This post has taken me awhile to write. First, a trip to Colorado and a funeral. Then four days of the flu, followed by my husband and youngest son getting ill. Hasn’t been the best two weeks, yet I still feel an overwhelming sense of peace. Maybe that’s what happens when you witness an end of an era.
My initial reaction to hearing of my grandma’s passing was to stay put in Arizona. I had no desire to travel to my home state, not again, not for another death. I was angry. My grandmother’s passing, while expected, only opened the wounds of Chris’s death, still fresh. As much as I knew I couldn’t change it, my heart could not accept that Chris was gone. Logically, I could wrap my head around it. People die. That is how life works. But not young people. Not fathers with teenage daughters. Not MY brother.
I oscillated back and forth between going to the funeral. I would reserve airline tickets and then hit “cancel” before paying. I would confirm friends and family could help Ben care for the boys in my absence, and then tell them I wasn’t going. I sent a message to my family explaining that a second last minute excursion was just too expensive and then regretted it the second I hit send. I finally just gave over and bought the tickets, confirming the purchase before I could back out for the umpteenth time.
At my grandmother’s service, I looked around. The atmosphere was completely different than the service for my brother. Chris’s memorial was a giant party. Hundreds of people gathered to drink beer, toast shots of whiskey, and celebrate his legacy.
My grandma’s service was quiet. Maybe thirty people sat in the pews of the small chapel. She had lived to 89 years old. Most of her contemporaries had passed years before her.
My aunt had asked me if I would make a video comprised of music my grandma loved and photographs from her life. I completed this job- and forgot the disc with the video on it. It was snowing the morning of her service, and I was preoccupied with driving on icy roads. I remembered to put lip gloss and painted rocks in my purse, but not the video. The funeral home did not have a television with wifi capability, so there was no hope of connecting remotely. I had messed up the one job I was given.
Someone needed to speak on behalf of my family, and no one wanted the job. Who really loves speaking publicly, and under such emotional circumstances? I determined since I had left the disc, I would make amends by offering a few words.
I had spent the last few weeks thinking about the marks people leave on your life. When I was around five years old, I walked up behind Chris as he was swinging a baseball bat, resulting in a cut on my forehead that required stitches. I still have a scar from that incident. The mark carries new weight. Every time I look at it, I am reminded of him, of the impact he had on me- beyond the impact of cracking my skin open.
At my grandma’s service, I spoke of the times I stayed at her home as a child. She had a small house, so she would only let one child at a time stay with her for an extended period. During those few days, I would feel like a queen. She would make me spaghetti for dinner. I would drink fresh squeezed juice out of her champagne glasses. The scent of Dove soap would envelop my as I lounged in her pink bath tub.
Once, she took me to a park that had a zip line. I was so scared to glide on it, but after one trip, I was begging her to pull me on the line over and over. As a parent now, I understand how exhausting it can be when your child says “just one more time.” But from her, I know you run that line over and over, whether you want to or not, because it brings joy to someone close to your heart. It made her happy to see me happy.
Looking out at the faces from the podium, I had the realization that there were people in that room I would either never see again, or would only see when it was time for another funeral. My grandmother was the link. Now that she was gone, we would have no reason to visit each other.
That probably sounds sad, but it gave me peace. I was there for the end of that era. The next time I visit Colorado, everything will be different. Chris and Grandma will be gone. Someone else will occupy the house she lived in for 54 years. My mother and brother will be in a new home. Who knows the next time my siblings and I will be in the same room together?
But I had been there for the end. I hadn’t let grief and anger stop me. I sat next to my mother and put my arm around her shoulder as the service ended. I hugged my aunt and siblings and shared in that moment.
That evening, we gathered at my mom’s kitchen table and looked at photographs. We passed around really good shots, laughing at our haircuts and outfits. We interrupted each other to tell the best parts of the story. It felt normal. I missed Chris. I always will. But I learned I could go on, I could find peace and happiness even without him there.
When I returned home the next day, I was hugging my sons as a floral delivery arrived- a beautiful arrangement from my sister-in-law and her family. A card mentioned that in one of my blogs I had written about needing support for months after Chris’s passing. They offered to be there for as long was necessary.
I looked at all the flowers and plants I have received in the past weeks. As cliche as it might sound, I was reminded of how tragedy really does make the good times more precious. How beauty arises and exists with sorrow.
A friend suggested a book to me, “I’ll Give You The Sun” by Jandy Nelson. It’s a YA novel about two teen twins with supernatural powers, grieving the loss of their mother. It is written for teens, so sometimes the angst is completely overpowering. But the story resonated with me. At one point, the teen girl describes how even in death, our relationships with the departed continue to grow and change.
I talk to Chris every day. Sometimes I think he talks back. I notice things like the scent of Dove soap, and thank my grandma for allowing me to embrace femininity. I feel her presence when I wear her necklaces. I hear Chris’s voice when I talk to my brothers. My brother and my grandmother continue to change me, to make me see things I might have missed, or view moments in a new way.
I’d still give my last cent to have them here. I miss them every day. But I’m learning to live with it. Our relationships live on, even if our bodies are given back to the earth.
Goodbye Chris. Goodbye Grandma. I’ll love you both for all of my days. Stay with me. Stay close. But let’s all look forward to what tomorrow brings.