Thursday, September 11, 2008

My 9/11 Disconnect

Everytime I hear the song, "Where Were You When The World Stopped Turning" by Alan Jackson I burst into tears. Not because of my strong sense of patriotism or because I'm horrified by what happened on 9/11 (though I am). I have much different reasons.

Sept. 11th, 2001, I was home sick with a horrible cold. I got up around 8:30, went into our study to check my email and the first thing I see on msn.com is "Plane Crashes Into World Trade Center" "Cool, that new Arnold Swartzeneger movie" I think (Collateral Damage). I click on the link and it doesn't want to load the page. I get a bad feeling. I go downstairs, turn on CNN like any good member of my generation, and realize it's real. I think I saw the second plane crash and as the newscasters relate that the buildings around the Twin Towers might be unsafe, one of those being the Chase Manhattan building, I remember praying that my grandmother's family, who lived just across from Manhattan in Brooklyn were safe.

Then the phone rings. It's my mom, crying. She tells me that the night before, my Grandma had passed away. It truly was a day for me that the world stopped turning. 9/11 was a defining day in American history, but also in my life.

My father's mother was the most wonderful person. I was her oldest grandchild and had no idea that she had been sick. (I was EXTREMELY estranged from my family at the time and my mother had told me not to call/visit my grandparents since my grandma didn't approve of Handsome as a mate....I later found out this wasn't the case from my Grandpa.) I hadn't seen her/talked to her in 3 months. Ironically, the last time I saw her was about a week before the mysterious illness that ended her life struck.

I never got to say goodbye.

I had talked to my father about a week or two before she died, when she was going thru the worst of it. I remember asking how my grandparents were and he just told me "Fine". Every single person that loved her was able to say goodbye except for me. At the funeral, I could feel my aunts/uncles/cousins eyes on me, incriminating me with "Where WERE you?" I couldn't say a word because no one was supposed to know I wasn't getting along with my parents and that certainly wasn't the time to bring it up. I feel so guilty to this day that maybe that thought crossed her mind, wondering where her eldest granddaughter, who was certainly the closest to her, was.

I miss her so much. All 5'2" of her was packed with sass, moxie and an overwhelming love for those around her. To go to Grandma's house was the most incredible experience for me. I remember getting out of my car and her yelling at Ragsy, the black and white sheep dog they had, not to jump on me. I miss her hugs, her kisses, the way she would call me "Dollbaby", the demonstrative affection that wasn't in my parents' nature to show.

She was an incredible woman. Her parents were Ukranian immigrants who settled in Brooklyn and one night at a dance....I can only imagine the Brooklynese secretary meeting the Navy/Kansas farm boy that was my grandfather. Two totally seperate worlds, and yet they fell in love, exchanged letters during the war and after it ended, they were married, settled down on Long Island, and had my dad and my uncle.

Grandpa missed the Kansas farm life, so they moved back to KS. He bought a farm outside of Leavenworth/Lansing, KS. When I imagine their early life, I think of the old tv show, "Green Acres" and how she literally gave up Manhattan to pursue his dreams. How scary to leave EVERYTHING you've ever known and move to the middle of nowhere, half a continent away and to never complain about it. How brave and strong she was.

I know that her influence rubbed off on both her daughters and her granddaughters too. She may have been little in stature, but the sass she had was 50 years ahead of her time. I'm proud of me, my sisters and my cousins, who are all strong, successful and self determing.

She was always true to herself and always spoke her mind. Maybe it was the Brooklyn influence in her.

I remember the first time Handsome ever met her. He asked me if she was from Brooklyn and being surprised, I told him yes, how did he know that? He told me he recognized her accent, which for my entire 19 years of life, I'd never heard. She had always just sounded like unconditional love.

The days following 9/11 were disconnected for me. I couldn't fathom losing her. I couldn't fathom the tragedy (the audacity) of the terrorists. We all sat around, staring at the television, numb and feeling surreal. Painful death seemed to be everywhere. 9/11 didn't hit me until a few weeks later and the worst of my sorrow for my Grandma was starting to fade.

I remember when I was pregnant with Darling, thinking of how she would be when she was born and how much I hoped she would have Grandma's moxie (I come by my moxie honestly). One of her paintings was hanging in my living room and the first night we brought Darling home from the hospital, I remember looking up at it and just asking her to help me in the overwhelming task of raising a child. I know she was there with me.

The first time I took Darling up to see my Grandpa, I could feel her energy (which is still there, watching over him) rush me, just to see the new baby. She was so happy. I remember Grandpa telling me to name the next one after her. I promised I would.

I remember the last time we visited Grandpa and Darling pointing to their last portrait together on the living room wall and telling me, "Grandma". How she is drawn into their spare bedroom where Freckles and her Tigger are. How I feel like her spirit (that won't rest in watching over Grandpa) always draws her into the extra bedroom so she can play with her great granddaughter.

I remember how blue the Kansas sky was the day of her funeral. I remember how Grandpa touched her casket and didn't seem to be able to let go. I remember my great aunt and uncle putting their hands on his shoulders and without saying a word, let him know it was ok. I remember how hard it was for me to read at her funeral, how hard I cried during the song "Shepard Me, O God" (The same song sang at Mass the day we found out my first college boyfriend had been killed in a car accident the night before).

Everyday I miss her. I miss her hugs, I miss her povatiza, I miss all of her cooking, I miss her hugs, kisses, homemade Pound Puppies, the old house, the weeks in summer I got to go up and visit them. How she was so proud of my smallest accomplishment in school....I just miss her.

I worry she looks down on my life now and judges me. I worry she's no longer proud of me, but every time I step in Grandpa's house, every time I see Darling smile, she's alive and I feel her approval.

I know she adores her great-granddaughter who has not only her sassiness and spunk, but also her incredible compassion and devotion to those she loves. I know she lives on in others, but I'm glad she still loves all of us. I'm the eldest of her eldest and I want so much to be a testament to the things she loved and believed in.

I love you, Grandma......I miss you more than you can know.

4 comments:

Heather J. said...

Wow, what a heartbreaker. Thanks for sharing your wonderful Grandma with us ... Sending you a {{{{big hug}}}}.

Spyder said...

That's one of my fav church songs. I worry with being so far from family that I won't get to say goodbye. I try to remember that our relationship is not based on just that one moment.

Peterson Family said...

I don't think there is any disapproval there. Love is Love. She loved you. She knew that you loved her. Sometimes we feel and know things that aren't said.

Amanda {My Life Badly Written} said...

Thanks for sharing what is obviously painful to write. May she rest in peace.