I am officially finished with school. I have passed all my classes and completed the credential program. The next thing to do is to get my CPR certification (pediatric and adult) and submit all my paperwork-- my transcripts, my program plan, the CPR card, the CBEST results, my service scan (fingerprints), as well as some thee things I am probably forgetting-- to the California credentialing government office so that I can officially receive my credential. And also finding a job, I guess. I think I want to start out substituting while I look for a good teaching job.
Which is related to the other next thing: driving. I still do not have a license. This is something I've been sitting on for too long, and I need to buckle down and get it done. I can't learn with my mom; every time I do anything, she screams that we're going to die, which makes me freak out and stop in the middle of the road. I'm gonna save up and go to a real driving school.
The meat of it: (Caution, reflective, vaguely stream-of-conscious rambling ahead.
My grandmother passed away last Wednesday.
My grandmother-- my father's mom-- lost one of her legs a couple years ago. She was a small woman and something went wrong with her circulation or something that required her to have it amputated. She carried on for a few years, but over the past couple months, her health had been deteriorating. She had had rheumatic fever as a girl, and though she had recovered, it had left scarring on her lungs and heart that affected her health now.
My dad first contacted us back in November and told us that it might be grandma’s last thanksgiving. I don’t remember if we saw her Thanksgiving day, but my brother and I did see her on Nov. 30, and she had seemed fine to us. She talked to us, and my Tia Tina was there, and we joked about how corrupt and terrible the church I work at is, and how my grandma didn’t approve of “feel-good sugar sermons” that had “no meat” in them, and how she much preferred the old pastor who used to preach there (the current pastor’s father) and how he actually helped people and went out to talk to people, rather than hiding in his office or going to Hawaii every other week like the current one. It was fun. My brother and I love pointing out the hypocrisy of the church we work at, but we can never do it with coworkers because we never know who takes the place seriously and who doesn’t.
We left feeling pretty good.
* * * * *
When I was younger, I used to be very close to my grandmother.
My parents divorced, and my father went to live with his mom for a bit to get his life in order. I don’t remember how long he lived there. It felt like a long time, but probably wasn’t actually. When that was over, he bought the house next door to my grandma’s so that he could help her out with things like yard work and fixing/building things around the house (he is a cabinet maker with expertise in everything home and car-repair). In the back yard, he built a neat swing-gate in the fence between the houses and made a little path so that people could go back and forth more easily. My grandma’s house was a hub of activity when I was younger; my dad was one out of seven kids, and all of my tias (he was the only boy) had kids of their own that are within the five-year age range of me. My grandma had a pool and lots of food, so everybody was there during the summers, and it wasn’t unusual for 20+ people to be hanging out there on any given day.
I remember, once, when I was younger, my grandma was sooo mad at my cousin Selena. I’m not entirely sure, but I think it was when Selena was pregnant with my cousin (second cousin? What do you call it when a cousin has a kid?) Raymond. Selena was a teenager, and in the years to come my grandma would be babysitting Raymond all the time. Like, he would spend days at time at her house. But I digress. Anyways, I was a wee Zeph and I walk into the kitchen. The way the kitchen was setup was that it was connected to the dining room, but separated only by a counter-island/bar thing with stools where we could sit and chat with whoever was in the cooking-area proper. I walked in that day and found the counter full of cakes, and a pie, and trays laden with cookies while the counters in the kitchen-proper were full of bowls and flour bags and sugar and various cooking sundries. My grandma was pacing back and forth, stirring bowl and checking the oven and muttering to herself about Selena. I don’t remember asking if she was alright, but I must have mentioned something, because I clearly remember her saying, “No, it’s alright! Sit down, have some cookies? Would you like some chocolate chip? Those are oatmeal. I’ll make some chocolate chip.” And then digging in the drawers for another cook book and pulling out more ingredients.
I, of course, did my civic duty and helped my grandmother through her trying times by sitting down and eating some cake.
I think I remember my dad coming in after, and then starting Grown Up talk with my grandma, so stuffed my face like a greedy hamster and then left.
* * * * *
This past Christmas, my Dad came to visit us (my mom and siblings), and we all had a nice afternoon together. My sister asked why we weren’t at Grandmas (since we usually visited her), and he told us that she had taken a very bad turn, and that the house was full of people crying, and he didn’t want us to deal with that. He meant it in a kind way: the house was supposed to be filled with happiness, but instead it was filled with people in hysterics while Gram was knocked out in her bedroom on morphine.
She recovered after that, and my sister and I went to see her again.
She looked worse for the wear: thin, pale, sitting in bed, but she talked to us. I don’t remember about what, but e talked for a while. I showed her pictures of our birds on the phone, and we talked about pets for a while.
I asked if she had spoken to Tia Sandra.
See, Gram and Tia Sandra hadn’t been speaking to each other for a few years. I don’t know exactly why— something to do with Gram giving Sandra money, and Sandra not using it right. It was a shame: Tia Tina was my favorite aunt, but Tia Sandra and my cousin Katy were my favorite part of that family total. When my sibs and I were still kids, we spent a couple weeks in the summer time at their house.
(I didn’t realize it at the time, but my dad had actually technically kidnapped us and didn’t tell my mom where we were at, nor did he tell Tia Sandra that she was an accomplice – she thought she was just baby sitting for a while-- but I still loved being with Tia Sandra and Katy.)
Apparently, according to my dad, he is the only one in the family who speaks regularly to Tia Sandra and Katy. Even Sandra’s adult sons, Steven and Ruben, are accepted by the rest of the family and don’t talk to their mom anymore.
So I asked Gram if she had spoken to Sandra, and Gram said no. My sister and I both said, “I really think you should talk to her.”
Gram thought about it, and then said, “I don’t have her number.”
Immediately, we both said, “Our dad has it.”
So we went and got dad (who was in the next room) and asked him to input Sandra’s number into Gram’s cellphone. He did, and then asked if she wanted him to call Sandra in advance so that she wouldn’t be blind-sighted by the call. Gram said no. She was afraid that if dad warned her, Sandra might intentionally not pick up. She promised she would Call Sandra later that evening, when she was sure to be home.
She never did.
Before we went, my grandma made it clear that she wanted to see our brother. We promised her we would bring him over. She asked why he wasn’t there, and we told her he was at work.
She kind of glared. “Work,” she spat.
“He didn’t know we were coming, my sister and I tried to say. “This was a surprise visit! We’ll bring him next time.”
Eventually, she got tired of talking – we had apparently given her a marathon of conversation. According to Tia Tina, she normally didn’t last that long-- and my sister and I left.
We were supposed to go to dinner with my dad, but I got a call from my coworker; I had forgotten that I was scheduled to work that night, and was now a half-hour late for my shift (one of us starts a half hour earlier than the other), and I had to rush over there. It wasn’t a big deal because my brother (who works in the offices of the same building) went down to help set up, so hardly any time was lost setting-up, and we opened on time.
* * * * *
After the divorce, when my dad was still living with her, we (my siblings and I) used to go over every other weekend and spend the night. My grandma had a spare bedroom (where my dad slept) and two living rooms—one was a small den where the TV was, and the other was the larger entry-area where people walked in through the front door and saw the sofa and a piano and a hallway to the dining room/kitchen. My brother and sister slept in the living room (usually on the floor, despite the sofa there. That sofa was fancier and not comfortable) and I slept in the den on the older, less fancy and more comfortable sofa.
Since I was older, I was allowed to stay up later, so I would watch TV with my grandma until I fell asleep. She liked murder mysteries and true crime stories, and stuff on lifetime. I vaguely remember a show about lady cops or detectives, and one of them had a drug addiction problem—I remember my grandmother tutting disapprovingly when the old trope of FBI-agent-interfering-with-police-investigation-grr-this-is-our-case showed up and her saying, “it’s such a shame that they argue like this when they should be working together.” She said it as if she was talking about real life investigations.
The one I remember her watching the most with me was a show called Strong Medicine. It was a show about lady doctors working at a clinic and dealing with Lady things and Doctor things, and it is basically impossible to find now. There were six seasons, but only the first has a DVD release, and the usual pirate and/or streaming websites don’t have it. We watched this one all the time. I remember once, when it was on, and my brother and sister were already asleep, my gran went to the kitchen and got us both bowls of strawberries. She put milk in the bowls and a spoonful of sugar and said it was “our treat.”
(If anyone out there knows where to find this show after the first season, go ahead and shoot me a message.)
* * * * *
I brought my brother two days after my sister and I had visited. Grandma was not well. She still talked, but she talked about a blue-tinged shadow she kept seeing out of the corner of her eyes, and how there was “smoke coming out of her mouth.” My dad tried to cheer her up, saying that the shadow was likely an angel. He asked if she was afraid of the shadow, or if it seemed menacing. She said no, it was peaceful.
She asked me to pray for her, and use the anointing oil I had gotten her for Christmas to do it. I fumbled the prayer, and she guided me through.
She talked to my brother about how he was and how work was, and she told me to go into the dinging room area where the book shelves were, and to pick all the books I liked. I tried to protest that this wasn’t the time, but she insisted, and said that she wanted everyone to have a piece of the house with them. She wondered what my sister would like, and decided that anything with animals would be good. She told me to go right then.
I went to the dining room and looked through the books. Most of them were religious, and a lot of them were kid books, but a few were art books I had loved looking at as a kid, including a paper crafts book I had once borrowed for months and forgotten to return, so that I had to sneak it back to the shelf in my bag during a visit so she wouldn’t know I had accidentally stolen it.
My dad came out, and helped me.
“It feels weird doing this when she’s here,” I said. “I feel like I shouldn’t be.”
He said, “She wants to make sure the books go to someone who will appreciate them. The kids books you can use in your classroom. The art books you’ll use for art. Her fear is that they’ll end up in a land fill, or at the Good Will.”
“Isn’t there anyone else in the family who’d want them?”
He laughed and said, “No.”
At one point, I found a bug thick family Bible. It was on a shelf of other bibles, but it was older and bigger, and when I opened it up, it turned out to be the kind that have places inside for the family to write things. There were copies of my Gram’s marriage certificate, and a genealogy page, and all kinds of neat things. I took it to the bedroom where everyone was, and I asked,
“Dad, is this grandma’s marriage license?”
He took the Bible from me and frowned at the page.
“Mom,” he said. “I never knew your middle name was Rachel.”
My grandma was lying on the bed, on her side, with her eyes closed. She smiled. “It’s not,” she said. “I just liked the sound of it.”
We laughed, and started looking through the pictures. On one page was that story about Leonardo Da Vinci accidentally using the same model for Judas and Christ in the Last Supper after years of hardship had taken its toll on the model, and my brother and I reacted with the appropriate skepticism, despite my dad’s enthusiasm about the story.
I looked it up on my phone then and there and found the Snopes page regarding it. I read it off and my dad deflated a bit, but was also amused.
“What,” he said. “You mean they don’t fact-check stuff they put in the Bible?!”
I put the bible back on the shelf because I thought it was too precious to take—like I didn’t deserve it because I wasn’t REALLY part of the family anymore. I regretted the decision later.
Eventually, I asked if Gran had talked to Tia Sandra. She said no, and that she was waiting for when she felt stronger to do it. My brother and I said she really ought to talk to her soon, but gran avoided the topic.
Then she got tired again, and my brother and I went home.
* * * * *
A few days later, exactly one week from when my sister and I had visited, my father sent a text to me, my brother, and my mom while I was at student teaching. The text was sent at 12:29, and it said,
“Hi, everyone. It looks like Gram is coming to her end. The hospice nurse said grandma is “molting”. Her body is shutting down. Nurse said Gram could go as soon as tonight. I thought you should know. Please let ZEPH SISTER know (I don’t have her new number).”
I sent back, “Should we see her?”
And he replied, “Yes, if you like.”
A few minutes later, he added, “Family is going over today. Go visit if you want to. I am picking up ZEPH SISTER on my way home from work to take her to see Gram.”
Me and my brother began texting each other, and he said he could get out of work early. I asked my mentor and got permission to leave teaching early (I was just observing those periods, anyways), and at 2:30 or so, my brother and I went to my Grandma’s.
There was family already there. Lots of people I hadn’t seen in a while: my Tia Lisa and her kids who were all taller than me, now. Tia Fella and her kids who were my age. Tio Fernie and Tia Tina. Cousin Jason (who is ten years older than me, so I always thought of him as an uncle). People trickled in as the time passed.
My grandma was on the bed, with her oxygen on, and making horrid little gasping noises. Her eyes were closed, and she was sickly pale. My cousin Selena was sitting on the bed with her; I didn’t know much about what had been happening with the family lately, but Selena had been there the last time my brother and I had visited, and she was coordinating people as they took turns talking to Grandma. There were cousins sitting around the room and two of Grandma’s friends from Bible study I had seen once or twice. Selena told us that the doctor had said that Grandma could still hear and understand, but she couldn’t speak, see, or move. I didn’t know whether to believe that, or think it a crock of shit the doctor was feeding to us to make us all feel better about saying goodbye. Zephbro and I went to the bedside, and Selena told us to speak loudly so that Gram could hear us. I barely got a, “Hi, Grandma, it’s me, Zeph.” Before I broke entirely and left the room. I went into the spare bedroom that used to be my father’s and had a little cry in the corner for a few minutes while my brother was left with Gram. When I got back out, my Tia Lisa was there and she gave me a hug and we both started crying again. She said something about how we shouldn’t be sad, and that we all have a chance to say goodbye, but we still cried.
When I went back, I sat in a chair someone had vacated for me and my brother sat next to me, and we just sat there and listened while people talked to her. Then a preacher my grandma had liked arrived. I guess she had met with him a few times previously and wanted him to do the death prayer.
He was a hippy looking guy. He had a brown vest on that had a neat circular tree pattern, with the branches turning from green, to red/orange, to bare with snow, to green again in a circle. He had on green pants, and he talked in an oddly jovial way to us—like someone trying to cheer up a child. He had a dark haired lady there who was his wife or assistant or something, and she had on hipply clothes, too, and wore necklaces with crystals on them. They handed out pamphlets with prayers written on them and instructed us to replace instances of “he” with she and my grandma’s name, and everyone who was at the house then squeezed into the room to hold hands and pray, and read the prayer pamphlet, and then pray quietly. At one point, people were invited to say their goodbyes aloud. My cousin Tatiana (Tati to us) talked about grandma taking her to Bible study. My Tia Tina, Tia Fella, and Tia Lisa talked about how she had raised them well and supported them, even when they were being buttheads (they didn’t use those words), and I think a few other cousins spoke too, but I was too broken to hear. I wanted to shout out my confession, but I couldn’t. I couldn’t talk.
Then the preacher said that if we had something we wanted to say to her, we could say it silently, since this was more “soul to soul” than “voice to ears”. So I thought as loudly as I could,
After a good chunk of the people in the room had said their thoughts aloud, the preacher started packing up to go.
I was terrified that that would be it. I had a chance to say something to her, and I had missed it because I was too ashamed to speak in front of the family that was practically full of strangers to me now. I cried a lot, but everyone was, so nobody noticed.
Then Jason said something about speaking to her privately, and the preacher jumped on the idea, telling us all that we should definitely use this time to take turns seeing her privately. We all vacated the room so Jason could speak and a few of us formed a short line down the hallway—not anywhere near the door, but past the turn, so that whoever went in would have total privacy. Tia Tina went around informing people that we were lining up to have private time. Jason went, then the young lady who had been helping care for grandma. I can’t remember her name. She was a nice lady who spoke only Spanish, so my aunts and dad had to translate for her or us if we wanted to talk to her (everyone in the family except my siblings and I can speak Spanish).
I was waiting in line when my sister and father arrived. I told my sister that she had missed the family prayer, but that we were all in line to have private time with Gram, and I asked if she wanted to go with me so she wouldn’t have to wait in line. She said yes. She hadn’t seen grandma in an even longer time than me, so I knew it would be a shock, and I warned her how bad Gram was. She still went.
When it was our turn, we introduced ourselves loudly so she could hear. My sister started the pre-emptive almost-crying-but-not-quite warbly voice, and I asked her to move aside so I could talk to Gram privately. She nodded and went to the open closet.
* * * * *
When I was about fifteen or sixteen, I stopped seeing my dad. I stopped going to his house, I stopped visiting on weekends. I cut him out because I was mad at him—I don’t even remember why, really. I stayed away from his side of the family for years, and when I was finally ready to go back, it was too weird: everyone was older and stranger , some of them had knew kids whose names I didn’t know, and everyone seemed to have their lives so put together. They could talk to each other and they all had lives while I was still meandering around with a shitty job and no planned future. I stopped visiting because I didn’t know anyone anymore, and they scared me, even though all of them were perfectly polite, and the aunts were happy to see me. I kept contact with my dad, a little, (that is a long story of me periodically trying to reach out and him “forgetting” his phone or plans we made and not responding until days or weeks later) but I didn’t visit the family again for years. When I did, it was for Christmas or Thanksgiving. Every time I went, I always left with the feeling of, “wow, they seem like nice people. I should see them more often.” And then never doing it.
* * * * *
The day Gram died, while my sister was in the closet crying, I told her who I was again and I apologized to her for not seeing her for so long. I told her how I was mad at my dad, and how I cut him out and I cut out everything that had to do with him, and how that meant I cut her out too. I told her I was sorry, and that it was the biggest mistake of my life. I told her how I still remembered her teaching me how to cook pancakes and how we used to watch Tv together at night. I was crying a lot while I said it, but I said it loud so she could hear me. Her shoulder moved while I was talking—it lurched forward--, but I don’t know if that was a coincidence, or if she was responding to what I said. I heard my sister crying from the closet, and I got up and we hugged and she told me grandma didn’t cate; she still loved me.
Then I left and let my sister have her turn.
My brother was pretty calm through the whole thing, and when I left the room I found him talking psychology with my Tio Fernie, who apparently legitimately believes that mental illness is caused by demons corrupting the brain’s functions. My brother and I subtly signed to each other how we both forgot how deeply religious every person in the family is.
We left at 4:30 so I could get to work on time. My sister went with us; she had said everything she needed to say, and my brother didn’t need to say anything.
On the way out, when we were saying goodbye to my Dad, I told him to make sure the family Bible was okay.
“Don’t let them throw it away, or donate it,” I said. “Grandma has a lot of Bibles, so don’t let them accidentally give it away with the others.”
“I’ll make sure it’s safe,” he said. “If I don’t get it, I’ll make sure whoever does takes care of it.” After a moment, he said, “Is there anything else you’d like too?”
“The Diego Rivera pictures,” I said. “The ones with the lilies. I learned how to draw flowers from that.”
It was true. When I was a kid, I spent ages looking at the flowers in the pictures and trying to draw them. It didn’t work out so well, but the images are seared into my brain.
He nodded and said goodbye.
We dropped y sister off at home, then my brother and I went to work. I signed in, and my coworker showed up and we opened as usual, except that I randomly went from hyperactive and running around and making jokes to crying. She knew what had been going on, and she had just lost her cousin at Christmas. She asked if I needed to go home, and I told her I was fine, and that I wanted to keep my mind busy with work.
For the most part, we were cool, but occasionally, I ducked behind the counter to quietly cry. She called my brother (who had started work the same time as me, only in the offices in the other building) to ask what to do. He told her to act normal, and I heard her say, “But she’s not acting normal!”
I laughed and apologized for being kind of nuts.
Later on, her friends came in, and they sat together and chatted. I helped a customer, and I didn’t realize it, but my eyes were still running even though I wasn’t sobbing, and he told Steph to check on me. It was embarrassing, but she understood. She put up with a lot of bullplop that night, but we made it.
I got a text from my dad around 6:30 that I hadn’t noticed until 7. It said that my Gran had died at 5:35, the exact moment I had clocked in for work, and an hour after we had visited.
* * * * *
I missed the funeral and memorial services. I went to Nevada the Friday she passed to visit Megan. I asked my dad if I should skip the Nevada trip and stay, but he told me Grandma would have wanted me to enjoy myself, and would have felt bad if she’d made me miss spending time with my best friend after I had been planning it for so long.
While I was waiting at the movie theater for my friend to get off work, I started writing this on my laptop and thinking about her. Then went digging through my phone to distract myself. I found a message Gram left me from December 2014. In it, she says that she was sending out a call to anyone who would like to help her set up Christmas decorations (if we weren't too busy), and that she'd like to see me and my siblings.
I did not cry in the lobby of the Cinemark. I want to make that clear. I maintained my composure, packed my shit, and made it to the restroom before breaking down.
My head is in a weird place.