Coping with a sad anniversary

Posted: Friday, March 11, 2005

I remember the lines on her feet, like a dusty map. I remember that she may have been the only person in history to actually read Playboy for the articles. I remember late night, egg and onion sandwiches, and that she never said she loved me, yet I somehow knew she did.

Last Sunday was the 15th anniversary of my grandma's death. All day I was cranky. I made snide comments to my husband. I tossed around books trying to find something that I could crawl into and disappear for awhile. I sighed audibly. I tried to cry, to think about my own mother and what it would be like to be without her for 15 years. Nothing felt quite right. I did the only thing that made any sense, and got a haircut.

The haircut didn't work either. It reminded me of the haircut I had when I was 6, the one where people would compliment my mom and her handsome son. I called my husband. "I won't be coming home for three to six months while my hair grows out." He managed to coax me home, where I sat in the driveway and wrapped my scarf around my head, Jackie O'-style.

Fifteen years. I am 30 now. My grandmother's death bisects my life. Before and after. Past and present. Life and death. Alaska and Maine.

Half my life, my grandma's been dead, but our story keeps twisting and folding. My grandma moved from New York to Alaska by herself in her 20s. She found work, love, winding streets and mountains. I moved from Alaska to Maine in my 20s, finding work, love, ocean and cobblestone streets.

Grief, like life, is wide and long. And love, like bones, survives youth and death. Decades can pass, and I will continue to learn about my grandma.

About my brother, about friends who died young, who died alone. People sometimes flail the word "closure" around, and it makes me grimace. As long as I have memory and heart, I will never be able to close the love and sadness I have for people who have gone.

Sure, I don't long for my grandma everyday. I don't even think of her everyday, like I still do my brother, my friends.

And she's faded so much from my memories that now she is mostly shadow memories, memories of memories. Which means that most of the memories are warped, altered, morphed. It seems that the only thing that really lasts is simply the feeling of a person, the essence. What you get when you sit real close to someone and close your eyes and ride your own breath. A collage. For my grandma, it is the way her skin looked just below her collarbone, stretched and flushed. The heavy flowered waft of her perfume, her sad, beautiful, gypsy eyes, and all the love that she tried to hold back.

On Sunday, after 15 years of absence, I thought about the lines on her feet. The crisscross of our paths across the country, the angles of my mother's face, tying us together. These lines will keep growing and stretching and branching. They will bud and expand. They will look different each year, not unlike the way I woke up this morning and noticed that my hair didn't look so bad.

• Lynn Shattuck was born and raised in Juneau and now lives in Portland, Maine. She works as a crisis team manager for T.I.P. (Trauma Intervention Program) and volunteers at the Center for Grieving Children. She writes in her spare time.

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