Black and white, but life falls somewhere in between. So rarely are experiences the “best” or “worst.” We like to dramatize and exaggerate as such, but the news smarts with the cruel, sweet truth: our worst is someone else’s dream. Our best means nothing.
My grandmother is dying. Someone I love is dying! I can’t stop it. I can’t make it better. I feel like screaming this at the highest mountain I can climb:
“LIFE IS UNFAIR. DAMMIT! NO ONE TOLD ME SHE WAS GOING TO GET SICK AND LEAVE ME. I DO NOT KNOW HOW TO DO THIS WITHOUT HER. I DO NOT KNOW HOW TO DO THIS!”
I’ve copied her recipes from handwritten, scribbled index cards housed in decaying three-ring binders. I’ve stolen her jewelry for moments on holidays when she’d be pleased to see me wearing it, but not too keen on me taking it home. I’ve listened to her stories and tried to replicate her cadence, word choice, kindness, smile.
My love for this woman is found in the thousand shades between. Her peanut butter chocolate balls — given Christmas morning, wrapped in in recycled cottage cheese containers. Delicious, but too big. So rich, you can’t really enjoy the entire thing without a stomach ache. Then again, this will be my first Christmas I remember without them, and I what I wouldn’t do for that sick stomach. To see that frosted-haired maven in her kitchen, plopping candies on warped cookie sheets with care. Humming along to her favorite on Lawrence Welk.
Her love for the southwest. Namely, her chunky Native American jewelry that defined her fashion for decades. The rugged three-stone rings set in sterling silver. The giant cross pendants. The cuff bracelets worn on each arm like Wonder Woman. This Pennsylvania farm girl fell in love with the desert at first sight. The pearls and other family heirlooms remained in her small cedar jewelry chest. She was known for her love of turquoise — the color of Sonoran opulence.
I think about the years I have to live and how I can do so to honor my grandmother. She wanted nothing more than to see me get married and have my own children. (To the extent of hilariously strong-arming boyfriends during holiday meals. “When are you going to make an honest woman of her? NOW is the the time!”) If I am so lucky to share these moments with her, she won’t know. I’m left to consider what I can share with my future family to capture who she is — how very much she shaped who I am.
My Grandmother Maxine, along with my parents, gave me the opportunity to study in Mexico during high school. Spanish has given me a chance at many jobs for which I wouldn’t have otherwise been considered. Also, she’s always been a devoted pen pal. My first, second and third letter in the Peace Corps in central Africa were written by her nervous and supporting hand. The letters came with red crosses marked on the envelopes.
“No one will mess with mail sent with God’s wishes, honey.”
She taught me how to make a pie crust. How to put on make-up. How, and why, to tithe. She showed me how to love children with abandon. She epitomized frugality. To live a life as an example in loving Christ, family and community.
Today, she doesn’t know who I am. That pain is sharp. I can’t put to words how very much I miss her spirit. Or how deeply I am troubled by the change this has caused. My dad’s voice isn’t the same. His heart is heavy. My uncle is angry. I miss his quickness to make others laugh.
My reaction is ugly. I am unfairly angry with my mother, who listens with her own unabashed, patient love for her children. (Never mind she’s loved this same woman since her teens. My parent’s loss is that much sharper. Unsurmountable.) Why I thought Grandma Max would live forever is unknown. I never thought it would be this painful.
This is how you know you’ve lived a life well loved — all are shaken by your retreat. I feel her with me. She is in my every breath and prayer. She may be in this life today, but her soul is with God.
I miss her so very much.