Monday, September 3, 2012

On Saying 'I Love You'...

It's been a few months since my Grandma passed away.
And stuff keeps creeping up inside of me. That inner voice. "Did she really know that I loved her? I certainly didn't visit her as much as Grandpa or Dad." And then that voice usually follows with a "You know... you could be a better grand-daughter. You really ought to be doing more cooking for Grandpa... it's what Grandma would have wanted you to do." I've always been pretty good about berating myself. In fact, I'm a professional self-berater. But that's beside the point.
It's weird. Death. You know it's coming eventually. You know it's going to take your grandma away from you. It's in the back of your mind. Heck, you really don't even want to plan anything because you're afraid it'll show up if you're not consciously worrying about it. As if worry prevents it. Proof of this is my grandma's purple mixing bowl. Apparently I'm going to tear up as I write this... anyhow. Grandma's purple mixing bowl. Coolest thing ever. Mom handed it down to me and I treasured that thing. I used it all the time and thought about Grandma. I even know that the bottom of it says Dallas Ware. I know this bowl like the palm of my hand. And then one day, it broke. It was slippery and wet and I dropped it. It broke into several pieces. I talked to my hubs about gluing it. But honestly, it's JUST A THING. It's not like it's Grandma. But lemme tell ya... I kept all the pieces of that broken bowl inside the hutch for several months until I had convinced myself that throwing away the pieces would be okay... she wouldn't die from it. And so I threw them away. And she didn't die. And all was good in the world.
 Grandpa invited me to go with him to visit Grandma one day. And on that day, the baby had childcare, the kids were in school, rode the bus, had no pending appointments, and the stars aligned. I climbed in Grandpa's Cadillac and he taught me a new shortcut to the nursing home. Grandpa mentioned that she hadn't been doing so well lately - but I didn't think anything of it because he'd said it before and Grandma was always - er - Grandma was Grandma - the toughest girl in the world - and the most ladylike!
But walking into that room was different. SO VERY DIFFERENT. She was lying in bed (not normal) and didn't look like herself. She looked thin, pale, and for a moment I questioned whether we'd waltzed into the wrong room. But it was her... NOT DOING WELL at all! And Dad was out of town. My brothers needed to know. Dad needed to know.
So I snapped a photo of Grandma. I didn't want to have to convince all three when I could simply text a photo and know they'd 'get my drift. So I jotted something about "Grandma says  Hi!" and hit send.
And we came together. Almost immediately. We gathered around Grandma's bed. We gathered around Grandpa. And for the first time in a very, very long time - I allowed the feeling of belonging - really, really belonging (no secrets, no distancing) to a family - the family I was born into - and it felt so good. Over the next few days, Grandma went to be with her firstborn son (who is also my uncle) in Heaven.
It's funny how even though you know something is coming - you can go through the motions and completely fail to process them. I knew in my head that Grandma was going to pass. But my heart kept saying "BULLS&#@, Jessica! In the thirty-two years I've known her, I have NEVER known her to die!" So when I got the call from Dad, I needed to go see for myself. My older brother and I accompanied our Grandfather to the nursing home to collect Grandma's things. And that was when about 60% of the reality of Grandma passing hit. Holding old photos, her train case, greeting cards, eye glasses - those are the things that cemented things. I found myself yearning to lie down in her bed and drink up whatever was left of her being off of the sheets. (Weirdly, it felt nice - yeah, I climbed right on that hospital bed and curled up in the last bits of Grandma that I could.
A short viewing was held at a local funeral home and it was determined that Grandma would fly to Pampa, Texas and join her son at their gravesite.
I drove Grandpa and his Cadillac to Pampa with my husband and kids leading the way in the blue minivan.
That ride, just Grandpa and me. It pulled up old memories. Like driving the golf cart at the Pampa Country Club with Grandpa in the passenger seat and myself barely able to see over the steering wheel. Or how he taught me to drive his fishing boat - the '79 Cane Cutter. And those long country road drives when he was giving me actual drive-a-car practice. And the time he let me take over the kite (and I let go) and he rode straight into a patch of sticker burs. So I digress. Point is, Grandpa spilled memories of Grandma - of Dad - of Uncle Wayne and other long gone relatives. When we did arrive in Pampa, I was eager to get to graves of not only Grandma, but those who passed long before Grandma. I was eager to place new flowers at Aunt Vee Lynn's grave (and her husband, Gail's grave) and Uncle Arland, Aunt Alma, and Henrietta Lemons (grandpa's own mother!) They were so alive in my mind from the stories. It was an honor to tend to their spaces.
Grandma's funeral was beautiful. I know she'd have been pleased too. We laid her to rest and with Grandpa's permission, I took a rose from her grave to take home and press.
Unfortunately, this rose did not want to be pressed. It molded and like Grandma's batter bowl, I had to throw it away.
I didn't realize something more was in store.
Maybe Grandma didn't want my memories to be tied to the tangible.
Maybe Grandma wanted me to feel her.
Another interesting note on the human condition is that we process things - not when it's convenient for US, but when it's time.
And sometimes you stand on your back porch and stare at two foxes that are staring back at you. And maybe you speak to them, and they just look at you - obviously uninterested since they look away. And maybe a feather floats into your path. And maybe an old handwritten letter from your grandmother finds its way into your hands. And then you find yourself yearning to paint - so you buy a canvas, you buy a brush (literally - just one stinkin' brush) and you start painting - and the swoops of your turquoise paint on your brush start following the cowlick in your grandma's hair do. And an old poem you once read re-surfaces in your heart. Tears fall and suddenly you feel her. RIGHT THERE NEXT TO YOU. And you look at this canvas - it's not even recognizable as your own work... and you know that Grandma wants you to give it away because the tangible 'Grandma memory' isn't what she wants for you. You know where this painting belongs. And in this case, it finds me knocking on Grandpa's front door. Grandpa welcoming me in, asking me to excuse his pajama shirt at 7:30 p.m.
We sat down. I took Grandma's old recliner and Grandpa sat in his. I handed him the painting and we read the poem together. You know the poem - 'Do not stand at my grave and cry...' poem. Minus the first two lines and the last two lines. We teared up. Grandpa told me about what a catch my grandma was and how very much he loves her. And that damn funeral lump is in my throat as I think about how I should've gone to see that precious lady so much more than I did. (Honestly, it's sometimes too easy to fall into the excuse of having three kids when you know a little gumption to get there would do the trick.) And the guilt that's been eating me so bad for the last few months surfaces in these words: "Grandpa? Do you think she knew (sniffle-suck-up-another-sniffle)... that I love her - do you think she knew I love her a lot?" And he looked at me with those eyes - those 'what-a-ridiculous-question-silly' eyes and said "Oh yes! She knew. She knew very well. She knew you and both of your brothers loved her so much. And I think you know she loved you too." Suddenly that small hole in my heart was finally patched - the right way.
And because you don't learn a hard lesson about telling folks you love them enough for YOUR OWN HEART everyday, I made sure Grandpa knew I love him too. A whole bunch.
He knew.
And yesterday I found one little piece of that purple mixing bowl as I was cleaning.
I think I'm going to hang onto it.

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