I walked to the far end of the hay barn in my H&M ballet flats. They weren't the right shoes to be wearing out back. Straws of hay poked my toes. I stood in the very back corner, across from where I found a real dove egg one Easter during an egg hunt, and I sobbed. I peered through the wooden slats which used to serve as mangers for the cattle. I closed my eyes and willed myself never to forget the smell of my grandparents' ranch. A tractor had been running during the service, but the noise had since stopped. It was the first time in my memory that the ranch had been absolutely silent.
My grandma has been dead since the night before the Kentucky students left Dijon. I arrived home at four in the morning to a message from my mom asking me to call her back. I hate when she does that. I knew that my grandma had died and hated that I had to call my mom for confirmation.
My grandma died on April 29th, 2008. She was dead when I was showing pictures of home to a friend and accidentally ran across pictures of her and my aunts. She was dead when my dad and brother flew to Europe to make sure that I was coping well. She was dead when I came back to the States. She was dead when everyone was at her house, but all the animals were gone and the milk barn had been cleaned out.
Dead. She is dead. I don't like the phrase "passed away". It makes it seem like we misplaced her, like she'll be back someday.
My grandma is dead, but I can't believe she's gone. I can't believe that my family will never spend another Thanksgiving, Christmas, or Easter at her house. I can't believe that there were no sounds of dogs barking or goats bleating when my car slowed to a halt in the gravel driveway. I stood in the hay barn and cried, telling myself just to focus on how the ranch smelled and felt. I wanted to remember the ranch the way it always was before someone let this mistake of my grandma's death slip past me.
It is difficult for me to put my grandma into words, because she was the most amazing woman I've ever known. She raised five kids as a single mother in the sixties. She was a labor and delivery nurse for twenty-five years.
But she was so much more than that. She was the first woman I recognized as a warrior, but at the same time, she was the most loving woman I have ever known. She loved my grandpa, as difficult of a man as he was, and I never once heard her say a harsh word against him. I don't think I ever saw her without a smile. She loved her family. She loved to laugh. She loved her dogs.
I remember believing that my grandma was the most beautiful woman I'd ever seen. I still believe that. She was a woman who became more beautiful with age. She had a long, auburn ponytail that trailed the length of her back. I will always think of her in a patterned western shirt and jeans, boots caked with mud, grinning from ear to ear.
My grandma fought stage three lung cancer for over two years and I never heard her utter a single complaint. She still went out there every morning to do the chores. She still ran the dogs. She still fixed breakfast, lunch, and supper for my grandpa every day.
I can only explain her in snippets and stories that I've heard a thousand times.
She bellydanced in the kitchen.
She sang loudly and off-key.
She watched David Letterman, read People magazine, and knew every piece of celebrity gossip.
She loved Tom Jones.
She had the best laugh.
We buried my grandparents together, on the ranch, near their dogs. I prayed on behalf of all of us, but didn't know quite what to say. The wind drowned out my words and my tears.
My mom stayed behind to clean out the house. She brought home boxes of old clothes and memories. My grandma's nursing cap from her college graduation. A kimono that my grandfather brought home from his military days. My grandma's stethoscopes. Scarves. Vintage dresses and handbags that she thought I might like.
I sat and cried in my grandfather's kimono, because I am selfish. I cried because wearing their old clothes won't bring them back. I cried at never being able to introduce my grandparents to my future husband (if I ever have one) and never being able to show him the ranch that I had always loved. I cried because my grandma won't be at my nursing induction or graduation. I cried because the ranch will be sold and that part of my life will be closed off. I cried because I don't know how to face a world without her, and I don't want to.
Most of all, I cried because no matter how many words I write, I don't know how to reconcile the fact that my grandma was the most alive person I've ever known with the fact that she isn't here anymore