember Whatever I Have To

She was my grandmother. The mother of four children, my dad being the oldest. She was also my first care-taker, at least during my earliest days when mom was still working full-time. To her my scream-cry-wail meant that her granddaughter was injured somewhere, again... it meant that when my parents came and took me home she might have offered little else than a shrug and prayers for explanation. She was also the reason I saw my dad crying for only the second time ever in my life.

Someone called to tell me that she passed away. I don't remember who it was, or what words were said. Actually -- wait. No. Someone called to tell me that she had been taken to the emergency room, something about a sudden heart attack at the subway station. I think I asked whether or not I should go to the hospital. Then awhile later someone else called to tell me that she had passed away. They broke the news to me in Cantonese and in English, translated, that person over the phone said "She has left." At one point, when I was not much younger then I was then I didn't realize the implications of what that phrase meant. I took it literally, as children often do.. when I first heard that phrase I followed-up with "Where did they go?" But when my grandmother "left," I knew what it meant then.
Windows were opened in my dorm room, the breeze carried in the pregnant smells of spring in New England and drunken cheers of my senior class in the midst of Senior Week. I sat there shocked and stunned, not really understanding where I should be or what I should be doing. I knew this much: Senior Week was not where I was supposed to be, and cracking open a bottle of Blue Moon was not what I should be doing. I think at one point I tried to make myself cry, but nothing happened. I think my younger brother told me dad wasn't at the hospital but had decided to finish up his work day instead.

The order of the next few days are just a jumble of scenes in my mind. If you asked a kid to put them in order it would be cruel to not add "there's no right or wrong answer to this puzzle.. just do your best."

Not wanting to see anyone or deal with the questions, and certainly not those "feelings" that were still lost in the vacuum of 'shocked & stunned' I did what any savvy college Senior did: sent out a facebook message to my closest friends, quickly and dryly letting them know what had happened and "sorry I will try to make it to the Senior Week events that I am able to.." Social networking gave me the time and space to pause my world while real life unfolded in its natural procession. I also facebook chatted my cousin whose name appeared amongst the other Friends Online (35). We exchanged HTML constructed condolences, I asked him about funeral arrangements. Quick and efficient. At least now I knew what to expect in the hours and day to follow.

There was the funeral home that I was carried up and into. There was the framed picture of my grandmother that the oldest son of the family carried. There were the stiff backs, the sunglasses, the dark attire against the white and cream colored walls. There was the too much make-up permanently on her face. Family sat in chairs that lined-up in rows and columns like ink dots against a newspaper, sobbing and remembering the history of my grandmother. Then there was the ride to the church. Bibles written in Chinese were handed out, Amazing Grace was sung in English and Chinese. Stories were shared, relatives expressed their grief. I wanted to say "thanks" to her. I wanted to say "I'm not a screaming-wailing-crying baby anymore, and thanks for watching me when I was." I wanted to say so much more that the pews of her family and church friends wouldn't know a thing about. Because the thing is.. I don't really know much about it, I was only a baby, an infant who experienced her surroundings through the senses. I wish each of my senses could have their own memory. I only know that she did what she had to do.

White gloves were passed out to those carrying the coffin. I was carried back down the stairs of the church and then into the hearse. We were driven to the cemetery. The coffin was taken out and put on the raised platform, more people gathered beneath the tent. Someone decided that the wheelchair wouldn't be able to trek through the muddy grass area, that I wouldn't be able to huddle underneath the tent. I sat in the hearse with all the doors opened, the tent and coffin only twelve feet away from me.
I sat on the very edge of the seat of the car and tried to hear what was being said. I listened and made a conscious effort to hold everything in my memory: the way the driver stood respectfully away and guardedly by me. I tried to remember the way the fringes of the tent flapped in the wind. The lady bug that surveyed the area atop the blade of grass by my feet. The coffin that would fit into the ground in that same way you finally find that one lost puzzle piece. I tried to remember the way things were at that moment and that entire day, because I don't remember what it was like back then. I wanted to do whatever I had to do.

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