The Black Cloud of Death

Some of you may have noticed that I’ve been a little quiet lately.

This post I’m about to compose has been haunting me for weeks, so in order for me to move forward, and hopefully continue writing, I must get it out. Not for pity. Just for me. It will be long. I will swear. It probably won’t be funny. It may not even include the mention of beer. Ok, ok… who am I kidding, of course I needed beer over the last few months!! An IV-drip at times!

*Deep breath*
This summer, I had to say goodbye to someone very close to my heart: my Granni (fun fact: she spelled Granni with-an-i because of her first Grandchild: Kelli with-an-i). 

Last month, I had to say goodbye to another lady close to my heart: my Grandma.

I lost both of my Grandmothers less than 90 days apart. I lost them so close, I don’t think some people realized that the deaths were two separate people.

For most people, losing a Grandparent is a part of life. I know I’m not the first person on earth to lose a Grandparent. I lost each of my Grandfathers when I was old enough to understand the finality of death, at age 11 & 16… but too young to have developed a solid enough relationship with them to fully understand the mourning process.

Since my Grandmothers passed, I’ve heard the standard array of cliches that I, myself, am guilty of stating to loved ones over the years.
“They lived a full life”

“It was their time”
“They aren’t suffering anymore”
“They are always with you in your heart”
Blah blah blah, etc. If you’ve lost a loved one, you know the drill.

The thing is, when you lose your 88yo Grandmothers, it is different from other deaths. And believe me, I’ve attended my fair share of funerals — most of them were premature (i.e. any death under the age of 65). My Father-in-law, infant cousins, nephew and niece; non-blood related friends who FELT like family, people I actually referred to as Mom, Dad, Aunt or Uncle at some point in my young life. I’ve also had to say goodbye to friends who couldn’t overcome problems, succumbing to drug overdoses or suicide… and let’s not forget about that dirty whore cancer. Each of these premature deaths were (and still are) difficult to wrap my brain around. With each death, I’d feel this need to DO SOMETHING. I’d do my best to be there for the loved ones the deceased left behind… even though, there’s not a hell of a lot you can do on the sidelines of death. And in many cases… my loved ones just wanted to be left alone to mourn.

When I got “the” calls about my Grandmothers, I went into “to-do” mode. I’m the oldest of 4 daughters, born to two first-borns; I always feel this weight of responsibility, or maybe just a instinctual drive to “help” or “fix” things. Maybe I see myself as the Olivia Pope of my family, I don’t know. I’m nowhere near as good as dealing with a scandal as Kerry Washington, but I’m sure you follow.

When my Granni passed, I was in Iowa on a snooze-inducing business trip with the hubs & the kids. That was tough enough; I remember feeling SO incredibly helpless and far-away. I wanted to be there to help my dad with arrangements. Hell, just BE with him to go through pictures over beers with him and remember. Instead, his ex, my mom (who my Granni hated!) interfered with the funeral arrangements, and let’s just say I wasn’t the only one pissed about this. Any shit people may have thrown in anger at my dad was thrown at me instead, and I had to find a way to… well, deal with it.

I couldn’t fix it.

It was a funeral, and anyone bitching about how it wasn’t an appropriate tribute to her may have been right on the money, but the music was incredible — something my Granni would’ve absolutely appreciated. The day is already hazy to me, and even if it was the best funeral ever, it would never hold a candle to the incredible life my Granni led. Funerals are for the living, not the dead. We want them to be perfect, of course, but they aren’t. Some level of drama will have to be dealt with. Someone will be left out of a collection of pictures. Someone will be left out of the ceremony altogether. Emotions are high. It’s easy to throw blame in these situations. So I took the shit, with a smile in some cases, because I deeply adore the family members who held some anger about my Granni’s funeral. I understood their disappointment and anger. I took it, so my dad, uncle & aunt wouldn’t have to. It wasn’t easy, but at least I felt like I was doing something.

Several weeks go by and I finally feel like I’m getting back to whatever normal is as the school year begins… until I find out that my Grandma is going on hospice.

My family of four made another trek across the state to visit my Grandma a few days later, and we see first-hand how much she is suffering (seriously frightening my kids — whoops, should’ve left them with Grampa for a few hours) and we pray for a quick passage. Doctors tell us Grandma likely won’t make it to Christmas.

Two weeks later, our prayers were answered, my Grandma did pass away. Less than 90 days after my Granni.

My sisters and I have dealt with a lot of death, especially in the last couple of years. My younger sisters had their own array of responsibilities to tend to, and all of them had JUST come into town for my Granni’s funeral.  (None of us live in our hometown anymore) I live two & a half hours away and have 2 kids to help get my mom’s mind off of her mother’s passing. Since my sisters couldn’t arrive into town until the funeral took place, I felt obligated to support my mother, with the hubs & my kids in tow. If you know me personally, or even followed this blog in its early years, you’ll understand how difficult this was for me. The house where I spent my teenage years is haunted in my eyes. I do not have many positive memories in this house. But I sucked it up, because I knew in my heart that we couldn’t leave my mother alone in that house.

So along with dealing with the death of my 2nd Grandmother in under 90 days, I’m left to deal with my unstable mother, a pissed off, anxious hubs, (who feels about the same as I do about staying in that house) a 5 & 8yo who hate sharing a room with anyone… and somewhere in there, I’ve gotta deal with my own feelings & emotions right?



I buried my feelings.

I buried them so well, I actually talked my mother down from a few ledges.

I’m not one to internalize shit, better out than in, right? But I felt this need to be strong for everyone — almost subconsciously. It was like I was sleep-walking through it. I don’t know how I remained strong and didn’t break down.

The morning of my Grandma’s funeral… I wasn’t in a good place. I had spent 3 days in the house I vowed I’d never return to, I hadn’t slept much, and now I had to slap myself with a pretty-stick and prepare to sing at church and deal with people I barely knew spewing out life and death cliches. Then my mom takes a bath in perfume that set my allergies… and me… off. I believe I instantly turned into 16yo Kelli. I couldn’t breathe, so I stormed out of the house with my inhaler, yelling at my mother to dump her cheap perfume, then at the hubs to finish getting the kids ready. As I stormed out, I noticed that my youngest ripped her new dress after I had specifically told her to be careful in it… oh… it was good times all around.

We get to church, I stitch Sedona’s dress, and I breathe.

And I breathe some more.

I practice the songs I’m singing… I turn into Annette Benning in American Beauty, repeating: I can sing these songs today.  

My Grandma’s funeral begins, it feels like deja vu at first I was just here yesterday, wasn’t I?… but I keep breathing.

I was doing surprisingly well; I was in good voice, and I wasn’t allowing the depressing lyrics seep into my brain… 

… until I got through the last verse on the last song I was soloing on. As I bring the congregation in to sing the chorus, the words “may the angels welcome you to paradise… “ grabbed me by the throat, like an intense force blindsiding me with an ugly cry that would’ve made Anne Hathaway shutter.

I couldn’t physically sing anymore, I was crying so hard it paralyzed me.

I was frozen, standing in front of everyone, balling my fucking eyes out into the microphone. The flood of ANGELS I had lost over the years poured into my head. The 100 or so people in attendance came up to me 5 minutes later, telling me they cried with me, which only made me cry more as they hugged me — even if I tried to laugh it off. Yes, this is the fucked up way I deal with crazy bad shit at first — I laugh or make a really awful, inappropriate joke.

But the jokes ended, and I didn’t stop crying for weeks. Let’s be honest here, I’m still fighting the tears back on a daily basis.

I keep wondering… why am I so upset? People I love have lost daughters, sons, brothers, sisters, even parents waaaaaaaay before their time and have been able to move on with their lives. When I put myself in their shoes, I feel this debilitating amount of guilt for feeling so sad over two deaths that were inevitable. Guilt on top of depression… is awesome.

I had believed every cliche I was thrown about my Grandmothers dying. I even reiterate these cliches to people! They were both 88 years old… they both lived VERY full, happy lives. They knew and loved my children. My own father-in-law never met Sedona, or lived long enough to celebrate Natalie’s first birthday. I was prepared for the deaths of my Granni & Grandma… so…. why are these deaths so upsetting to me?

The thing is, I know the answer.

I’ve always known the answer.

Even if these incredible women didn’t carry the intense weight of responsibility that a full-fledged, biological mother might, my Granni and Grandma provided me with many things my own mother did not; they were two mother-figures I desperately needed growing up. My Grandma lived less than a mile away and was in my life on a daily basis. And I’d spend long, fulfilling days, sometimes weeks with my Granni at her lake house in northern Michigan, at my family cottage, and in Florida. For as long as I can remember, I always looked forward to seeing them — butterflies-in-the-tummy-excited. I can’t comprehend some close mother-daughter relationships because I never have, and likely never will feel that way about my own mother, but then I remember… I felt that way about my Granni & Grandma. They were the non-judgmental, supportive, positive female forces in my life. They listened to me, respected me, taught me to believe in myself, embrace my independent spirit, urging me to not apologize for who I am, love who I love, and laugh at the bullshit; they saw the best in me, inspiring me to sing and play music, create art and delicious food. They would never talk down to me or see me as the “bad seed” my mother saw me as. My Granni & Grandma, without question, loved me unconditionally. They helped shape me into the woman I am today. Hell, this very space likely wouldn’t exist without their influence on my life.

And now… they are gone.

In many ways, I lost the closest thing I had to what many would define as a mother… times two.

People may think it’s time for me to “get over it” and move on… and I will, eventually. I know I was lucky to have my Grandmothers in my life for so long, and I’m not asking for pity, but after carrying the weight of everyone else on my shoulders, it’s my turn to focus on what I need for a change. So I’ve taken some time to mourn, and it may take me some more time. This grief and depression has awarded me physical issues, like migraines and other stress-related bullshit… so I’ve spent more time in bed than I care to mention. I haven’t felt inspired to write until now… even singing has been tough, two things that typically bring me joy. I’ve tried to escape my grief through movies, reruns, food, alcohol and even stupid video games. I have tried to be strong for my kids, but they do know and accept that Momma can be sad sometimes, and I’ve been soaking in their hugs and snuggles as much as I can. I’ve begun to force myself into making plans with people I do want to spend time with… and drink with!! These are the things I can control. Life just feels different… and I have had to shift my priorities.

I know there’s a ray of light that will shine through this black cloud at some point.
I know my funny-fuse will be repaired eventually and I will get through this.
I have a long list of memories to cherish… and many loved ones still on earth to cherish & make new memories with.

Thank you to those who have been so incredibly supportive over the last few months. You have a very special place in my heart.

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