Thursday, August 9, 2012

My Grandmother: Five Months Later

Tomorrow will be five months to the day that my grandmother died. In many ways, I still can't believe that it happened and yet, I feel so fundamentally changed by it.

I feel like her death and its aftermath have turned me into a full-fledged adult for the first time. Gone is the adolescent masquerading as a woman who started this blog to distract herself. Gone is the girl putting off making decisions about the life she wants. Gone is the innocence, gone is the illusion of youth. After the last five months, I feel like a woman...finally. 

It happened because I watched one of the two women who raised me die in front of me...because I helped my mother navigate her worst fear and darkest hour...because I made the arrangements for my grandmother's final resting place, chose what she'd wear to her funeral, cleaned out her apartment...because I continue to figure out how to mourn her and go on without her...because I now think about my own life in the context of my eventual death.

I'm not crying every day anymore but it's still more than I'm used to...and that's saying alot because I'm a crier ;)  It's strange how the reality that she's gone forever will grip me suddenly. Like it did this week when my mother found this picture: her mother at age 17 - so beautiful, so full of life, so mine. And now so gone.

Olga Leiva Diabolina

It's like something clicks in my head and I realize she's gone all over again.  In those moments, the pain and the fear and the shadow overwhelm me. I gasp for breath and sometimes double over.  It feels like someone is stepping on my chest. My heart literally feels like it's breaking.

A few days after my grandmother died, I mentioned that sensation to her half-sister. We were driving around making arrangements for the funeral – I had become obsessed with finding the perfect flowers. In a soft, gentle voice, this woman that looked like me grandmother told me that of course my heart hurt.

I remember driving down Melrose Blvd. that spring day – past all the places I've known all my life that now looked so different – as her sister spoke matter-of-factly and I sobbed matter-of-factly. She reminded me that my grandmother and I had been emotionally intertwined for three decades. So of course I could FEEL her soul detaching from mine. It's the most beautiful and most horrible thing anyone has ever said to me.

Those horribly beautiful words rang in my head last month on the day of my grandmother's internment. I had never heard of an internment until five months ago and yet it's been the focus of so much energy since. An internment is the ceremony you have when you place a person's ashes in their final resting place.  My mother and I chose what I am told is a very unique columbarium at Hollywood Cemetery for my grandmother.




It's this gorgeous, peaceful space full of glass encased niches. Since it's Hollywood, there are many people from the film industry interned there. Countless actresses of the silver screen. We thought it was fitting for a timeless beauty and strong broad like my grandmother.



With these niches, you have to essentially create a little diorama that is sealed with the person's ashes and memorializes their existence forever. No pressure.  It took months for us to pull ourselves together enough to pull together all the right details of her life. My mom, Mr. Diabolina and I all played a role. It was like no other project the three of us have ever worked on together.  It was so permanent and so important and we are all perfectionists so we were scared shitless of making a "mistake."



In the end, we felt good about how everything came together and represented my grandmother. My mom and I picked out a fabric in her favorite color which we had turned into this quilted backdrop that looked really feminine and boudoir-y and Old Hollywood glamour. We added our favorite picture of my grandmother at about my age plus a smaller one of her mother, the original Mamalina whose name was Angelina and who raised my mom. We included one of my grandmother's favorite leopard print pieces and her signature Chanel perfume (sound familiar?) Plus, her favorite good luck charm (an elephant with an up-turned nose) and the blessed religious medallion she kept by her nightstand.  If I could redo anything, I'd have the plaque on her urn show her name larger and maybe have "beloved mother and grandmother" in Spanish instead of English.  


The day of the internment was hard but not as hard as I'd imagined it would be. Not nearly as hard as the funeral was. I felt ready to say goodbye, I felt ready to have her rest in peace. Like everyone says, time helps. 


Jokes do too if you are me. I told my mom to imagine how excited my barely five foot tall grandmother would be now that she's forever Mr. Diabolina's height. It made her laugh through the tears, our signature gift. 


I wonder if this seems morbid to you. That I'm writing about this.  Maybe I shouldn't.  I wonder if my grandmother would mind.  I just need to share it and acknowledge that it is happening and hopefully have my words help someone else. That's what writing is about for me, it's what this blog is about for me.  It's more than the pretty shoes and the pretty dinners, it's about every nook and cranny of my mind and my heart - painful and ugly as they might be. It's about my very real life.


And, in this moment, her death is what's real in my life.


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