-He Leadeth Me (Hymn)
Our three voices melted together in the southern style that Grandma loved so dearly. These two talented women on either side of me had known her for twenty years and generously gave of their talents to the joyous gospel tune that would have thrilled her heart.
"When I die, I want them to sing at my funeral," Grandma had declared countless times after a rousing performance by the mother-daughter duo in a Sunday service.
"Ok, Grandma," I would always respond, knowing full well that death could never claim a woman so strong and vivacious.
I never thought two falls and a bruised brain would be enough to steal her from me. And yet, less than a month after my engagement, I found myself in a church full to bursting with those who had been touched by the vibrant woman I called Grandma. I was in awe of the impact of one life on so many and wondered who else would be in the room if she had remained on this Earth for as long as we had all hoped? Surely an extra 15 years would have allowed her to share her broad smile and biting wit with new friends. My teenage children might have been sitting on the first row, hands entangled with those of their older cousins, hearts broken at the loss of their vivacious great-grandmother.
I realized with a sudden sense of irony that there never would have been a right time for her to die. I would miss her fried chicken, tightly curled silver hair, and bell-like laugh whether she had left me last week or 15 years from now. As transient as my life had been, Grandma was the solid bridge that kept me connected to home.
As I reclaimed my seat on the stage, my mercifully dry eyes fell on my sweet mother who stood to deliver a tribute to the woman who had given her life. Their relationship had been troubled at times, but grief remembers no conflict and the loss of a parent creates a chasm that swallows harsh words. She spoke of a bond forged later in life by a shared faith and commitment to a family that struggled to keep its head above water.
It didn't take long for us all to drown.
Death unmasks the monsters long dormant in those who cannot face it. They emerge, angry and hungry, tearing family ties with their claws of bitterness and greed. Two of the three men that called my mother "sister" betrayed us with their words, accusing her of treachery and forever destroying the tenuous peace that had existed for so long. It didn't matter that she was the one who had moved in with Grandma, feeding her meals and dealing with the doctors while they retreated to safer places. Their rage at the universe for stealing their mother was satisfied by punishing my mother and fleeing with the material possessions left in the wreckage. The guilt and shame they try to hide has left our family fractured, the empty chairs at holiday meals reminding us that we have lost more than one piece of our puzzle.
I don't believe in closure anymore. By definition, that term conjures up the image of closing a door and moving forward as you were before. Loss is not like that. Grief is the process of letting a new reality absorb into your soul. As time goes on, the pain lessens, but the change is permanent. As much as I would like to forever leave them all behind me and travel on without regard for their existence, I don't believe that is possible. These turbulent times have shaped my understanding of family and how to maintain the foundation no matter the circumstance. Freedom has come from realizing that we all viewed Grandma as the glue rather than laboring to maintain relationships independent of her. This lesson has stirred within my heart a sense of urgency to protect the family I do have from the ravages of these eventual tragedies. Leaving the door open to look back and remember without bitterness is what will bring true healing and help me to grow my family with care. I am learning to wish the same for them.
I think Grandma would be proud.
**My intersection parter for this week is the lovely and talented