We writers often go silent at just the precise moment when there is so very much to say. That has been this past week for me. From the moment I heard from my aunt who sat vigil at her hospital bed. Grandma Gloria is gone from this world.
When such a powerful light of goodness in the world goes out it hits hard and at depth you knew was coming but could not possibly prepare.
I am reminded of Wrinkle in Time when the three Mrs. Who, Mrs. Which, and Mrs. Whatsit take the children to visit the Happy Medium who shows them the good and the light in the world and the darkness that overshadows. There’s a discussion of how to combat the darkness and the history of Earth’s inhabitants overcoming it through arts and sciences and philosophy–through thinking and creating. Jesus. Buddha. Shakespeare. My grandmother Gloria. All of them fighting the darkness.And she is all of those characters and her own character too.
She fought the darkness with love of the arts and the love of children–as simple and as complex as that. After her second son died in 1967, she had no more use for religions or gods and the comfort they could not bring her. She had no use for societal expectations that she or anyone else she loved be any particular way. She kept her distance from racists and homophobes even when it required getting rid of old friends to do it. She embraced those who others found not embraceable.
For my aunts and uncles and I, she embraced our friends and loved ones as her own children and made all feel welcomed in her house on Gunn Avenue in Whittier.
I can not get over her being gone. How could I? How could we, her family prepare? She died less than two months after her 98th birthday–she’d had many brushes with death in the last decade where we thought we might lose her–but now finally she’s gone. I wander still shell-shocked at the inevitability. I tear up in the car thinking of her singing old songs or happy birthdays at 6 am on mine. That at once sweet angelic voice and the harsh sarcasm of a bronx birth and upbringing all rolled into one.
She was a grandmother like no other and her fierce duty and loyalty deserved or not to children and grandchildren meant all other grandparents paled in comparison. If she didn’t like you, it was your own damn fault. She loved everyone but she didn’t suffer fools and she didn’t appreciate people who thought they were better than they were and she always saw right through that. Hence her disdain for pseudo-intellecuals and self-proclaimed know it alls.
But she had a soft huge heart for underdogs and the mistreated and those of us who wander without complete labels. I am the first child born (1969) after the death of her son. The first grandchild with nine years between me and the next one and a bastard at that. I fit not with her children nor my cousins but a spot she carved out for me all my own. A spot of special; she made sure I never felt less than even when others sought to make me feel so.
She was a woman of very few faults–my mother –her first daughter in law–would say it was her ambivalence towards pets. The poor woman suffered through the pets of six children and at least five grandchildren and even in retirement living with first one daughter and then the next, she never quite caught respite from dogs
Her other fault? Overwhelming sacrifice for the sake of her children and grandchildren. In her youth she’d sung on the radio and sketched commercial fashion drawings. But the depression meant she dropped out of high school to go to work retail –which is the kind of work she did most of her life–without fulfilling her artistic dreams. She lived those out through her kids and grandkids –most of whom sing or play instruments, draw, paint, write, act. All the things she sacrificed for love of family.
I think of the places she held dear as well. The theatre. The concert hall. The ballet. The margarita happy hour at the defunct Las Portales in Uptown Whittier. The love of a California road trip up north. The love of children. The permission to say yes to things because life is short. She gave us the love of California’s beaches and staring out into the ocean for endless possibilities. Queen of the dreamers, that one.
Grandma but for the love of children–it defined her and she was able to look deep into the child and find the good that perhaps no one else saw. It’s this super power that has so many of us gut-wrenched now.
I have enjoyed the position of being one of Gloria’s best friends as well as her granddaughter. We were each other’s plus one for more than two decades and confidantes.
I guess what it comes down to is this: it doesn’t just feel like grandma gloria died–it feels like the concept of unconditional love just died. I was lucky enough to have that for 50 years. It will take at least that long to recover.
I have a feeling her soul will not be at complete rest—it will instead be coaxing the stars to shine and surrounding the ether with as much love as it can bear.
My love to you always my dear, and thank you.