My grandmother took her final rest in the early morning hours on Sunday, before sunrise. It was peaceful and loving and perfectly fitting for a life that reflected so much grace.
My “real life” circle already knows this, but I have recorded all of my formative moments on this journal, and I know I have to write something. But words seem completely inadequate sometimes. What do you say when you lose someone who is so cherished by those of us left behind? I don’t know.
It was past 11:00 when I finally got home to my empty house last night after the funeral visitation and then family time at my grandparents’ house. Sometimes words are not enough, so we rely on rituals. This week is reserved for those rituals of mourning. Receiving visitors and food and hugs. Singing hymns and listening to prayers of comfort. Glancing at pictures from years and years of a life well-spent. And finally, on Wednesday afternoon, lowering her body in the ground.
Seeing her body somehow feels so different than it usually feels for me to attend a funeral visitation, less unsettling and less haunted. Maybe it’s because I knew her so closely or maybe it is because it was such a gradual process that I walked alongside her these past few weeks. Whatever the reason, this time it is so clear to me that it is just a shell. There’s a line from Quaker writings in the nineteenth century that says, “You don’t have a soul. You are a soul. You have a body.” This past month with my grandmother taught be innumerable lessons, but that is one of them.
I think she knew this always. It’s why everyone who met her loved her so much. She spoke to you soul-to-soul without any regard to the other stuff when the world around you only ever sees the other “stuff” as who you are.
The missing will come. The void and the absence is here already, but it still feels surreal. The missing will come later, and I know loss enough to know this. I will cry those tears at some point. But right now, the things that make my eyes sting and overflow are the details of beauty I’ve observed as she made her transition to the other side. There was so much sweetness in her passing, as hard as it is for us to let her go.
There are countless moments from this month that I will never, ever forget. Making pureed sweet potatoes like baby food for her to eat, wondering how many times she did the same for me. Watching little cousins play hide and seek last Sunday in her big hydrangea bush while she slept upstairs. Rubbing lotion on her tired hands, scarred from a life of love and work. Seeing her smile and squeeze my hand when I dripped water in her mouth from a tiny sponge. Listening to my Grandaddy sing hymns to her in her Emory hospital room when she was overwhelmed and upset, and then watching him silently hold space for her in the last 10 days that she spent at home. He never wavered, even once, from what real love is.
I will never, in all my life, forget what I have witnessed between the two of them in these last few weeks.
As I was talking with an old friend last night at the visitation, I was saying how grateful I am to be from a family that always taught me the value of loss and sadness, always showed me the whole picture. So many people in our culture don’t “do” sadness and don’t “do” death. They pretend it’s something we can somehow avoid by holding it distant. Like if you run fast enough and smile big enough and buy enough shiny new things, loss won’t really happen to you.
I wrote my grandmother’s obituary – perhaps the hardest thing I’ve ever written. How do you sum up someone’s life in something like 300 words? As I wrote, I got to that last paragraph where you state the deceased’s loved ones – the list of people who passed before them and those they left behind. I realized that perhaps the most striking line of someone’s obituary is that list of who preceded them in death. It’s just a list of names that is so easy to breeze over as you read, but to really think about it and remember what loss feels like magnifies it. I listed her parents, both of them. Her oldest brother she adored so much as a mentor and her most trusted friend. Her youngest brother who died at 36 and left behind a wife and three kids. Her son-in-law, my own father, who passed at 31 and left my sister and me, alongside my mother. She held our hand so closely in that time when I know her own heart was broken, too. As I read those details and I look back, I’m astounded at the pain she endured in her lifetime. The process we all experience, letting go of people you can’t imagine living without.
Pain transforms you if you let it. I heard a radio interview once where someone referenced “the alchemy of pain” and I love that. It can be an almost magical process of transformation if you let it burn to completion in you. You can’t selectively numb emotions. You numb the pain or sadness, and your joy is dimmed as well
I’m seeing already how the well of sadness from the last month is echoing in a way that magnifies the connection I have with her. It’s like I press my ear to the sadness, and what I really hear beneath it is thank you, thank you, thank you.
Love goes on and on and on. Always.