How Loss Caused an Evolution

I was choking on a strong mix of emotions. I'm still choking on a strong mix of emotions.

I remember wheeling my grandmother into her bathroom, the bathroom I felt like I had just helped her into with my grandfather in order to give her a shower. I scooted her around the small room until I had her adjusted close enough to the sink that I could take her little curling iron and begin to roll her hair around it. I can't remember what we talked about, but I remember talking. Talking and laughing and doing her hair. I spun her around so she could see her reflection and she smiled, saying how "pwiddy" she looked. Her thick accent never changed, for the whole twenty-two years that I've known her. Her hair did look pretty, beautiful soft white curls that looked natural framed her face, making me wish that I have the same head of hair when I hit her age.

I remember clipping on her earrings and snapping a little gold bracelet around her frail wrist. I felt like I was dolling her up for a first date, but was instead helping her get ready for her husband's funeral. It was a weird feeling, but I could tell she appreciated the air in which we went about it all. I just kept imagining my grandpa looking at her in awe, the same way he always talked about looking at her when they first fell in love. I guess I wanted to feel like I was a part of that.

I remember sitting next to her in the front row as the service began. It's interesting how I've always thought the people sitting in the front of funeral services were experiencing something out of this world. But when I found myself actually filling those seats between my grandmother and my mother, everything felt flatter. I wanted to... I still don't even know what I wanted to do to comfort my mom and grandma as they watched the service unfold. And I still don't know how to describe everything except for this deflated, simpler, flatter feeling.

But I remember my grandfather's funeral being peaceful, happy even. My grandpa John was a strong, selfless, simple man. We all joked about how he probably didn't even want us to make a fuss when he passed. He told me this story once, about these Eskimo people. The whole family in these groups would pull their own weight, and when the "old folks" got too old and weak, they would walk off into the night like an old dog, knowing that it's their time. I think he admired that, he admired that their family didn't have to worry about them anymore.

Most of all, I remember my grandmother sitting with me in the kitchen of the funeral home, rubbing her strawberries in sugar (not in Equal, as she so often reprimanded me for), and letting me put my sunglasses on her. I recall thinking that my grandpa liked seeing me take Yoshiko's mind off of the room next door just for a few moments. Surprisingly, those few minutes of swapping sunglasses continue to be one of my happiest moments of this year.

A few weeks later I found myself walking into the same funeral home, into the same room to celebrate the life of my grandmother. I hadn't even realized I was avoiding looking at her in her casket until my dad asked if I had seen her, about thirty minutes into the viewing. I waited until nobody was hovering over her, like a bunch of flies that I had for some reason felt so angry towards, and I silently slipped over to her. Nobody there understood the Olympics my family had just gone through- moving her out of her apartment in the middle of her grieving process and into our home. Nobody understood the relationship Yoshiko and I built in those short weeks she lived with me. In my mind at the time, nobody there deserved to stand over her casket and sniffle- they hadn't taken tireless care of her and lost a roommate, a best friend and a grandmother.

But there she was, in her little red kimono I had only a few weeks prior put on and used to stir up a couple laughs out of her. Her nails were the red I had picked out and lent her from my personal collection of polish. She always told me she only wore a crimson red on her nails when would paint them. After my grandpa died, I continuously asked her if I could paint her nails, but she would always refuse, saying that she would only do it to get dolled up for Poppa. It felt fitting, having them red when we laid her to rest with her husband. But her hands were dark, clearly caked in heavy makeup. I so badly wanted to grab one of the tissues in the box near me and scrub at them. While I know corpses tend to look fake in general to people, my grandmother's hands looked like a doll's or like they had been shaped out of clay. I yearned to see her familiar bruised skin I loved so dearly. They didn't feel soft and loved anymore. I can't remember how her face looked, and I'm glad. As beautiful as my grandmother looked that day, I'll always see her the way she would describe herself to me at my age- a Japanese goddess in a pretty little yellow 50's dress with a gorgeous thick head of dark hair, bouncing around, cracking jokes and giving the boys a run for their money with her wit.

My grandmother's funeral was different. I wanted to be at my grandpa's but all I could think about at Yoshiko's was going home and going to bed, or just getting out of there in general. I kept blaming it on the fact that I felt like I had just gone through all of the obligatory I'm-sorry-for-your-loss-es, but I feel like it was either my subconscious unwilling to accept the reality of the situation or something else I still can't quite put my finger on. They say that funerals are for the living, and after sitting outside of the viewing room on a couch facing away from everything for the majority of the service, I realized how true that was. I needed to experience my grandfather's funeral because I'd felt guilty I hadn't gotten to know the man better and hadn't understood that kind of loss. But I think I wanted to escape Yoshiko's because I hadn't felt (and still don't feel) like she's gone. I see little bits of Yoshiko. I'd seen my grandma in a dream the morning she passed away; she stood tall, slender and beautiful, looking to be my age. She kissed me on the head, told me some sweet things and just like that I woke up to later discover that day that she had passed. I feel like we had our moment, and that was as much closure as I needed.

I sat in the same seat as I had before for my grandfather's funeral, only Yoshiko's little blue wheelchair wasn't parked next to me. I don't really remember what I said when I stood up at the little podium. I don't remember leaving the funeral home either. But I can't stop thinking about her hands. I know they covered them in makeup to hide her bruises but I loved her bruises. I loved how much her hands showed how time had pulled her and how as rough the world was on her, they were still soft and beautiful to the touch.

I keep looking at photos I've taken of her hands holding mine in hopes of replacing the image of the solid ones I saw in her casket but the image still remains. I'm scared to go home to see my grandmother's room, next to mine, emptied of her. That room has evolved with our family- from a playroom, to my little brother's room, to my dad's office, to a storage space, and finally to my grandmother's room. I know it'll continue to change, but I feel like I'll never be able to unsee her grinning face welcoming me home late at night as I climbed the stairs as quietly as possible, trying not to wake her.

It hurts not having my grandma around anymore, and lots of things about that scare me and occasionally cause me to crack. But experiencing that kind of loss has caused a lot of things to sort of begin to grow through those cracks and holes that have formed from her absence. I was lucky to get to know my grandmother as Yoshiko, as a person beyond my grandmother. I learned her history and how and why she ticked the way she did. So I in turn learned more about how I tick.

I noticed similarities between us that I hadn't before, and because of that could see things from an outsider's perspective. I noticed which things I wanted to embrace more comfortably, things that I had previously been unsure about. But the biggest thing I'll cherish about my relationship with Yoshiko was our humor and our uncanny ability to get each other.

I think one of my proudest moments in my life, was when we sat in her room as I got her ready for bed, and she told me she was jealous of the boy I'd been recently hanging out with. I joked about it for a few minutes, and I lightheartedly asked if she was my friend. She sat there and looked at me, and very seriously said "You're my friend." Simply. I thought it was funny how serious she was about it and we both laughed. But I was honored to have the most complex woman I had ever met, call me her friend. I wasn't just her obligatory granddaughter anymore, but her friend.

I think she said some of the mean things she said because pain was one of the only constants in her life. She'd encountered a lot of change in her lifetime and a lot of loss and I think that pointing fingers was the vice of choice that she somehow landed on. As stubborn as she was, from her last few weeks, I learned that she really didn't mean a lot of what she said. I grew up being scared of her, thinking I would never get her to crack a smile or laugh at anything I had to say. But after seeing her cry for the first time when I was probably thirteen (?) I realized how human she was. She felt pain, and at the time it was a type of pain I didn't understand or had never seen before. I can't really remember exactly when I started to tease her back in the same way she always teased my brothers and I, but I remember realizing she respected me for it.

We'd started with a sort of mutual respect for each other's lack of inhibitions when it came to telling somebody how it was, or just simply joking around. And before I knew it, I found myself plucking fake flowers out of her back garden and hiding them in her bed to find since I had told her I thought planting fake flowers was lazy and cheap.

I still have one of her voicemails saved from when she'd call me just to talk, like high school girlfriends gossiping about boys I was interested in, or how her friend Margie had come to give her a perm that week and the gossip Margie had to dish out.

My grandmother was and still continues to be the strangest, strongest, and most complex women I have ever met. It takes an undeniable amount of courage and strength to move blindly to a country in which you've never been, barely being able to speak the language with a new husband and son. I can only try to run fearlessly towards my future like Yoshiko did towards hers. Now that she's gone, I feel like someone's embalmed me as well. Extracted the tired, slowing blood that refused to pump through my veins for the last few weeks of her existence, and replaced it with something thicker that would preserve this new version of myself.

I've experienced pain, I'm in pain, and I will continue to feel pain. But if these past few months (hell, years really) have taught me anything- it's that everything, e.v.e.r.y.t.h.i.n.g. is temporary and pain reveals strength. Pain, time, and strength remind me that I can't waste time beating around the bush and biting my tongue. I've tried to avoid talking about my grandmother to strangers or online because I feel that that's taboo, but the more I bottle up in regards to missing Yoshiko, or telling stories about her, the more I realize I need to talk it out- even if it's typing out a lengthy post. What's the point in consistently pretending pain doesn't exist when it does? When it's real, and loud and exhausting? And why should I skip out on an opportunity to turn the pain of absence into something more joyful- something reminiscent and progressive? Just some thoughts.


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