I was talking with my rabbi just now and he suggested that writing about my grandmother might help working through my feelings about her death. I think he's probably right, so here goes, it is going to be rambly...
When I was talking with him I became increasingly aware that I had a complicated relationship with her. Although I got to know her better as an adult, I really didn't know her very well at all when I was a kid, and I think I resented that. We had a very close relationship with my maternal grandmother; and although he was emotionally distant and gruff, we saw my father's father rather frequently. But Idaho is far away and hard to get to, and she didn't really make the effort to come see us very much. Even when she did come east it was usually to visit her sister in New York state or to go to her college reunions (or at least it felt that way to me.)
As I got older I started visiting more frequently and I started to have more of a relationship with her. I would try to go out there every year or two, usually combined with a trip to Yellowstone or Moab. I'll miss those visits, and that part of the country.
One year when I was a kid, in the mid eighties I guess, we drove up to Pocatello from Salt Lake and there was this huge plume of smoke coming from the railroad tracks that we could see for miles in the distance. It was scary to me because I was old enough to be afraid of things like chemical spills and so forth - and I think I had heard about some kind of missile that they put on a railroad car. Anyway it did turn out to be some kind of chemical spill, but what was really memorable is that when we got to her house there had been an attempted coup in the Soviet Union, and the TV was on and they were talking about what had happened. This must have been before Gorbachev. Between that and the plume of smoke I remember feeling like the world was ending.
I remember one visit with her when I was probably in my early 20s or late teens when we were sitting out in her backyard with a friend of hers. He was very curious about Judaism and asked me if I would marry someone who wasn't Jewish. I said "I don't know, I haven't met her yet." I think this took the friend aback, but my grandmother seemed very proud of me. She'd retell that story many times over the years. And of course, when I did meet the right not-Jewish woman, I did marry her.
My wife's grandmother died shortly after we met. I remember thinking that the two grandmas would have been good friends if they had ever gotten a chance to know one another. My grandmother took an immediate liking to my wife and always talked about how lucky we were to have her in the family. My wife has said that she felt like she had gained another grandparent in my grandmother.
One thing I always found difficult about my grandmother was her dislike of my grandfather and his side of the family (they divorced before I was born.) She never had anything nice to say about him, and I always felt like she was rejecting a part of me by rejecting him. (He was a difficult man to love, and I'm sure a difficult man to be married to, but he always had nice things to say about her.)
My grandmother told us not to be sad when she died. Well I don't think that was a fair thing to say. I'm sad that she's gone. I'm sad that I never really had the kind of relationship I wanted with her. I'm sad that I don't have any grandparents left. (I realize that few people in their late forties get to have a living grandparent at all, so I feel fortunate for that.) I'm sad that this stupid virus has robbed us of the chance to sit shiva or have a funeral.