Mother Goose Says Goodbye

On Monday afternoon, I got a Facebook call from my sister at 1 pm. A call from the U.S. on a non-preassigned call day (Sun and Thurs) instantly sends red flags flying through my mind. It was 7 am in Philadelphia. It was a Facebook call. It was someone who usually doesn’t call me. Something was wrong. I didn’t want to pick it up. But I did.

I was right. And a minute later I was hearing that my grandmom had died. The news wasn’t a complete shock. In our weekly conversations my dad had been laying down small comments, she’s getting pretty frail, she’s not doing too great, she was a bit out of it, I think it’s getting close. She wasn’t bedridden, but getting around the house, to the bathroom, to the kitchen, was a two person affair. Travel anywhere was hinged majorly on factors that most of us take for granted. Every day was an operation involving oxygen, medicine, taking vitals, shots. My aunt is a registered nurse and provided care 24 hours a day and 7 days a week, without which she may quite well have gone a number of years ago.

So when my sister said the words, it wasn’t a massive shock, but it was a punch to the gut anyway. There’s a difference between a theoretical bad condition and the very real fact that you’re never going to see someone again. I got on the tram, sat down, opened my Murakami book and propped it on my lap. It and I sat just like that for the 43 minutes to my stop. I was dazed and unable to speak.

I decided to deal with this like a man’s man, a hard man, and so I popped into the grocery store and bought 450 Koruna (20ish bucks) worth of candy, junk food, and carbohydrates, and I made a B line for my pajamas.

My grandmom was a wonderful woman, probably just like yours. A part of the Greatest Generation, joyously invested in the lives of her kids, grandkids, and great grandkids. She rooted for all of us, supported us, and remembered everything. Every year, no matter where I was, I got my birthday card with a check for $20, her shaky printing asking me if I was ten or so years younger than I really was.   

“How old are you this year, twelve?” she asked when I was fourteen and the very idea of being pegged as a twelve year old was abominable.

“How old are you this year, seventy?” I asked her, when she was sixty-seven and the very idea of being pegged as a septuagenarian was equally as abominable.

Thus began our running joke wherein she undershot my age by a few years and I overshot hers by a few. I knew I was getting old when she shifted from undershooting my age to overshooting. When I saw her this last August on her birthday was the last time we did it.

“Hey old lady,” I said, “what are you, 104 today?”

“Ninety-six,” she said, “but I feel 196. How old are you, fifty?” It took her about a minute to say.

That is how she lived. She was smart, funny, and self-educated, but she never put herself above a joke, or anyone, or anything for that matter. When, as a child, I swore that I had seen a ghost in her hallway, she listened closely to my description, and then said “Oh I see weird things around here all the time. Let’s go find them.” We got flashlights and walked around the garage and the basement, looking behind desks and couches. That weekend we came up with a sign, which would have to be sent from the afterlife from whoever got to there first, just to let the other know there was something on the other side. I have never told anyone what that sign is and I assume she didn’t either. But If I see it this week, I will absolutely shit in my pants. Even if I’m not wearing pants, which is a distinct likelihood, I will put some on and then shit in them.

In the last days I have been remembering my grandmom in many ways. As a frail old woman lying in a bed, hair thin, jaw shaky. But also telling funny stories on Saturday mornings over cinnamon toast and eggs. And at my Holy Communion lunch at Fisher’s, where she gave me an envelope with a check in it, her signature in the right corner and in the memo section Holy Communion! followed by a parade of xoxoxoxoxoxo. And running the show at our family’s Christmas Eve dinners at her house, her kitchen a sweat lodge, the house teeming with loud, cheerfully obnoxious Galeones and their friends, none of us ever imagining where else we might be that night. And as a lively woman with a laugh from out of the pachyderm grove at the zoo. And as a person whose daily routine involved an obsessive dedication to her boyfriend Alex Trebek and Jeopardy, but who flew all over the world to travel and to see her scattered family.

Other than the obvious loss of a person I love, there’s no reason to be sad about my grandmom’s death. She went at the age of ninety-six, asleep in the bed she slept in every night for four decades, next to the family room that was filled with friends and family for six decades, and a few meters from the kitchen where she fed thousands and taught half of us to cook. More or less, it’s how I hope we all go.  

In any event, nothing new here folks, just a reminder that time pauses for no person. Meet your friends for drinks on a Monday, call your grandmom today and not tomorrow, enjoy every Tuesday morning meeting, every traffic jam, every sandwich, and enjoy watching my grandmother’s boyfriend Alex Trebek and that Jeopardy.

  1. #1 by greg on November 18, 2019 - 9:10 pm


  2. #2 by Angela on December 1, 2019 - 9:36 pm

    I love this Damien. Thank you.

  3. #3 by Rich on December 5, 2019 - 10:57 pm

    Wonderful, Damien. We should all be blessed with such a nice life.

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