To Meet Her Again
I didn’t want to lose her.
For several nights I slept lightly, waking up about every hour. I’d lift my head from the pillow and look at the clock, reminding myself that if there was no phone call, there was no news.
The first night of light sleeping, I went ahead and got up. I dug through closets looking for the large, flat, brown paper package that I remembered moving between my last couple apartments. When I found it, I tore off layers of brown paper and pulled out the heavy wooden frame of an oil painting. It showed snowmen wearing colorful hats and mittens. They turned playful somersaults under a soon-to-snow blue sky. I’m told it was Granny’s gift for my third birthday. I remember that painting hanging on my bedroom wall all those growing up years.
The next few nights, whenever I woke, I’d glance from the clock to the dark rectangle against the wall, knowing it was Granny’s painting. I’d remember her smile and pray to God that she was not hurting.
Then came the morning that ended those nights. My mother called. She said the thing we both knew she’d have to say:
“Granny passed away.”
And that was it. My grandmother was no longer in this world. I could look anywhere there was to look and cry all the tears I had to cry and still wouldn’t be able to lay my hands on hers. That was not how life should be. This life should not suddenly be too small to hold my Granny.
And I wanted my Granny. I wanted to sit down for coffee with the woman who taught me it was never too late in the day for coffee. I wanted to show random things to the woman who gave me random painting lessons and poetry books. She was crazy, I know. I got some of my own crazy from her. But she loved, too, and she loved me. She thought I was beautiful. She’d say that. She thought I was gifted. Have you ever been smiled at by someone who thought overwhelmingly well of you? Who was entirely on your side in this world? We should all meet such smiles. We all don’t. I know we all don’t. But I did. I did, and it changed me.
And then we lost her.
In a sense, we’d lost her years before, when the dementia set in. It had been ages since she’d looked at me with any recognition. It had been some time since she forgot what coffee even was and started pushing away that cup of bitter-whatever put in front of her. In a sense, we lost her years ago and we lost her again, more of her, that early January morning she died.
I drove home to my parents’ that day feeling numb. We began the long hours of making arrangements, gathering photos and receiving out-of-town family, and I felt numb. Even after the funeral and visiting, after life supposedly went back to normal, I felt numb. How can a winter be so hard? My boyfriend and I broke up again. I moved again. (How can I say just how hard?) Perhaps the only way to get through it was the bland comfort of a numbness that let February blur into March and April.
It wasn’t until the warming days of spring that I discovered something: I was smiling. I’d grab my glasses from the dresser and glance at the little framed portrait of Granny taken at church one morning – smile. I’d close the window blinds and notice one of her poetry books on the shelf nearby – smile. I’d hear whippoorwills singing in the trees above me like they sang at Granny and Grandpa’s old house up on the hill – real big smile. I was starting to feel again, and it was that deep-in-your-gut gladness of a shared smile.
And yes, it was a shared smile. That’s the thing. You could say I was simply remembering Granny, but it was more than that. I was discovering her in ways I had not before, meeting her in ways I had not needed to during the days of her life on this earth. Somehow, she was with me. Somehow, she was there in a palpable way.
I will call it a mystery, as indescribable as it is real, the way love works. The love with a capital “L” that has been a reference to the divine, the love that has been called a way we participate in the divine – there is something about love that is as strong and full and deep as we go. For all our weaknesses and flaws, however crazy we may get, love makes an offering from the very best places in us and changes us. Our lives can become larger as we share those best places with each other and, in a very real way, become part of each other. We share lives in a way that will not allow us to be lost.
I will always be the woman loved by her grandmother Katherine. I must surely be the woman inheriting a stamina which let her Granny live long, full, loving days in the face of some very sharp edges to her world. I am the woman who has only to pull a holiday cookbook down off her shelf to read this note penned on the flyleaf:
“To Callie Jo —
for happy times. Love Ever — Grandmother Katherine.”
I meet her again like that. I am smelling the dumplings and dressing it seems we will always be cooking in her kitchen. I am tasting coffee from the bookstore cafe where I half-think we will always share a window seat. I think I couldn’t ever lose her. Not really. That’s my smile – our smile – as I forget what it is like to feel alone.