Last Thursday morning, as I gleefully planned my luxurious alone weekend, sending Carl and the littles off to his mother's while I claimed sickness so I could stay home and catch up on all sorts of work around the house (Carl was conniving with me on that one - we mostly just wanted to keep his mom from having hurt feelings about me not coming), when I got a phone call from my dad.
Grandma was in the hospital. Pneumonia with other complications, including the twelve-plus-year battle with Alzheimer's now shutting down most of her brain functions so that her body couldn't even attempt to heal itself. It was a matter of days at most, possibly even hours.
He told me not to change my weekend plans, to stay put and wait until the end, when we could come up for the memorial. A few hours and several phone calls later, my sister and I were meeting halfway between our two places so that we could drive up to Mom and Dad's together. A few hours after that, we were at the hospital.
Four days later, with four of her eight kids and two (out of eighteen) grandkids by her side, Grandma finally ended the fight.
This has been a weird week. Grief, laughter, memories, all mingled together. I've been spending most of my time in Mom and Dad's kitchen, trying to make enough food to keep the hospital crew going, and after the vigil ended, trying to feed the family still here. In between food prep, I was at the hospital, or at the nursing home with Dad, trying to help Grandpa figure out details. After the weekend, when Carl and the littles got back, I've been trying to play Mamma again as well.
And did I mention that Joy's fourth birthday party, planned for months, is happening on Saturday at Mom and Dad's? My sister and I stayed up until 12:30 last night putting together a felt garland for decorations (and it looks really cute, if I do say so myself).
We've been consuming great amounts of coffee. And since I've been mistaken for either specifically my mother or else more generally my father's wife ("Hello, Kevin, is this your wife?" "No, this is my younger daughter." AWKWARD), I've been also, frivolously, trying to keep up with makeup, and contemplating a purple streak for my hair.
No, seriously. I just haven't decided whether I want to do temporary streaking myself or go to a salon and get a semi-permanent one.
In the meantime, the littles are playing with first-cousins-once-removed and second cousins, and getting their first real glimpse of what it is like to be part of this crazy clan, this clan where the line is blurred between aunts and uncles and cousins ("Jordan, say hi to your Aunt Louise - I mean, cousin Louise, and your cousins, I mean, second cousins Joy and Grace - oh wait, first cousins once removed"), where I get to boss my uncle around ("Do NOT drive home tonight; I want to be able to look your wife in the face when she comes back to town"), where every time we get together laughter spills out, even when grief is underlying it all, where the bonds of family and God bring us all close enough together that even though we don't always get along perfectly, we would all do anything to support each other in hard times.
I love being a part of this family. It shocked Carl a little, the first few times he did something with the whole clan (or most of it - the uncle in Australia hasn't been home since '98), hearing the stories everyone shares, seeing the familiarity between people who haven't seen each other in years, understanding that there is a friendship that exists between family that can never happen between others, no matter how much you love them (and I do have friends I consider family, that the littles call Uncle and Aunt even though they aren't related - but there is something about one's actual family that can't be duplicated), understanding that the chaos involved in our gatherings is actually pretty controlled and understandable ... but he's growing into it.
And the littles? They aren't going to have the plethora of cousins that I did, with Dad's seven siblings (Carl and I each only have one sister, although Carl does have a couple half-siblings he hardly ever sees), but even so, they are already starting to enjoy this extended family. Yesterday I watched Joy stand on the ice and cheer my cousin's little boy on as he ventured out on ice skates for the first time, and smiled at the picture on my cousin's phone of the two kids standing on either side of their Great-Grandpa.
We're missing Grandma, and that won't change at any family gatherings, ever, but the heart of the family lives on.
The '98 reunion, the last time we had the whole crew together. Pay no attention to the teenager in the front row in a mint green shirt. She had really bad fashion sense at the time.