With a loved one. With my grandmother. With memories and grief.
I cannot talk to her anymore, but I can surround myself with little pieces of her.
A few weeks ago, I wrote a poem about my regret that I did not brush my grandmother’s hair away from her face when I saw her in her casket (I hate that I just typed “her casket”); you can read this poem here. I keep reading this poem, and I cry every time. The feelings in this poem are tangible to me; I feel like I can actually touch them in the air in front of me.
After she passed away, I wished I had a carpet bag like Mary Poppins so that I could sweep the entire contents of her room into my bag and take it home with me. I didn’t want to recreate her room in my home; rather, I just wanted to go through each little piece of that room. I felt like she would have wanted me to do that. But as the granddaughter, it was not my place. There are things I would have taken with me. Little things. Like the pen next to her bed, a tube of lipstick, a piece of paper with a grocery list, a hair pin, socks, the sweatshirt we bought her that had chickadees on it, her radio that she would listen to at night. But I didn’t know how to explain that I wanted these things. Everyone was dealing with their grief, and again, it was not really my place. I may have been the closest person to her, yet I had a role. I had to step out of the way.
A few weeks after the funeral, my aunt sent me a package that had a tote bag and these slippers in it. The tote bag is an “antique” Epcot Center bag that my grandmother would have purchased on a trip to Disney World with my family. I am the Disney lover in the family so my aunt sent it to me. It was actually the bag my grandmother packed with little things to take with her to the hospital (at least I think this is true). Her Ponds Cold Cream and other things. I sent my grandmother these slippers as a silly little gift a few months before she died. When I was at her house when we were there for the funeral, they were sitting right next to her bed. When I opened up the package that contained these two items, I was struck by this realization that my grandmother had been wearing these slippers. That she had been alive with her feet snuggled warmly in these slippers. Alive. And she had touched them. I felt so far away from her all the way across the country from everything that was hers, that I was simply overwhelmed by this reality that these slippers had been worn by her. I left them inside the bag and tucked the bag far up into my closet. I just couldn’t go there.
Today, I reached up to that high closet shelf and took down the box that had kept this tote bag and slippers far away from my mind and heart. I pulled out the slippers and slid them onto my feet.
My grief feels even deeper and wider lately. Bigger than it did seventeen months ago when she died. I have moved to a place where I just let the sobs and moans come and settle in sometimes. Last week when Jon was working late at school, I found myself sobbing while warming spaghettios on the stove. I was thinking about how even though my grandparents have a microwave they always heat things up this way. Our microwave recently sizzled and died, so we are doing the same, but not by choice. I had the thought that I would have to call her and laugh about that the next morning. Then I remembered. She is totally dead. I found myself just moaning through tears as I stirred my dinner, poured it into a bowl, and settled on the couch. Moaning seems to be my new way of grieving when I am alone and the feelings bubble up.
My aunt also sent me this framed picture of a stem of lily of the valley. I have the same one up in my home office. I took the picture out of the frame and realized it was a card I had sent my grandmother about twelve years ago. She had kept it and put it in a frame. Little did I realize we were both looking at the same card each day. I learned to love lily of the valley because they always seemed to be in bloom when I visited my grandparents’ house as a child. Their smell will forever make me think of her. They are our favorite flower.
When the family was together for the funeral, my aunt and mom decided that I should have the turquoise ring we bought for my grandma when I worked at a Native American store in Jackson, WY while I was in college. To be honest, I am the only one with fingers the same size as my grandmother’s (not small), but it did make sense that I would have it. I wear it and think about how she would wear it and probably think of me. And now I think of her.
I think what I feel sad about now is this idea that is captured in a line from a Trisha Yearwood song, “we were just getting to the good part.” I feel like we were just getting to this place where I was learning more about her, her past. A place where she was opening up a little bit more. And I feel like this has been stolen from me. I had so much I wanted to tell her and ask her and learn from her. I still don’t know how to make a pie crust. I. Have. No. Idea. She taught me at least twice. But I needed her to show me again.
“When you are sorrowful look again in your heart, and you shall see that in truth you are weeping for that which has been your delight.”
(to see more self portrait challenge photographs, click here.)