Photo: We brought the bikes to Maryland with us, because I knew the weather would be nice and the boys would get stir-crazy if they were stuck in Mom’s house the whole time we were there. Of course, they needed to get out and ride just as soon as they arrived (only children are up for activity after a 10-hour car ride). When I went outside to check in on them, the first thing that I noticed was the bright and beautiful moon (I’m always looking for it). Major stopped to see what I was looking up at. He pointed, smiling. “Oh! I see the moon! It’s glorious!” And I just had to marvel…at it, at him and his vocabulary. All doubt fell away in that moment. Bringing the boys was a great idea.
If I learned one lesson last week, it’s this: In the face of Death, bring Life with you. Pack it and all of its accessories. Hold on tightly to it when you have to stand toe-to-toe with Death. Marvel at it and wonder about it during the quiet moments after Death is gone.
We stood in our kitchen as Husband and Wife, Father and Mother, considering and reconsidering if and how to bring the boys to Maryland, if and how they should attend the funeral services. Were they too young? Would they understand? Would they be frightened? Saddened? Would they be a distraction? Would they be disrespectful or disruptive? Would I be able to mourn and mother at the same time? Not to mention fulfill my duties as eldest daughter, middle granddaughter? There are things to do when Death comes. Children aren’t really a part of those things.
What I learned last week is that children aren’t part of those things, it’s true. But what they are is a beautiful, almost luxurious, distraction. Their laughter, their tears, their fights, even… in the face of death, children are brilliant, bright, glorious life. Their requirements are many, their needs are immediate, their wants and whims sort of change the air in a room. While on a normal day, their chaos can be stressful, even infuriating (and, I should probably state that this was still the case sometimes), the state of mourning changes things…colors and shades things… softens things…
So there was laughter last week. Joyful moments. There were fights over toys, wrestling matches in the foyer. There were memories resulting in cackles. There were silent moments of awe.
And there were tears. Many, many tears.
I walked into my family’s church last week for the first time in nearly a decade. My great-grandparents, grandparents, parents, aunt and uncle were married in that church. I was baptized in it. I spent many an Easter Sunday and a vacation bible school week in the building. It still smells the same, though it is much smaller than I remember it. Still hot… always hot! But they still have awesome fans.
The first thing I did when I walked through the tall wooden doors to attend my grandmother’s wake was look to my right. My grandmother was an usher at that church for many, many years. She’d stand right at the doorway in a crisp white dress, white gloves and a sash.
They still wear those proud white gloves. Of course, Grandy was in a different spot.
Her funeral was well attended. It felt like the whole entire town was there. We sat with the boys in the second pew and brought coloring books just in case they became fidgety.
They were wonderful. Major, emotionally intelligent and of an age to begin to understand, was sincerely sad but also paid close attention. He commented the music was too loud. United Methodists enjoy a…different sort of service than Episcopalians do. Minor was content to be in my lap, but he was also squirmy and needy. I kept setting him down, he kept crawling back on. It was fine. They were fine. I’m glad they were there. I went to the graveyard without them, sending The Husband back to Mom’s with the boys. Allowing me my final goodbyes without anyone else to think about.
I think what I’ll remember most is the drive away from the graveyard. The casket, closed and covered with flowers, was alone and suspended above its final destination. It was striking, as it felt so lonely. Grandy was rarely alone. From the time she was born until the time she died, she was always with someone–there was always someone to care for (she had a little brother, 4 children, and was a teaching assistant for 30 years) or, eventually, there was always someone caring for her (my uncle lived with her up until the end). She held court in her living room every single day, enjoying the idle gossip of town, until she went to the hospital. I’m told she held court there, too, and was very popular with the nurses. She passed away surrounded by her children. So, to leave her there… everyone gone, just her and the stones… there was a silence and loneliness that is burned into my mind. We had to leave her there, to rest next to her late husband, her late mother, her late father…
and we’re left, to keep living, to keep her legacy alive.
I found myself listless and useless yesterday afternoon. 3pm came and went without a call, without any sort of industry or purpose. My body aches for no reason. My hair feels dry, my scalp and skin itchy. I’m sleeping fitfully, yet deeply, waking up with sudden jolts at random times. I had a really hard time getting up this morning. The boys woke up excited to go back to school, but this afternoon they are grumpy. Dinner is in the oven, but it’s passionless.
Normal will come. Every step I take will get me there. But the way forward feels cloudy, sometimes doubtful. Life is here, waiting, and I’m glad for it. But how to reach for it? How to seize it again? How to embrace it without tears? How to set new goals and strive for excellence without my favorite cheerleader?
And while I packed Life and took it with me, the truth is, life has been on hold for an entire week. Bills need to be paid. Projects need to be restarted. Meetings must be scheduled and/or attended. I’m actually overwhelmed by all that I have to do. And then there is this blog. Lord, how I didn’t intend to let it sit for a week without a post. I’m sorry, Dear Reader. I’ve never done that before!
I’m back, and I did miss you. I promise not to let this space become overly depressing. Then again, I admit that I’m overwhelmed and the life I lived two weeks ago is fundamentally different than the life I lived now. Not because there has been a large change with profound consequences. Actually, it’s the small and subtle changes that mean in a difference the way the sun rises and falls on my days. Sunday at 3 is no more. It was an anchor for my entire week. Now all of the things I used to do to make it happen are gone. It matters. I have to figure out what to do from here.
I promise that part of that will be to keep writing. Thank you for your patience with me, Dear Reader. I really, really appreciate it.
It’s Monday. The start of a new week with new opportunities. Let’s seize it together.
Until Wednesday, take care.