My two sisters
My two cousins
were pall bearers today.
pulled our grandmother’s casket
out of the hearse
and wheeled it
up the aisle of the church.
Because my grandmother
was strong in her faith
she made sure to bring us to church
every time my sisters and I
spent the night at her house.
She taught me the Our Father prayer
and how to find hymns in the hymnal.
I remember how she’d pray,
kneeling, eyes closed,
resting her head in one hand
while the other held her rosary.
Because so many of my memories of her
involve the church,
the reality of her passing
really hit me
as we walked into the sanctuary.
The familiar strains of Ode to Joy
filled my ears.
The sound of the music
and the beauty of the space
touched my heart.
I cried as this moment
made her death seem
even more real.
The service was beautiful,
the luncheon that followed
On the long ride to the cemetery
I got to thinking about
the ways we honor the dead
and provide closure for the living.
There were some final prayers
and then it was done.
I took a rose from the bouquet on her casket,
whispered goodbye Mom-Mom.
Now I’m home with this single flower
and so many memories.
She looked so peaceful
as if she were sleeping;
I expected at any moment
she would wake up and speak to us.
Beautiful flowers surrounded her
and pinned to the bouquets
were notes of sympathy and condolence.
Many friends and family
came to see her and pay their respects–
Why does it take an event such as this
to bring us all together?
I touched her hands, her face,
so familiar to me;
they felt foreign
with all the warmth gone from them…
And yet still there was this surge of affection
seeing her there, looking so peaceful, asleep.
I wondered about this tradition.
The body in the casket
was not my grandmother…
it was the garment she wore for 94 years.
My grandmother is everywhere now,
my heart knows this.
I can feel her love now more than ever.
I looked and looked, but I couldn’t see death…
only life in its many forms as its flows
from one state of being to the next.
I visited my grandmother today…
her birthday is tomorrow,
she’ll be 94 years old.
She had a stroke in November,
and her mind doesn’t compute
like it used to.
It touched me deeply
to see her there in the nursing home,
asleep when I arrived,
her mouth slightly open,
with her hospital gown
falling off of her shoulders.
Her face lit up when she saw me,
and I presented her with a tiny poinsettia
and a home made birthday card.
I brought a small Blue Tooth speaker
and played her some Christmas music
like what she would hear in church
if she could still go.
As I hummed along with
O Come Emmanuel,
I felt the tears well up.
I first heard the song
in her church when I was a child.
Because my parents weren’t churchgoers,
she felt it was her duty
to bring some religion into
the lives of me and my sisters–
and so every time
we spent the night at Mom-Mom’s
she would take us to mass the next morning.
I was never baptized,
but I didn’t need to be baptized
to understand the sense of belonging,
how soothing the ritual can be,
how strong the community.
We attended a few Christmas Eve masses.
As I child I thought mass was boring
but I appreciated the music
and the beautiful stained glass windows.
As I got older I came to look forward
to the times I sat with Mom-Mom
in the beautifully polished oak pews.
Today I looked at my Mom-Mom,
so small and frail,
and felt grateful for the love
she showed our family.
I was moved thinking
I would probably never see her
kneeling in her church again,
hand to her forehead,
holding her rosary,
This life is so precious
and so short
and our loved ones
are changing all the time.
Hold them, kiss them,
love them with your whole heart.
Life slips through our hands
like grains of sand…
here in this moment,
gone in the next.
Today my grandmother would’ve celebrated her ninety-third birthday
She took her life in the month of June of my twelfth year…
and now, twenty-five years later,
I wish I could’ve related to her as an adult,
asked her to tell me stories of life
growing up in the 20’s and 30’s
I have never judged her for her decision
because, like all of us,
I too have experienced pain and suffering,
and can understand wanting to escape such misery
But I miss her still
and wish to hear her voice,
Being an adult now,
and knowing a little more of the way of sorrow,
I would like to put my hand on her shoulder
You are not alone.
I wish I could know
the woman she would’ve been
if we could sing “Happy Birthday” to her, today.
It’s fitting that her birthday falls so near to Halloween,
a time of honoring ancestors and seeking their wisdom
as the veil between the two worlds wears thin.
Wherever you are Gram,
Know that I love you,
and honor the woman you were,
even as I long to know the woman you would’ve been.
Whatever of your being that remains, dear soul,
I hope you know the joy of the dance of existence.