She’s in her wheelchair
when we first see her,
her frame too frail to support
a precipitous weight gain.
With her back to us,
she looks through a picture window,
unmoving as we enter,
our steps cautious, voices low.

It’s my boyfriend and I,
my dad and stepmother.
Our greetings rise in pitch
and my grandmother turns,
smiles: “Oh, well look at this.”
I hug her sloped shoulders,
place a kiss on her cool cheek;
others do their version.

We chat about the usual—
where we’re living these days,
folks we’ve seen, “those darn
Mariners, just can’t catch
a break.” I circle the dim room,
pausing to handle and remark
on the odds and ends
that line every available surface—

The sock monkey, Beanie Babies,
plastic Kewpie dolls; model cars
and a tiny 747, testament
to my grandmother’s Boeing days.
And the bulletin boards!
Old news clippings,
photos of first husband
and every child and grandchild,

Reno and Maui trips
with her last love, long dead.
“I don’t know how I wound up
with all this junk,” she says,
her bright eyes a giveaway
(she knows, loves it).
Then, with conversation steering
to a close, comes a story

Of a pregnant cat my grandmother
would watch for hours at a time
some days, sit at her window
and just watch this cat
as it slunk around the bushes
across the street. Until one day
last week when she stopped appearing—
poof, gone.

“I’m just sure she went into those
bushes to have her kittens,
see. And I’m worried about her,
because you know I just haven’t
seen her and I’m afraid some-
thing might have happened.
I tell you I’ve been at that window
every day just waiting for her.”

We say our goodbyes shortly after.
From the parking lot, I glance
up to find my grandmother back
at her window, waiting anxiously
for that cat of hers to reemerge
a mother, as she, Grandma,
is a mother, as she will always
be a mother, even in dying.

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KRISTEN ELDE, an editor by trade, lives and writes in Brooklyn. Her words have appeared in the Web publications McSweeneys, The Northville Review, Pindeldyboz, and Word Riot, in addition to such magazines as BUST, Health, Runner's World, Running Times, Shape, The Writer, and Writer's Digest. She's also one half of the team behind a wildly unpopular parody food blog, to which she loves contributing.

24 responses to “Poem in the Wake of My Grandmother’s Death”

  1. Margaret says:

    Beautiful.

  2. jonathan evison says:

    . . . aw, here’s hoping she can here you, kristen . . .

  3. Ronlyn Domingue says:

    So poignant. The mementoes of her life in the room, the mention of people she’s loved and lost, and the cat who kept her silent company. I love the arc of the child/grandchild visiting and the hidden kittens at the end.

    Thinking of my grandmother now and the angels on her shelf.

  4. Alison Aucoin says:

    The last interaction I had with my grandmother when she was able interact (though I sincerely doubt she knew who I was) she pushed the hair from in front of my eyes and tucked it behind my ear as she had millions of times before. Yes, mothering until the very end. Thanks for bringing up that lovely memory. Beautifully expressed.

  5. Kristen Elde says:

    Ah, my grandma had angels as well. Fine company, as were all of her various dolls and figurines, much as she’d sometimes joke otherwise. It was always touching, the way her eyes would light up at the arrival of a new pal.

    It’s interesting, I was talking w/ my mom the other night, who relayed a conversation she had w/ my grandma/her mom in the final days, one that suggested that Grandma had never really acknowledged the inevitable coming of her own death. Maybe all of her various and sundry items were in part a means of distraction as this life drew to a close. At any rate, she took pleasure from them, for which I was/am glad.

    Thanks for chiming in, Ronlyn. How your Razi experienced the afterlife has crossed my mind on a couple of occasions recently.

    • Ronlyn Domingue says:

      I think some people are taken by surprise a little. And some know. Long story…but my grandmother moved to a nursing home only days before her death, back in the town where she’d lived her entire adult life. My aunt said that on the day she was setting up my grandmother’s room, several angels fell from a shelf. It’s unclear whether the shelf was unsteady or if they were accidentally knocked—but the significance of it didn’t escape me. And I also understood–after she passed–that MawMaw had gone home to die.

      Wherever your grandmother is now, I hope it’s peaceful and happy. If she’s between, may she enjoy the stay there.

  6. Irene Zion says:

    Kristen,
    This hurts to read.
    I’m right there kissing her cold cheek,
    Making small talk,
    Because, after all,
    What can you say
    To someone who is fading
    Whom you love?
    Noticing the items around her
    That comfort her.
    Knowing the cat
    The pregnant cat
    Is her
    Is her children
    Is her last bit of mothering?
    It hurts.

  7. Kristen Elde says:

    Yes, Irene, and I knew during that there was a good chance it’d be our last time together (at least for now), which made the whole thing all the more poignant in my mind/heart.

    You know, it struck me that she was waiting, on some level, for that cat to birth her babies, so that she–Grandma–could say a final goodbye to her own grown babies.

    Thanks for your empathy.

  8. you captured the moment so eloquently… what a wonderful memory to have.

  9. Kristen Elde says:

    Thanks, Robin. Means heaps, coming from a thoughtful person/writer like you.

    And, indeed, I’ll cherish the memory always.

  10. Zara Potts says:

    Ah, grandmothers.

    The keepers of hearts. The kissers of cheeks. The holders of hands.

    I can still feel my grandmother’s hand on top of mine, often it was there distractedly, but she always held my hand as tenderly as I held her heart and when I didn’t have it holding mine anymore, it left a hole in my heart.

    Lovely piece, K.

    • kristen says:

      Aw, Z, fellow sporter of bangs…

      Love your words. The truth and beauty in them.

      And I love that your grandmother’s hand can still be felt in your own. That wise and tender touch–and the memory of it–is such a gift.

  11. Matt says:

    My grandfather passed on Christmas, so I was right here with you through this, K.

    Lovely poem.

  12. Simon Smithson says:

    Ah, Kristen. I’m sorry for your loss; the passing of a loved one is never easy. It only comes in degrees of difficulty and sorrow.

    Did you ever find out what became of the cat and her kittens?

  13. kristen says:

    Thanks, S. Degrees of difficulty and sorrow–yes. Grateful to also be feeling peace/calm.

    You know, we don’t have a cat/kittens update. Hopefully mother and babies are well and snug, wherever they are.

  14. Nicole A says:

    Kristen, I’m coming to this late. Just read it on a packed Melbourne commuter train, where I try to keep my emotions in check… But gosh, it sure brought a tear to my eye. Sorry to hear of your grandmother’s passing. Your poem tenderly captures the moment and the life in her and I love especially the kitties and connection to mothering.

    I never had a last goodbye with my sole living grandmother as I was halfway across the world when she suddenly died. I’m glad you had that special, final time together.

    Nicole

  15. kristen says:

    Ohh–thank you kindly, N, for your words.

    I was/am very glad for the final time we had together, too. I’m sorry you weren’t granted a last in-person goodbye to your grandmother as well, though I’m sure she’s heard you since…

  16. […] word shows. Also hung out with TNB compatriots: Greg Olear, Jessica Anya Blau, J.E. Fishman, and Kristen Elde. As amazing as it all was, I couldn’t help but to feel haunted by what had occurred with […]

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