Wednesday, July 8, 2015

The Curious Circumstances Surrounding My Grandmother's Death

After my parents divorced, my mother moved in with her parents.  She was receiving monthly maintenance payments from my dad that would have covered rent on a nice apartment in their inexpensive town -- especially if she'd cashed any of the maintenance checks from their legal separation, which my brother had found in a pile by the front door with the rest of the mail for the last several months -- but she wasn't functioning at that point.  She didn't shower, she rarely ate, and to my knowledge, she mostly slept. 

My grandparents had recently sold their house and started renting half a duplex in the next town over.  There were suggestions that they'd needed the money from the sale, that my grandfather had been too generous with the union pension he'd been receiving since the age of 55 and was running low on funds, but my mother also claimed the new house was easier to get around in now that they were both old and frail. 

I don't know how my mother moved in.  I know she didn't pack.  I know my brother Dante was at my parents' house a lot at the time and saw the empty storage pod she left behind in the driveway.  I presume one of her brothers came and retrieved her.  Her two remaining brothers were caring for their parents at the time, coming over a couple times per day to do laundry and cook and clean for them.  My mother became their third ward.  I presume she slept on the couch since my grandparents were living in a 2-bedroom home and hadn't shared a room in my lifetime.

A number of months later, my grandmother died.  She was in her seventies.  Most people in my mother's family don't live to see seventy.  My great-grandparents all died in their sixties, except for my grandma's "deadbeat dad," who was educated and well off and lived into his nineties.  My mother's numerous siblings have all died now except for one.  None have made it to sixty but her.  So it seems odd to say my grandmother died unexpectedly in her seventies, but at the same time, I don't know what precipitated her death.  She'd suffered an aneurism a decade earlier, and she'd had a stroke or two since then.  She didn't get around well anymore, hence my uncles taking over the housework and caregiver duties.  My mother said my grandfather killed her.

My dad called to tell me my grandmother had died.  Dante had told him.  He said there were some shady circumstances surrounding her death and no one really knew what had happened.  He said my grandmother had been hospitalized a few days earlier and had asked to file a police report alleging domestic abuse.  I don't know if the police report was actually filed.  I don't know that my grandfather was the perpetrator of the abuse.  I wouldn't put it past him to hurt someone, but he was also old and so morbidly obese that he'd barely been able to walk in years.  He would have still been stronger than my grandmother though.  The last time I saw her, she couldn't walk without assistance.  She couldn't get to her walker without assistance.

My mother mailed me a card not long after her mother died.  It had a picture of a sad puppy on the front and said something like "I miss you" on it.  The inside was completely covered with her handwriting.  She said it was 3:30 in the morning.  She said her dad was screaming at her as she wrote (not surprising if you've met him), telling her to get out of his house.  She had accused him of killing her mother, and he was blind with rage and kicking her out (my family has long been a fan of the kicking-each-other-out power play).  I don't remember what else the card said -- mostly things about how bad everything was.  It seemed so bizarre when I received it, the absurdity of the sappy cover art juxtaposed with the insanity on the inside (and I don't mean my mother, though she did seem unhinged even in greeting card form, but the insanity of the entire situation).  I hadn't wanted to throw it away, but I couldn't stand to look at it either because I was still in contact with my mother at the time and any contact felt painful, so I'd hid it from myself, only to find it again years later when it fell unexpectedly from a book I'd opened.  That time I threw it away.  I don't know what happened between my mom and her dad after that night, but I know she didn't move out until he died a couple of years later.

There would be no funeral for my grandmother.  She had many friends, and eventually her church congregation came together to hold a memorial service in her honor, but I didn't find out until it was over.  This was the first in a line of family deaths that would receive no services or burial or acknowledgment of any kind from family.  The bodies are burned at the cheapest crematorium in town, which also offers completely free disposal of remains for any body that has been donated to science, as well as handles the necessary paperwork.

I check that crematorium's website occasionally for new obituaries, doing a search for my mother's married and maiden names.  It's how I found out another uncle had died, as well as my grandfather.  My grandfather's obituary said nothing beyond "proud WWII vet."  Nothing about being preceded in death by his wife of sixty years, nothing about their children or grandchildren or great-grandchildren who survived them.  I suspect there is no one left in my family who is willing to write obituaries anymore. 

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