My Mamaw died this morning. Peacefully, it seems, and many years later than we expected. She had been in assisted living and then at a nursing home for I forget how many years now, living with dementia. I was never close to her, and my memories of her are split between pleasant and unpleasant. If I had known this word as a child, I would have described her as brusque. When I saw her last in May, she didn’t know who I was or who my mom was, but we expected that.
My Mamaw died this morning and I don’t know how I feel about it. Or how I should feel. The truth is that my life will go on exactly the same as it has the past many years. Nothing has changed. Except that the whole world has shifted a little, or tilted. Like it did last summer when my uncle Max, Mamaw’s oldest son, died. No one told her; she would not have known who he was. In less than a year, the fabric of my life has contracted twice. My family has quietly shrunk.
And I’m in Georgia, a thousand miles away, unsure of how to feel or whether I can afford the time to go home for the funeral, or whether I can afford not to go. I didn’t make it home for Uncle Max this summer, and I have wished often that I could have made a different choice. Either way, life will not wait patiently on pause while I work out how I feel, and what I should feel, and deal with maybe a little guilt over not being able to say with any certainty that I am sad. I still have to grade papers. I still have to prep to teach my class. I still have to read for exams. I still have to show up.
And I don’t know what to say, either. I tried to write a Facebook post, but it seemed weird and wrong somehow to say, “My Mamaw died and I don’t know how to feel.” It seemed impossible to reduce into a status update her moment of passing and my emotional stasis. So I came here instead, I suppose hoping that more words would make things more clear, or easier, or comprehensible, or something. I’m not sure it has.
There are two memories of my Mamaw that I have cherished for years.
The first was after I got my first horse, Tigger. Mom sent Mamaw a photo in the mail, and the next time we came to visit, Tigger’s photo was up on Mamaw’s refrigerator. It wasn’t much, but at that time, nothing in the world was more important to me that that horse, and it meant a lot to me that Mamaw cared about him too. I felt like she was proud of me.
The second happened sometime when I was in college. We were in Midland visiting, and Mamaw was asking me about college. She sat in her floral-upholstered easy chair, the one that had been in the same place in her living room as far back as I could remember, which sat even then next to the empty, gray chair that had been my Grandad’s. She listened to me talk about school. And then she announced that she had gotten a full scholarship to college when she graduated high school, but she didn’t go. “That’s when I met your grandad,” she said. And then, with a faraway look in her eyes and a slight, secretive smile playing at her lips, she quietly declared, “He was my Waterloo.” It was the only time I remember hearing her speak of her youth (she wasn’t much for story-telling), and it was the only glimpse I ever had into her life beyond what I knew of it through my own experience. It felt like a gift. It still does.
And one more memory, from my visit with her in May. My mom and I were talking to her, trying to explain who we were, and my mom said that I had come all the way from Georgia to Texas to see her. She looked at us and said, “I wish I was in Texas.” Mom said, “You are. This nursing home is in Texas,” to which Mamaw simply said, “No.” We let it go and laughed about it later. I’m thinking about that now, as I’m also wishing that I were in Texas and not so very far away from my family.