I have very sad news.
Ray’s mom Pat — my mother in law, the girls’ beloved grandmother — passed away Sunday. She had lung cancer, and it had spread to her brain. So while this was not entirely unexpected, it was very sudden. She was only 64.
(I feel almost guilty waiting till now to tell you; the illness has to some extent set the tone in our family since June, and it was something I couldn’t share on the blog — there were some people Pat didn’t want told.)
Too sudden for Ray to be by her bed. Too sudden for me to write her the letter I vowed to write last week when she started having trouble breathing to tell her all the things I wanted to make sure she knew about what a wonderful person she was. (Like all of us, she was complicated. But as I said to Ray as we were falling asleep, the night it happened, “Your mother meant well. And you can’t say that about everyone.”)
Too sudden to warn the girls, and let them say their goodbyes.
That will haunt me for the rest of my life, and my fear is that it will haunt the girls — particularly Annabelle — as well.
I always got the feeling that with Annabelle, Pat was starting over, creating the perfect relationship after a lifetime of relationships that hadn’t been so swell. Hey, we’d all like to have that chance, wouldn’t we?
And I’ve gotta say, if she made any missteps with Annabelle, I didn’t see them. From the moment she was born, Pat gave Annabelle her undivided attention; bought her things but didn’t spoil her; fostered mutual loves (of sewing, in particular, and even vegetables) and let her know above all that Grandma loved her.
At times, I’ll admit, it was too precious for me. I wasn’t crazy about it when, at 3 or 4, Annabelle came home announcing that Grandma had told her she was her best friend. But I’ll also admit that maybe I was jealous. (With Sophie it was more complicated, and that’s all I’ll say for now.)
We never told Annabelle that Grandma was very sick. She knew she was taking medicine that made her lose some hair. She had to know from looking at her that Grandma had changed from the steroids that puffed her up, the radiation that burned her chest. But Pat was careful to hide her weakness from Annabelle, to parse playdates to manageable bits and reserve her strength for the occasional overnight.
Annabelle never asked a question, but in that way that old souls know, I think she knew, although the look on her face when we told her yesterday is something I will never forget — and never wish to remember.
When I heard Sunday that Pat had been moved home to hospice, I knew we had to tell the girls, and take them to say their goodbyes. Although no one said it — I don’t think anyone knew — there wasn’t time. She passed away within hours.
Just Friday, two days before, she was joking and laughing in her hospital bed, planning for a radiation treatment scheduled several days away as my father in law dug into the Thin Mints I brought.
“Give me a hug,” she said as I was leaving. Even a hug was too much effort, setting off the buzzers on the oxygen monitors. “You smell so good,” she said over the beeping, “I could hug you forever.”
And that was it.
I’ll serve the girls chocolate pudding (Pat’s favorite) from the parfait dishes she gave me for a wedding shower gift, and we’ll plant her favorite vegetables and even a tree, and add to the shrine we started yesterday on the mantle. I even promised to learn how to sew.
But nothing will bring Grandma back.
The last day the girls saw Pat, we got dressed up and took her to afternoon tea at the Ritz Carlton, as a late Christmas present. The girls sipped lemonade from blue and white porcelain and everyone ate too much chocolate. Sophie and I looked for fairies in the lines in the marble in the Ladies Room and at the end, the girls danced to the music from the grand piano in the lobby. Even Pat twirled around a few times.
It was a perfect afternoon. Even if it’s not true, I’m going to tell myself that that’s how Pat would have wanted to say goodbye to the girls, if she’d been able to choose.
And maybe someday Annabelle will decide that was a pretty good way to say goodbye, too, if you have to say goodbye. I’m going to have to tell myself that, as well.
Last night when I tucked her in, Sophie pulled her thumb out of her mouth and whispered, “Grandma died. I think about her.”
It’s going to take us all a long time to process this.