"Do you even know what you want?" he questioned.
"I just want to be seen," she whispered.
Seventeen presidents. My grandmother lived through seventeen presidents. Two world wars. Pearl Harbor Day. JFK's assassination. 9/11. Basically every major historical event that happened in the 20th century she remembered. She could tell you were she was, what she was doing, what she felt hearing the news of each event. Incredible, isn't it?
I've spent my adult life far away from this women, but always making a trip out west to spend time with her. When I visited her over the last few years, taking the trip to Vegas to see her, I made a point to ask her to tell me stories of her marriage. Asking her about her childhood. Trying to hold on tightly to the untold stories that lived inside her, knowing she wouldn't be telling me stories of her life forever. I desperately wanted to know the stories she had never told me. I wanted to see all sides of her.
I had so many questions: How did it feel to fall in love with my grandfather? What did she do when he died? What was it like to deliver babies for a living? To be a working mother in the 1950's? What did she regret? How did she stay so amazingly true to herself? What was the saddest moment of her life?
When I got the call she passed away last week, I didn't cry. I've imagined getting this call, and it always played out with sudden and uncontrollable crying. I am not sure why. I don't really cry often. I have also not experienced grief of this sort as an adult. When the words were softly spoken that she had passed, it just felt like a hand had grabbed my heart, squeezing it. Hard. It hurt, deep in my chest.
I started to think about all the stories she has shared with me over the years. It instantly felt hard to remember the details. And now I can't ask her to tell them again. Fuck.
The hand gripped tighter.
Grief has come differently than I imagined it would. It isn't fits of tears. It isn't a visible sadness. It is heaviness. And exhaustion. It is a heart that is bruised from a grip too tight. It is a lot of not knowing how it will feel to not hear these stories, watch her smile, or be in awe of her in real time. It is a lot of wishing she was still here. It is waves of breathlessness when I realize she is gone. It is a lot of begging that hand to loosen, please, just a little.
It is so much unseen.
Maybe that is just grief in this situation, for this passed woman, for me. Perhaps a larger reflection on how much of what I experience is unseen, by choice and on purpose, is needed. How much I wish to be seen more than I let on, or more than I allow. Somehow I'm not surprised that even in her passing my grandmother is disrupting my own image of myself. I just wish I would ask her some questions about it.