I experienced two deaths this week -- the grandmother and matriarch of a family with whom I am close and my 94-year-old great aunt. There was a huge funeral for the first, while my great aunt will have a tiny graveside service Monday with only a few family members in attendance. In both cases, the grief experienced belonged more to others than myself. I loved my great aunt, but she had been in a nursing home for almost a decade, having lost most of her mind to dementia. She was not the type of person who would ever have wished this for herself (who would?), but in a family of three sisters, she prided herself on being the intellectual. She felt my grandmother was the pretty one, and by being an artist, writing poems, participating in myriad church and community groups, having strong opinions on culture and politics, that she had a role to fill. Leaving behind a good obituary was more important to her than an actual funeral service. My grandmother is the one truly feeling the loss. This was her last surviving sister, now she is the only one of her generation left and at 92 her own mortality must weigh heavily on her mind. Today, she reminded me, “you are my precious granddaughter, I want you to know that.” I do.
The grandmother of the boy I love was not someone with whom I was close, but she set the rhythms of his family. Holidays and visits were about going to Grammie’s, seeing Grammie, making sure Grammie was all right. Like an old family clock that chimed regularly to tell the hour, her family dinners and holiday gatherings foretold the comings and goings of this clan. And, while I knew she would be missed, I was not prepared to deal with my boy’s pain. He choked back tears at the funeral home because he is a man and the eldest grandson, and he does not make a display in public. So I sat with him in our stiff backed chairs, our bodies pressed close together, my arm around his back, his around mine as people chatted around us and looked upon each other with sad and soulful eyes.
In these moments, the eyes talk the loudest, saying more than words. They hold tears and smiles and questions and comfort, because few words would do. Words are good for so much – explaining, informing, sharing, letting another know that he is not alone, but when it comes to pain, they are a mild elixir, at best . So I sit and sit some more until decorum causes him to rise and serve his function as pallbearer. We follow the line of cars to the burial site, good soldiers all in a row, acting out the order of nature – life then death. And, on a bright Friday noon hour, I stand near him to bid his Grammie goodbye. We return to her house for food prepared by others. Stopping first for a picture – my friend, my brother and I. The three of us have not been together like this in years. Once we rode on wind and music through the night, enjoying the concerts of our youth. Today, time and responsibilities have claimed us, but we gather and we pause and we return to the home that his Grammie left where everyone changes clothes, eats food, and reminisces. We fall back into the rhythms of life. Still, I sit by my friend and call my own Grammie. I show love simply by being near.