Monday, November 1, 2010

Requiescat in pace

My grandmother passed away on Friday night. She went very quietly and peacefully, they tell me.

I haven't seen her since July, so my head tells me there's no reason for me to miss her any more now than before. But I do.

It was my grandma who taught me to sew. I really wanted to learn, but once my mom had taught me the running stitch and my dad taught me the overcast stitch, they had exhausted their knowledge and passed me off to Grandma. I stayed with her and Grandpa for a week and made a nightgown with paw prints all over it. I guess I was about twelve.

During that time, my aunt dropped off my two-year-old cousin for the afternoon. (He is in high school now!) I took it upon myself to keep him entertained. Grandma laughed at me, saying I couldn't expect to keep up with a two-year-old, but I was convinced I could and spent all afternoon chasing him around the house. At eight p.m., my aunt picked up her son, and five minutes later I was sound asleep on the couch. Grandma managed to carry me into the bedroom, took off my shoes, and gently tucked me in, all without waking me up.

Six years later, she gave me the sewing machine I still have. I remember us tinkering with it together, trying to figure out how to get it threaded.

A different year, when I think I was about eight or nine, she asked me what I wanted for my birthday. I said that all I wanted was hair three feet long, like she had said my aunt had used to have. That must have been a real stumper, but on my birthday she gave me a box of fancy shampoo, conditioner, and combs. I was thrilled.

I never was unusually close to Grandma, but as I think of her, I believe she's the grandparent I take after the most. She liked to talk, to tell stories. And her favorite topic for those stories was family. I loved to listen as she told us all stories of when my dad and uncle were boys, or of my aunt growing up (she was much younger), or of the adventures of various aunts and uncles I didn't know. (I do not know anyone on that side beyond my grandparents; the J. family isn't so big on family reunions as the other side, I guess.)

And yet Grandma didn't talk all that much about herself. I don't know what her childhood was like or even how many brothers and sisters she had. I wish I had listened to more of her stories. I wish I had more of her to hold onto besides a sewing machine, a special lasagna recipe, and all too few memories.

I'm hoping those who knew her better than I will fill me in on some of the details. As time goes by, we'll trade stories to increase each of our hoard of memories.

And yet it will never be the same. I miss my grandma.

I believe that the strong rejection we all feel toward death is one of many signs that we were not meant to be separated from our loved ones forever. I believe we will meet again in heaven. Today is All Saints' Day; tomorrow is All Souls. Living and dead, we form a "great cloud of witnesses," and although we can't yet speak face to face, we are united in Christ.

I believe all this. And yet it doesn't change the fact that I'm sad and wish I hadn't had to lose her so soon.


Beth said...

Oh Sheila my heart aches for you.

My grandma died last year at 92. The grandma that I fought with when my dad died at 46 and I was a naiive 19. The woman had to bury her oldest son and in my youth I dared argue with her and she gracefully took it from me.

The grandma who made mints for every occasion of every family member thrice removed. Mints made of crisco and pure sugar and artifical flavoring and food coloring and all the things I despise in food. And yet, if I could eat one just now, made by her sweet fraile hands, I would.

OUr stories are different but I do feel the heartache in your words.

Heather said...

I like to believe that the pain of loss is a renewal of the joy of love. But death and what comes after are things that even now, after all these years of wondering about my dad, stumps and scares me with its emptiness. Your explanation for why we will meet our loved ones again in heaven is the best I have ever come across and is incredibly comforting. Thank you and take care.

Sheila said...

Beth - You reminded me of my grandma's fruitcake. There never was anything remotely like that cake -- no relation whatever to the doorstops that sometimes pass themselves off as fruitcake. She would send two to my grandpa when he was at sea -- one to keep on his desk and share with all the people who begged for a piece, and one to hide inside so that he wouldn't have to share!

Heather - I'm glad I was able to comfort you a little. Death is the biggest, saddest, scariest mystery we know.

Enbrethiliel said...


Sheila, I just visited my great-grandparents' and great-uncle's graves a few hours ago, and was pondering how little of them I have to hold on to. Right now, my own grandparents are so elderly and frail that I don't want to think about the inevitable.

My grandfather has already given me a whole library's worth of politicians' biographies and military history, which are now too difficult for his weak eyes to read but not books I'd ever pick out for myself. And my grandmother has several boxes filled with beautiful crocheted crafts, the fruit of a skill she mastered in her youth but never passed on to any of her children or grandchildren.

It has been hard for me to think of them as individuals who were leading full lives long before I popped into the world--because whenever I do, I become so much sadder. How little of them I've bothered to learn! And how little time there is left to get to know people who are no longer desperate to leave some kind of "legacy" but are ready to pass on and fulfill lives that actually have nothing to do with me.

Your love for your grandmother shines through your words and makes this mystery of death something beautiful. I, too, believe that we are all united in Christ, even if some of us can't see each other--and yet that doesn't keep me from being sad.

kris said...

Oh, babe.

I am so sad to hear of your loss.

But so very touched to read your words here today. The love you had for your grandmother glows warm and bright. I can see it plainly.

The memories you have?

The love you feel?

The need you have to learn more?

The gifts of life.

And death.

Magic and mystery.

Big love to you.

Big love.

Sheila said...

Thanks, Kris.

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