Being Near

Blog me and chris copy 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.


Writing Prompt: Gardens

Tori, Vader, Humpie Doggie, Catherine and Avery I do not plant my own garden, but I revel in the gardens of others. Across from my house, in an island of pavement is a small grassy triangle. Members of the community maintain this small, patch of earth each spring by planting flowers that change as the season progresses – evolving from tulips and daffodils to daisies and irises. I await the arrival of the first buds each year, seeing them rise as the sun ascends and shares its warmth with us. It is my signal that spring is upon us. Every time I see her, I rush to inform one of the women in town, the one who helps tend this garden, how much it means to me. She seems thankful, if sedate, as I gush over the flowers.  Her own lawn is equally adorned, so perhaps she cannot digest just how much I appreciate her efforts, how tied I am to those blossoming patches of color across the lawn. They have been a backdrop for photos of my nieces and nephews, a garden hideaway to retreat amidst the fairies, a place to witness their inner men and women emerge as they strike magical poses well beyond their years. It has allowed me a reprieve from computers and deadlines, a minute field in which to roam for 10 minutes, camera in hand. It has been a place to say goodbyes, a train platform to see my dying dog off to another world.

Vader died a year ago June 1st and for the month leading up to his death, my nieces, nephews and I would frequently tote his limp form, along with his constant companion, his stuffed “Humpie Doggie” across the road to sit him in the flowers and allow him a few moments of sun. His body carved out a small sunken dent in the hollow of the flower bed and I imagine I see it there still, although the flowers this year have arranged themselves in a different pattern. There are yellow irises now, tons of them, although last year I remember varied colors. It would be easy to say that the color has faded since Vader’s death, but it is not true. I miss him, but the world is warm and golden. Waffles and Alfie frolic in the back yard and wait eagerly by the gate as I water the tomato plants my father chose to plant this year. Life wilts and grows, ebbs and flows.

The grandmother of the boy I loved is dying in the garden room of the local hospital where my grandmother, too, passed away. He and his cousins make plans to fly home for her funeral even while she remains alive. Our lives are busy and do not slow, but the world is green and full; the sky blue with marshmallow clouds. If we had a choice, we would not leave it today. We would sit in the garden and enjoy it a spell, feeling the warmth on our faces, reveling in the life around us.

I try to remember this. So on the anniversary of his death, I visited Vader’s tree on our front lawn; the place where I had rested with him in the hours before his death, looking up at the leafy canopy, embracing the light from the sun. I stretched out on the dirt and grass, not caring if my dress clothes became grass stained and soiled and I looked up once again – thankful for his small life and all the life that has occurred in the year he’s been gone. I sat up and stared across the lawn at his garden, thinking how tall my nieces and nephews had grown in a year, how much life had changed – my niece Ellie was only a baby in a basket when she visited last Memorial Day, now she is a rambunctious toddler – “go, go, go” is her catchphrase. I got Waffles once Vader was gone, joined a Writer’s Group, gave a reading, welcomed and bid farewell to three classes of students, started a blog. I traveled to Laguna Beach, Washington D.C., Woodstock, NY. My brother went off to boot camp and my Mom had a cataract removed. I wrote articles and stories, drew pictures and paintings. My niece spoke my name. Life is full. We bud and we bloom. We bid goodbye. And, on a good day we are aware of it all and thankful for our gardens.

Vader's Tree

Writing Prompt: Return to a memory from last year. Write about it.