Hey y’all. Today I’m writing to remember a member of my family who has since departed from this world.
Back in 2015, my paternal grandmother passed away two weeks and two days after her 73rd birthday. It wasn’t a battle against cancer, and it wasn’t as a result of a tragic accident. I would consider it more of a battle with mental illness, though unfortunately she would have totally disagreed with me, but that’s how she was. She hadn’t always suffered with mental illness, it gradually developed sometime after she turned 60 years and she simply couldn’t handle that she was only getting older. She didn’t like that she was getting older and unfortunately, this was her mental downward spiral. I’m not speaking ill of the dearly departed, I’m sharing what I can recall of her life story as it was.
Like every person in this world, she had her ups and her downs. She lived life and she made mistakes, like we all do. She married at a young age and later divorced. She married for a second time and became the victim of spousal abuse. She divorced from him as well. She would have married a third time, but given her previous two experienced marriages, she was fearful, so she simply lived in her loving relationship without the paper marriage. Unfortunately, her decision to not marry came with the cost of his unexpected passing and she was therefore left with nothing but her memories with him and his belongings. It was a very sad time, but also a bright beginning because it was during this time that her only child, her son, needed her help.
Her bright beginning began with helping to raise her two grandchildren, myself and my younger sister. I was 13, my sister was 10, and our mother had left our dad. Our situation gave our grandmother a new purpose; a reason to smile again and life proceeded. With us in school, Granny became very active in school functions. She chaperoned our field trips, took part in the PTA, she even actively took part in our fundraising endeavors, driving me exclusively, door to door when selling hoagies for the school booster club or Christmas wrap and delicious treats to benefit the cheerleading squad. Granny really enjoyed supporting our school’s academic efforts. However, her school support would only last but so long because as time goes by, I would soon graduate, and later, so would my sister. With my graduating from high school and moving out on my own, and then my sister graduating and moving out on her own, it was hard on Granny, but she quickly acclimated to a new life that no longer included raising a couple teenagers.
Granny loved to travel, and she went places. She frequently went to Alabama to visit a friend, she traveled with another friend to Salem, Massachusetts, she traveled with my dad to Minnesota and visited the Mall of America which is best known for its enormous Ferris Wheel, and she accompanied my dad to several company Christmas parties while he was in the trucking business. When my dad was forced off the road due to climbing health issues, Granny’s traveling slowed way down.
Granny always believed that age is just a number. It’s a good belief to live by, but one must also accept that aging means changes in one’s health. Her physical health wasn’t always the issue, but her mental health was another story. Her inability to accept she was no longer as young as she felt she ought to be, or wanted to believe she was, became the fallout of her life. Both of her grandchildren now with families of their own and her son living his life as a grandfather, she yearned for a new life and new friends. I can’t count the number of times I would suggest senior centers, or my dad suggesting groups she could get involved with, but she wasn’t interested because, to quote her, “I don’t want to hang out with old people.” She may have been in her mid-sixties, but her attitude was that of a 30-year-old, and she refused to believe otherwise. Believing you’re younger than your actual age is one thing, medically altering yourself so others think the same is another. Unfortunately, this is when she truly began to lose her true self.
It started with fixing a hernia she’d been living with for many years. This hernia, her doctors told her, was about the size of a grapefruit, but wasn’t causing any bodily distress. Her only problem with it was in her physical appearance. She claimed it made her look like she was eight months pregnant, and to quote her again, “No man past 50 wants a woman who looks like she’s about to give birth.” I nicely reminded her a few times that no one would think she’s pregnant being her given age. She may have felt like she was 30, but she didn’t look 30. She looked her age; early to mid-60, and she looked good for it. She didn’t even look pregnant. Well, not to me. She still insisted she get the hernia fixed, and so she did, but not without complications to immediately follow. One procedure led to another, led to another problem, led to another problem, and not all these problems were related to the said hernia. First there were complications with the mesh used to reposition the hernia. Then there was a problem where her body was physically rejecting the mesh and this in turn caused her to become very sick. After that, things were fixed, and she recovered. Well, because the issue was fixed, she moved on to another personal cosmetic complaint. Her eyesight. Following a couple appointments with the family optometrist, she was scheduled for eye surgery so she would no longer be required to wear glasses 24/7. “Glasses make me look old.” She spoke. After her eye surgery, I swear she spent hundreds in sunglasses of all styles. Finding out her favorite country music singer, Kenny Chesney, had his own line of sunglasses out, she wanted and requested a pair of each, and following research to price his line of sunglasses, she went absolutely ballistic as his sunglasses went for $150 per pair. She wasn’t upset with Kenny Chesney about the prices, she was upset with the company selling his sunglasses, as if he didn’t have a hand in pricing his own merchandise.
I would like to say that following her medical journey, things turned around, but they did not. Instead, things took a much different turn. Though she wouldn’t admit it, she deeply missed the man I still call to this day my grandfather. Her first husband was my grandfather, but he passed on while my dad was still young. The man she loved dearly, but never married is the closest I had to a grandfather on my father’s side. She missed him dearly and loved him like no other, and truth be told, she was lonely. So, she decided to check out dating sites. There isn’t much to say here, except that her loneliness combined with her missing my grandfather as much as she did, left her very vulnerable. As much as we all wanted her to seek help, there was absolutely no talking to her. Not a single person could get through to her. Not her family, not her friends, no one.
It’s hard to watch someone you love, suffer from physical and mental health, knowing there’s nothing you can do because the person refuses anything and everything. This is what happened to Granny. She chose to shut everyone out and deteriorate before our eyes. This was no longer my grandmother who took us to Luray Caverns, put together my sweet sixteenth birthday party, or celebrated my first acceptance into college after high school. Now she was only a shell of the fun-loving woman she used to be. The only part of her previous self that remained was her obsession with Kenny Chesney, with magazine photos plastered all over her bedroom, like a 16-year-old heart throb.
Today, my grandmother would have been 79 years old. Not a day goes by when I don’t think about her in passing, whether it’s a Kenny Chesney song that plays over the radio, when I’m cooking one of her favorite dishes, like her late mother’s family recipe ‘chicken slick’, or when the holidays roll around each year. Christmas was one of her favorite holidays, and I think it’s mainly because she enjoyed spoiling her grandkids. Her favorite Christmas gifts to me and my sister was the first Christmas we had with her after my mother left my dad. She got us matching charm necklaces. Mine read ‘Big Sister’; my sister’s read ‘Little Sister’. Unfortunately, neither of these necklaces exist anymore, having been lost over the years. Still, today would have been Granny’s birthday and had she still been with us, I would have called her. However, heaven still has no contact number and therefore is not taking phone calls. LOL.
I do know that the day she passed, December 29th, 2015, she went home to be reunited with not only her mama, but also the truest love of her life, the man she never married. I feel better knowing she isn’t suffering as she was, and she is truly happy again. Happy birthday Granny.