There are things you know you’ll have to deal with once you’re well into your 20’s. Get job, keep job, progress at job. Get apartment, pay rent on apartment, don’t burn down apartment. Find significant other, keep significant other, don’t cheat on significant other. Right-of-passage-things that, when you do them right, make you feel okay in the world – like you might actually have this whole thing under control.
Then there are things that happen once you’re well into your 20’s that you forgot you’d have to deal with — things you haven’t particularly prepared for — things that sort of happen upon you and suddenly you’re in them, and because you’re in them while now well into your 20’s you have to deal with them like a legitimate adult should – no temper tantrums, no selfish running away, no shoving things off on other people that are technically your job.
Losing your first grandparent is one of these things. It arrives around now for many of us because of typical life timelines but isn’t something we account for in the mix of “things that happen at this age.” I didn’t – once age 22 hit — start investing in my 401K, taking a daily women’s vitamin, and preparing for the death of my Mommom. I haven’t practiced the wake and funeral process like I have cooking Thanksgiving dinner. I never sat my little sisters down and said, “okay when this happens I’ll play the role of X if you guys handle Y, Z, and ZZ (there are four of us).
And so here I am with a chunk of money saved, fairly healthy bones, a solid command of the cooking of a turkey and absolutely no idea how to handle these next few days.
The answer is that there is no “how to” – you handle it and it handles you and other people help every step of the way. You surprise yourself with how strong you can be, how strong your parents are, and how you’re all sort of exactly the same person. You find you pull pieces of wisdom and words of support from the strangest places (for me most of the screenplay of Steel Magnolias – a movie I watched roughly twice a week from 3rd to 6th. Yes, bizarre for a 3rd grader, but now I just keep channeling Sally Field in the rough moments, which is working very well). And you learn – though you only realize it when you sit down to write – that pieces of this moment are exactly the kind of thing you almost need – in a so-strange way – to get you through the rest of your 20’s.
You know that close family is a gift but you don’t really see that until a time like now. Then once you’ve seen it in action you know you’ll shift anything and everything around to keep that a priority from here on out. You’ve heard what 60+ years of marriage can mean to a couple…and their family, but when you see that in this stage any thoughts of never marrying or just settling on someone are gone. You’ve heard that it’s nice if a big family stays in the same general area, but until every single family member is in the hospital room and not a flight away you don’t realize you can probably deal with New Jersey.
You think you definitely know your family and essentially know yourself, but until this specific right of passage passes over all of you, you don’t have real example of why “what matters most” matters most.
Now that I’m going through it I know that I tend toward “blessing in disguise” mode with touches of “need to keep myself busy” and “worry most about my littlest sister.” I know that I actually don’t want to have a tantrum or run away — I just want to clean everything in sight. And I know that I’d probably prefer to make it all the way through my 20’s without having this happen, but all I keep thinking about are those silver linings that make it 1/2 devastating but the other half an important life lesson.
All in all that makes me a fairly even combo of my Mom, my Mommom, and Steel Magnolia’s Sally Field.