Saturday, May 1, 2010

A short essay on my grandma: Joan W. Merrill

Last Sunday was a hard day.

Looking for something to keep my mind off of the events of the day, I plopped down on the couch that night to watch an episode of one of my favorite shows, America's Funniest Home Videos. It wasn't far into the show that it hit me - that feeling that makes you laugh out loud. I started to giggle and naturally tried to suppress it but that only made the fit more intense. Soon my stomach muscles were tensed up, my body was bobbing up and down with the cadence of my howls and tears popped out onto my cheeks. It took Tom Bergeron's unfunny remarks to finally calm me down.

And then I took a very deep breath.

It felt like the first actual breath I had taken since very early that morning, when I found out that my grandma had died. After trying my best (and failing a few times) to hold in tears and gulp down so many different emotions all day long, my lungs finally released both a large amount of carbon dioxide and all the feelings I had tried to conceal inside of me. And I felt good. I turned to Ryan and said, "that was therapy."

And then suddenly all of these memories flooded into my mind of my grandmother laughing - not chuckling, not smiling - laughing hysterically. I knew in an instant what my grandmother had passed on to me: sometimes embarrassing and mostly irrepressible fits of laughter.

She had an odd laugh, something I can hear in my head as I type. But I can't put words to it. One memory so clear in my mind is of her offering me some of the "home made Oreo cookies" she had yet to frost and then bursting into laughter the moment I took a bite and almost puked, realizing it was really just an extremely burnt sugar cookie.

I also can't forget her giggling fits that took place in the middle of pre-dinner family prayers or musical numbers in church. The laughter would catch on to the rest of us who seem to have gotten her giggling gene and soon we would all lose it. And honestly, if we could have stopped laughing we would have, but the more you fought it, the worse it got. So don't blame me if you every catch me red-faced, hunched over and cracking up in church... or at a funeral.

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Grandma had a disease that slowly took away everything except her mind. First, I remember watching her drop cups on the floor on accident and then seeing her question why her hand just let go of the cup like that. Then, as her depth perception and coordination gave way, her drivers license was taken. She started to trip on things and was unable to catch herself on the ground. Soon she was using a walker and her once-beautiful penmanship was sloppy and slanted. She would begin telling stories in the middle and she had to work hard to get her mouth to say the words she needed to express herself. Near the end, she couldn't walk, her food had to be in liquid form and she was no longer able to talk.

But we knew her mind was still acute. Over our phone conversations, my mom would tell me that she felt that he mother she knew was still in that helpless, emaciated body because someone would say something funny and Grandma would start to laugh. It was one of the last things she could do, one of the few things she had left. Grandma laughed on the last day of her life.

My mom told me that in the day leading up to Grandma's death, everyone joined together at the house. They cried and cried and then something would make them laugh until they cried again.

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Most of the above was written on Monday after I began contemplating what a legacy my grandmother really left. I flew out to Utah that afternoon and was able to attend my grandmother's funeral on Wednesday. It was such a beautiful memorial... minus one shameful little incident. You see, I was asked to give a musical number with the other grandchildren at said funeral. It was during the first verse of "I Often Go Walking" that my sister and I began to tear up in the memory of our grandmother. Our voices started to shake, we looked at each other and of course, we got the giggles. Then, in a failed attempt to compose herself, my sister let out a huge snort. And we lost it. Completely. I still can't get the picture of all the horrified faces in the packed chapel out of my mind. They must have thought we were completely nuts.

After we were done, I turned around to my mom and aunts who were sitting on the stand and mustered a quiet, "I'm so sorry."

"Don't be. This is how she would have wanted it," my aunt Wendy countered.

And through my utter humiliation, I felt like what she said was true. If my grandma had been there she would have been laughing right along with us. I loved my grandma so much and I guess I am kind of thankful for her legacy of laughter - even if it is the uncontrollable kind.

17 comments:

Lincoln and Alisia said...

You made me cry... and laugh reading this. What a sweet grandmother! I love the picture of her too. Megan I am so sorry to hear about your loss. My thoughts and prayers are with you.

On another note- America's Funniest Home Videos is one of your favorite shows???

Outnumbered said...

I'm so sorry Megan! I had that same release of everything while laughing hysterically a few days after my dad died. It really is therapy. Your Grandma sounds like she was a great lady.

JJ said...

M-What a beautiful tribute to your grandma! -J

rachel said...

You are fabulous. I think you get it from your Grandma.

Stacey said...

Megan -

I'm so sorry to hear of the passing of your grandma. My grandpa passed away u only two weeks ago so I know what you are going through. Great post. My mom and grandma went to your grandma's viewing they knew her well. Hope you find the comfort you need during this hard time.

Artsy Aut said...

Beautiful post! I miss my grandma too. And dont feel bad, we also had to do a cousins musical number at her funeral and we ended up laughing too. See I also come from inappropriate gigglers. We better now sit togther at church!! Love you!

Julie said...

I wish I could write the way you do, you have such a gift of expression. You grandmother sounds like my kind of gal, and i love the story of the oreo. I love laughter at inappropriate times as horrible as that sounds. I am so sorry but I am sure she is laughing right now.

Katy said...

I'm sorry to hear about your grandma but love the laughing stories! Laughter is like medicine.

Susan said...

Meg--I heard that Grandma passed away from my mom. I am sorry to hear the news. She was such a classy, beautiful and wonderful women who blessed so manys lives. She is lucky that her daughters and grandaughter are carring on the tradition.

the rutledge's- said...

Meg- I loved your post. Such a great tribute. Thanks for sharing.

Rick and Lynn said...

What a beautiful post about a beautiful bunch of women! We love your down to earthness, your wit and beauty, we feel privileged to know all of you and your dear grandmother, Much love, all the Rawlinsons

Chelsea said...

This is beautiful, Meg, and it sounds as though it is a fitting tribute to your grandma. I think laughter sounds like the best kind of legacy -- one that just keeps bringing joy and pleasure. I'm thinking of you and hoping that you can keep laughing (in a therapeutic way) even in the face of sadness.

Lisa said...

What a beautiful tribute. Thanks for sharing!

favoritenic said...

I loved that you guys got the giggles. It was endearing and sweet and lovely.

She was a great lady, Meg. Glad I got to know her, even if it was just a little bit.

Melissa said...

Oh how I love the way you write. And that you had an outburst of uncontrollable laughter. My sister and I totally did that in choir concert in high school, and we were on the front row. I imagine the same thing will happen someday at our grandma's funeral. :) And I will probably be the snorter.

Love your words. Love your post. Makes me love your grandma. :) I'm sorry for your loss but thanks for sharing your thoughts with the rest of us!

D.M. SOLIS said...

What a lovely tribute. It is good to see your dear one lives on in you. Honoring her journey and yours. Peace and all good things for you.

Sincerely,
Diane

JEM said...

What a sweet, candid account. Thanks for writing this and sharing it with us, Megan. She sounds like she was a real hoot. (And what a gorgeous picture of her!) I just heard that my grandma likely has only a few days left herself, so this meant a lot to me right now. All the best.