My paternal grandmother died of breast cancer so long ago that I don't even remember how old I was when it happened. What I have left are incredibly vague recollections of something that I couldn't possibly begin to understand at the time. I knew Grandma was sick, but sick to a five(ish)-year-old is a cough and a runny nose, not anything necessitating radiation and chemo and the whole shebang. Months before her death, Grandma and Grandpa had been over to visit at our house and Mom sent me upstairs to wake them up for breakfast one morning. Dutiful to the last, I scrambled up the stairs on all fours, my hands and feet slapping against the hardwood announcing my arrival. I opened the door to the Pink Room (my favorite, for obvious reasons) to herald the meal as Grandma rolled over in bed to face the door, her head bald as a cucumber. It simply didn't compute. The Grandma I knew had short, curly grey hair. My little mind ran through all possibilities and connections like the cherries and horseshoes and numbers on a slot machine display, landing at last on one satisfactory option. Grandma looked like an alien, only human-colored instead of green! It didn't make any sense at all! I screamed and ran down the stairs to Mom in the kitchen, who eventually sorted the whole thing out.
We went to visit Grandma and Grandpa later that spring, but when we got to the familiar brown house, things were different...weird. Mom and Dad pulled me and Becky into a side room, the one with the TV where I fell asleep to "The Ten Commandments" around Easter and which held, to my great amusement, the pillow shaped like a hamburger complete with lettuce and tomatoes poking out from underneath the bun. I'd be lying if I said that pillow wasn't a source of excitement for me when we went to visit. I don't even think we sat down. Mom pat Dad on the back as he looked from me to Becky and told us the news, "Grandma died." I had absolutely no idea what he was talking about, but Becky started to cry so I deemed it a situation worth shedding tears over as well. I was wearing my blue dress--a happy occasion only heightened by being around the hamburger pillow--but it wasn't so exciting anymore. Whatever had happened, it was bad. The next day, I stood next to the casket, holding Dad's hand and peeking over the edge to see Grandma in a pink suit and her favorite angel pin. She looked pretty. This time she was wearing her hair. I liked it better that way. I looked up at Dad to make some sort of sense about all of this, but he looked like he had other things on his mind.
We stood there for a few more minutes together, and then he picked me up and together we walked away. I looked back at Grandma. Pink was a good choice, I thought, it's my favorite color.