Degrees of Regret

By Melissa Face

“I have something for you,” my dad said, as he walked down the hallway towards his study. “I think you need it more than I do.” He returned with a written record of the last eleven months of my grandmother’s life.

My grandmother, Granny, did not keep a diary. Aside from recipes, grocery lists and thank-you notes, she wasn’t a writer. But she did keep a calendar. Each January, she recorded the previous year’s daily temperatures in her calendar. It was a longstanding habit that stemmed from necessity. She was, after all, the wife of a farmer. Livelihood depended upon sunshine and rainfall. Temperatures affected planting and harvesting and, ultimately, income.

But my grandfather had stopped farming years before he passed away. And now, temperature charting was simply one of her routines. Granny’s calendar also contained hair appointments, medical appointments and chore lists. Her calendar helped her stay organized and abreast of special dates.

For the past fifteen years, my father kept his mother’s calendar in his desk drawer. Obviously, it was very important to him. Why then, I wondered, would he want to give it to me?

“Thanks Dad,” I said, while I flipped through the calendar’s yellowed pages. “I will enjoy looking at this.”

When I returned home that night, I opened the calendar. I turned the page to January 1996, the first month of the last year of my grandmother’s life.

I was a senior in high school in 1996, outrageous, rebellious and anxious to escape my small town life. Frequently, I butted heads with my parents on major decisions, especially ones concerning curfews, grades and boyfriends.

But luckily, I had a refuge. I had an upstairs bedroom in a two-story farmhouse, a few miles down the road from my parents. I had peace, quiet and home-cooked meals on school nights. I had evening walks, conversation and someone to take my side. I had Granny.

“Aw, let the child stay a while longer if she wants,” I remember her saying on the phone, as I struggled to listen through the wall. “She’s no trouble and I’m enjoying the company.”

But after a while, my parents and I made amends, and I went back home. I still saw Granny on Sunday afternoons, and she stopped by our house weekly. But our personal conversations got shorter as my senior year became more hectic. And though I didn’t know it, I had spent some of the last good days with her.

It was unusual for Granny to go more than a day or two without checking up on us. So when she didn’t call for two days, my family checked on her. Her car was in the garage. A light was on in the kitchen. But Granny didn’t answer the door. My aunt walked around the exterior of the house. She peered in the windows. She saw Granny lying on her side on the hardwood, bedroom floor.

It was later determined that she had suffered a stroke. It left her severely altered, mentally impaired and partially paralyzed. It was mid-August. The blueberries were ripe, and the temperature was in the seventies.

After her stroke, Granny had good days and bad days. At one moment, she would hold up a sensible conversation. The next, she was furious because someone had smeared spaghetti on her bedroom walls. The family hired a live-in nurse; Granny swore she didn’t need one.

Granny’s calendar mirrored the changes in her mental state. Weeks went by without temperatures being recorded. Those that were written were less legible. There were fewer hair appointments, birthdays and anniversaries. There were more medical appointments.

That fall, I visited Granny as often as any teenager would have. I saw her after school and on Sundays. Her nurse brought her to visit me the day I had an outpatient procedure. She gave me a “Get Well Soon” balloon. She was having a good day and had thought about me.

“Thank you for coming by, Granny,” I said. I watched her walk down the steps in her teal sweat suit, guided by her nurse. “I’ll come see you tomorrow after school!” I called out.

But I didn’t visit that afternoon. Instead, I rode around the neighborhood, listening to music with my friends. We went to a local hangout, ate hot dogs and walked along the railroad tracks. It was November 5th, 1996, Election Day. It was twenty degrees.

Granny died the next day. She had a heart attack while eating lunch at the kitchen table. She died in the room where she had prepared meals for her husband, fed her four children, cooked Sunday lunch for her family and completed homework assignments with her grandchildren. She died on November 6, 1996. It was twenty-eight degrees.

Grief is heavy enough on the heart. But it bears an even greater weight when compounded by guilt and regret. I was too young to analyze my emotions and too young to know that I had done nothing innately wrong or unforgivable. I carried the regret with me through college and into adulthood.

I have beaten myself up for years for not visiting Granny the day before she died. And for what? Guilt has not afforded me the luxury of time travel, the ability to go back and make a different decision. Regret has not allowed me one more day with Granny, the chance to apologize, or say goodbye. I have only hurt myself further by carrying this around with me. I have been unfair to me.

I realize now that I am not a bad person for not going to see her. I know that she would not hold it against me. In fact, she would probably think nothing of it at all. She never judged me.

I also know why I have her calendar. I understand why I am the proud owner of the written account of the last eleven months of my grandmother’s life.

Today, I have closure.

It is November 8, 2011, Election Day. It is sunny and 68 degrees.

About this writer

  • Melissa FaceMelissa Face lives in southern Virginia with her husband, son and daughter. Her stories and essays have appeared in Chicken Soup for the Soul and Cup of Comfort. Email Melissa at writermsface@yahoo.com.

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2 Responses to “Degrees of Regret”

  1. Dawn Elliott says:

    This brought tears to my eyes. I loved the Sunday afternoons I spent with you at Granny’s house. She liked to tell me about when she was younger and knew my Grandaddy. I remember her telling me they would make up plays and act them out. She was a very sweet and special lady. Lovely story, Melissa!

  2. Melissa Face says:

    Thank you, Dawn. I thought about you quite a bit over the holidays. I have been reading a journal that Amanda kept years ago when she was working on a girl scout badge. It was a diary of the summer of 1993. Your name is in there so much. We were busy going to the pool, BG, and VA Beach!! I’m so glad we have reconnected in recent years!

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