My grandmother Bettie passed away a few weeks ago. And I’m not doing so well because of it.
In part, this is grief at her passing. She was my last living grandparent (step-grandparents included). I barely knew her growing up, but I got to know her better as an adult. Some of my friends probably remember me bragging about her as my ‘sexy’ grandmother who still wore 4-inch heels into her late 90s and had boyfriends decades her junior. Who wore stylish clothes and jewelry and make-up and had better legs at 97 than I have ever had. I’ll be happy if I inherit my grandmothers’ longevity (my other grandma also lived and was mentally spry into her mid-90s), but I kinda wish I’d gotten their legs too.
Bettie was also a huge reader, even after she started to suffer from macular degeneration (and please GOD let that skip me. I marvel at how well Bettie coped when reading became impossible; I don’t want to have to go through what she went through). She lived long enough to see my first novel published. I think we were both sorry that she wasn’t able to read it (though she liked mysteries, so I’m not sure it would have been her thing!)
But there’s a lot more to my grief than just the loss of my grandma Bettie. See, about ten years ago my other grandmother, Diane, died. I was very close to her. She helped raise me. For a while, she even had co-custody of me. She was also a huge reader, and SHE was a sci-fi buff. We watched Battlestar Galactica (the original), Buck Rogers, Quantum Leap, and Star Trek: TNG together (and she had huge crushes on Scott Bakula and Patrick Stewart, so we had fangirlishness in common, too). She was also a huge romance buff (Betty Neels was her favorite author, and she would bring BAGS of Harlequins and Silhouettes home from the library, devour them, and take them back a week later). And she was a theater and dance buff (Fame was another one of her favorite TV shows, and Gene Anthony Ray was one of her crushes. Yes, my 80 year old grandma totally crushed on a hot young black dancer).
Diane’s death devastated me in the same way losing a parent would devastate you, and it had long-term repercussions in my life that I’m still struggling with. See, she died at kind of a critical turning point in my life. I was completing course work for my PhD and running into the issue of lack of funding for my research and dissertation writing. In order to keep working, I had to take teaching jobs that were 3+ hours’ drive away. That left me with little time and energy for my academic work, and it also left me worrying about future employment as an academic (this was before the current awareness of the adjunct and higher ed teaching crisis really crested). I started to put on weight and sink into depression. I was unhappy with everything – my home space, my relationships, my academic and creative life. Everything.
Around the same time I started having a health issue that I spent a lot of time and money I didn’t have trying to get diagnosed. The doctors decided it was probably a stroke and nothing to do about it but pay my medical bills (turns out it was perfectly harmless scintillating scotoma, but I didn’t discover that until two years, thousands of dollars for uncovered procedures, and a few MRIs later. Thanks healthcare system!)
The pressure of all this ended up being too much for me, and I broke. I didn’t finish my program. I fled my relationship. Hell, I fled Indiana. I slowly started the self-rebuilding process once I got back to California. Got a job in ed-tech, focused on my writing, rebuilt friendships and made new ones, decided I was too broken to even contemplate romantic entanglements, and started doing behavioral therapy for the depression and anxiety.
And things got better. The depression is still around, but most days I manage to wrestle it into submission. I sold a novel, I was writing things I was proud of, I was working too hard at a job I didn’t quite see the point of, but hey, that’s money for rent, which is necessary to someone who is and has always been self-supporting.
A few weeks ago, my grandma Bettie died, and I’m terrified that it’s all going to happen again. I’m behind on writing the sequel to my novel and had to ask my publisher to push the delivery date back. I’m afraid it’s going to be like the dissertation—something I just can’t finish. I’m at the end of my contract for Macmillan, and it feels like the job/funding issue at Indiana University all over again, where I’m constantly off my footing and scrambling for economic/job stability. I honestly don’t know what’s coming next or how I’m going to support myself once my meager savings run out. I feel like ten years later, the wheel has come ’round again, and I’m on the bottom again, and I have fewer resources and energy to endure it than I did the last time. At least I’m single. I can’t imagine trying to muster the energy to put into a relationship on top of all this other stuff.
I feel like posts like this should have some moral. A resolution. If not a happy ending, then at least a valuable lesson. Anything else makes for an unsatisfying story. Right now, I got nuthin’. I’m still in the weeds and not sure how to make meaning out of it.
I’ll update you all if I manage to figure it out.