Grief & Landlines

Monday morning.

I allow myself the luxury of sleeping in. When I do wake up, in the late morning, there’s a single text message waiting for me on my phone. It’s from my cousin, and it simply says: “Love you xoxox”.

I know, without knowing, that my beloved Nana has passed away.

This was no surprise, and yet I feel as though all the breath has been stolen out of me. I cry in the way we allow ourselves to cry when no one can hear us – alone in my house, I gulp and choke on sobs that seem to come from the very centre of me, suddenly aware of the clawing empty sensation in my belly that is grief.

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The next two days are a whirlwind of travel plans, airplanes, my exhausted children crying in the airport at 1 am while I argue with a rental car company agent, fighting my own tears. Then three more days filled with endless traffic, aunts who punctuate each hug with a kiss high on my cheek bone, and me, delivering a eulogy to an assembly of mourners I can’t see, because my eyes refuse to focus and my heart – well my heart has taken up permanent residence in my throat, a lump that I cannot swallow and cannot spit out.

I wonder if some people lose their grandmothers without all this pain, and envy them a little. As a child my grandparents lived next door to us, assisting my mother while she attended school, a constant, comforting presence just on the other side of the townhouse wall. I find myself missing the feeling of her skin, and quietly telling people that, knowing that it sounds odd, not caring. The skin of her hands was the softest thing I’d ever felt. In the list of things I desperately wish I could feel just one more time, her hands are among them.

And then it’s all over. Less than a week, and we’re back at home. I’m filling lunch bags for my children, and driving through construction zones, and most of the time I’m okay, except for when I’m not. And when I’m not, it’s that exact same feeling as the first day, a gnawing in my gut, and all the words I didn’t get to say stuck in my throat.

I call my mother. Her landline is out of service. I text my brother  that maybe she’s skipped town. I’m half joking. I can only imagine the depth of her pain, given the depth of mine. The thought of losing my mother is unfathomable, but so was the thought of losing my grandmother, and that didn’t keep her alive forever any more than it will my own mother.

Two days later she texts me after midnight. She’s canceled her home phone number. This strikes me as noteworthy only because I’ve been considering doing the same with my own land line. The only person who ever called me on it was Nana, and now, she’s gone. The very thought of it ringing is enough to fill me with a growing sense of sadness.

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We hold spaces for our elders in this way – something as simple as a phone number that doesn’t change. But in the raging waters of my grief, I’d been most panicked by the realization that something in my family structure had been irreparably changed. With her passing, thirteen years after my grandfather’s, an entire generation of our family had come to an end, the closing of a chapter that I wasn’t ready to finish reading yet.

It’s selfish, wanting to keep our grandparents around, it’s a form of self preservation that doesn’t really work. I want to ask her more questions, I want to know more about her. All of sudden, old photographs of her with people I don’t recognize have lost all meaning. She provided their definition, illuminated their names, told us their stories. My own children didn’t know her well, growing across the country from where she lived, and I’m suddenly filled with the deep regret that comes from not having visited for a host of reasons, none of them feeling all that valid now.

The day we had returned from her funeral, I dropped exhausted into bed after a late night flight. The deep silence of the house curled around me, and in that silence I found her, and grief, again. These will be the spaces I hold now, the quiet ones I stand in alone, revisiting loss over and over again, gasping for breath and holding memory as tightly as I can.

Stephanie Ostermann

I’m the sort of girl who you meet for coffee and end up pouring your entire heart out to. The friend you come to when you need someone to call it straight. No bullshit. No extras. Just truth.

I’m a communicator. That’s a PC way of saying I like to talk, but I also spend a lot of my time listening, and over the years, I’ve developed a sense for subtext – how one or two words can change your entire message, what people are really trying to say and how to weave the varied layers of your story into one cohesive brand message that your clients fall in love with.

When I'm not acting as editor in chief for Vivid & Brave, you can find me geeking out over words here.

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