Sunday, July 25, 2010

Love and loss

My grandmother passed away less than a week after we last saw her. She had been sick for about a year and her death was not completely unexpected, yet, it caught all of us by surprise. She was the most optimistic, {bossy}, fun-loving person you would ever meet which is why, I think, we all just kept waiting for her to get better. We didn't think she would allow this to happen to her, she had PLANS. This is a picture that Kyle took last summer before she got sick. I remember her saying, "I don't think this will be a good picture. The sun was in my face and I forgot to smile". For her, no smile = bad.


These last few days have been really weird for me. I know this would have been hard anyway but it's especially difficult because of the distance. I just keep thinking how much I wish I had spent more time with her and poor grandpa who's reported he doesn't know what to do now because she was always telling him what to do. I wish I had gotten to know her better, visited more often. I also can't help but imagine what my parents' life will be when they are my grandparents' age and need help but I would probably still be living in the States. That part is really hard.

The really odd thing about this whole experience is that I feel that all the answers to my questions are actually coming from the very person that I just lost: Head up. It's all a part of life. Enjoy what you have. Don't worry. Don't be jealous. Be kind. Eat. Drink. Sing at the top of your lungs. Dance when your knees hurt. Have opinions. Ask for help. If that doesn't work, boss people around.

13 comments:

  1. I wasn't at such a great distance, but it might as well have been the ocean--I was in Salt Lake working on an MA, a struggling student, when my grandmother, Eula Mae Phillips, died. I couldn't afford a bus ticket to the hospital or later, the funeral. After granddad died, I visited often, usually in June (blackberry season). I was the oldest grandchild and she meant so much. She was strong & supported her family during the depression as a rural Postmaster. She'd taught history. The Indian "Trail of Tears" story was important to her & our granddad was a local federal "Indian Agent." As such, he often took food to poor whites and Indians in remote areas and drove them to hospitals in larger towns. They lived in a country house of hand-done masonry--rust, dark purplish, and tan rocks. My grandmother's "post office" was a tiny room in the store (pot belly stove & benches where locals gathered). She was steady. calm & kept local gossip largely to herself. I once dreamed of her face as the texture and colors of their rock house. Once, after granddad died, we were sitting on the rough stone porch. She turned and asked, "Do you think you could live like this?" Meaning alone, a mile from anywhere. She did enjoy fishing in small ponds & having a daughter & grandchildren nearby, but I understood then how deeply she missed our granddad. I miss her as well.

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  4. Hi Petya, you may not remember me... I used to run in the same gang as Ina and Miladin in high school. I have been following your blog for a while and I always found it very engaging. I never built up the courage to respond, however...
    I'd like to express my most sincere condolences to you and your family. It must be very difficult to cope with such a loss from such a huge distance.
    I had a similar experience last year. I have been living in the US for about 9 years now. I graduated college in Oklahoma and met my husband here. I didn't get the opportunity to go back and visit my family as often as I would have liked over the years. I paid my own way through college and it was very difficult financially to go anywhere.
    Last year was gonna be my second time to go back to Bulgaria. I had booked the ticket and everything. I couldn't make there in time before grandma passed away, though... She had raised my brother and I, and she had always lived with my family. She was one of my closest people ever. It was unexpected for all of us and very, very heartbreaking.
    I got the news over the phone while I was at work. I didn't know what to do. Being so far away from the family made me feel very helpless and out of control. It was difficult to find closure. I remember I went home that afternoon and spent multiple hours on skype with my brother. We didn't say much, but it gave us some comfort.
    As time passed I felt ripped off and angry with myself for not making more time for her, for not calling or writing her more often. There was a time in high school when I would come home and she'd have lunch fixed for me, and she would sit and listen to me ramble about my day while I ate. I could tell her everything. She was my bud. She would flip through the channels on TV and call me over when a favorite metal band would come on. She really took time to take care of all of us. We were her life. She never complained and never wanted to be a burden to anyone.
    I've had time to go over all these memories in my head and I got to realize I didn't know her well enough. I didn't ask her enough about herself. Most of us, as children and teenagers, don't really think of our parents or grandparents as individuals who grew up and had lives before us. We think of them as always being at that mature age, experienced, wise, and responsible. At least I did, for a while... I've been able to develop a different kind of a relationship with my parents today. I try to treat the as piers, as friends. I never got a chance to do that with grandma.
    I knew she was a great beauty of her day. She didn't marry until she was 38. She went to a catholic school and was terrible at French. She once had a boyfriend in the army and she wrote him multiple letters that he never got because his buddies had been reading them. And she had gotten a beautiful bracelet from that same guy, I think, that I later snatched. I haven't been wearing it much since I heard it had sentimental value, though...
    I am so glad I got to have her in my life. That so much of her is still in me. I find myself sharing a great deal of her qualities and quirkiness, as well as a whole bunch of her old fashioned expressions. I hope I never lose those...
    I've rambled long enough. I'm not sure if any of this may have helped. I certainly wish it hadn’t made you feel worse. I think it's great that you have shared something so intimate with all of us and you have encouraged others to do the same! It is somehow relieving to share and find ways to accept and heal.

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  5. Hey...
    I am so sorry. It is very, very hard. You know, my grandmother passed away a few years ago now, and I have to say it is still hard. I tell myself time makes it easier, but really, it has not yet. I miss her terribly, and keep thinking about my mother being all alone in Baku...while I am here...and how hard it must be for her not to have my grandmother.. so I totally relate to this. Life can be very hard when we grow older and our parents/grandparents start leaving us. It is awfully hard. Nothing else I can add, really.

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  6. I just love what Ina wrote, that your gramdmother made you wash your faces to wash away people's bad thoughts so you could start fresh in the morning. I'm going to start telling my kids this. I have no doubt your grandmother is going to live on in many, many wonderful ways. xoxo

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  7. Petya, another wonderful post. I recently stumbled upon your blog and have been reading it religiously and waiting for updates as I can relate to everything you talk about. I am a Bulgarian who's been in the States for 9 years now. Married an American and currently live in Tennessee. I am so sorry to hear about your loss.

    I lost my grandparents a while back, in the nineties, but their great personalities are still so vivid in my memories that I often forget they are gone. Time and distance have blurred the lines between reality, memories and day dreams and I don't mind that. But really it is the passion they have lived their lives with and the trace they’ve left behind that keeps them so alive.

    When she was still around, in her seventies, one of my grandmothers took all the family pictures she had collected through the years and organized them in two books, one for my dad and one for my uncle. Nothing special, she just taped the pictures on white paper and wrote a brief explanation of who each person was and about 10 pages of family history and her thoughts on life, the people who surrounded her and the different political regimes she witnessed. At the time, I thought it was the retired librarian in her who was driving this and that she was mostly doing it for herself as this reflection on the past gave her a good sense of satisfaction with what she has accomplished. Today I am so grateful I have this wonderful collection of memories. I had not read what she wrote until a couple of months ago. The right time had just not come. When I finally got to it, I found her words simple but so honest, passionate and thoughtful. Not only did I feel I was listening to her speak but so did my husband. He has never met my grandparents but he felt he knew them very well.

    My other grandmother, though not quite the intellectual as the librarian above, poured her heart in everything she did as well. The rugs she made, made it all the way across the ocean and decorate pretty much every room in my house now.

    Your post made me reflect on what makes the memories of a person last long after one is gone and transcend the distance of time and geography. For my grandparents it is the passion and purpose they put in everything they did and the love they had for their close ones. And I believe that even when I am so far away I feel so much closer to home when I bring the personalities I treasure so much into my daily experiences. I hope I can leave a legacy like theirs.

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  8. Petya, another wonderful post. I too just recently stumbled upon your blog and have been reading it religiously and waiting for updates as I can relate to everything you talk about. I am a Bulgarian who's been in the States for 9 years now. Married an American and currently live in Tennessee.

    I am sorry for your loss.

    I lost my grandparents a while back, in the nineties, but their great personalities are still so vivid in my memories that I often forget they are gone. Time and distance have blurred the lines between reality, memories and day dreams and I don't mind that. But it is mostly the passion they have lived their lives with and the trace they’ve left behind that keeps them so alive.

    When she was still around, in her seventies, one of my grandmothers took all the family pictures she had collected through the years and organized them in two books, one for my dad and one for my uncle. Nothing special, she just taped the pictures on white paper and wrote a brief explanation of who each person was and about 10 pages of family history and her thoughts on life, the people who surrounded her and the different political regimes she witnessed. At the time, I thought it was the retired librarian in her who was driving this and that she was mostly doing it for herself as this reflection on the past gave her a good sense of satisfaction with what she has accomplished. Today I am so grateful I have this wonderful collection of memories. I had not read what she wrote until a couple of months ago. The right time had just not come. When I finally got to it, I found her words simple but so honest, passionate and thoughtful. Not only did I feel I was listening to her speak but so did my husband. He has never met my grandparents but he felt he knew them very well.

    My other grandmother, not quite the intellectual as the librarian above, poured her heart in everything she did as well. The rugs she made, made it all the way across the ocean and decorate pretty much every room in my house now.

    Your post made me reflect on what makes the memories of a person last long after one is gone and transcend the distance of time and geography. For my grandparents it is the passion and purpose they put in everything they did and the love they had for their close ones. And I believe that even when I am so far away I feel so much closer to home when I bring the personalities I treasure into my daily experiences. I hope I can leave a legacy like theirs.

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  9. I am sorry I posted twice. Can't figure out how to delete it.

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  10. i felt the same way after my grampa passed away...it was a few years ago and although I spent as much time as possible with him it didn't feel like enough...just take your grandmother's advice and live in the moment to make her proud ;)

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  11. Thank you for your kindness! It means the world to me! Not saying more because I'm writing this from work and if I did... I'd probably burst in tears. Not cool.

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  12. Heartbreaking situation.
    My reason to move from the States to UK is to be closer to the family..... still feels miles away!
    Everytime I feel far away though I just think about my grandmas , pancakes, jam and yoghurt...:)

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  13. Hi Petya. Your grandma sounds so fun-loving and sounds quite a bit like you, actually. Enjoy her memory!
    Love,
    Eva

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