Life, death, and stories

The day before we jumped on the train bound for home this Christmas, we found out my grandmother died. Grandma D was wonderful in every way a grandmother can be wonderful. I miss her every day.

Grandma's funeral was a tribute of stories. Her life was told by one of my aunties, Grandma's daughter. Then, we were invited to tell stories of our own. Cousin Carolyn approached the front, turned to face us all, and said:

"You have never been washed, until you've been washed by Auntie Doris."

That one sentence made my eyes sting from the memory of Ivory soap dripping down my forehead after being scrubbed into my scalp. The entire room, who had all apparently been bathed at one time or another by Grandma, nodded smiling in agreement.

Our kids only met Grandma a handful of times, but her quiet way made an impression on them. Jane's understanding of her death grew in the days and weeks after learning the news.

On the train traveling home.

Friendly Woman: So, are you visiting your grandmas and grandpas?

Jane: Yes. My grandma is dead.

Woman: Oh, sweetie. That's very sad.

Jane: (bewildered by the sympathy) I still have two more.

At the funeral home.

Jane insisted that she see Grandma D before the funeral. I held her hand and walked slowly with her through the crowd, pausing occasionally to say hello to family and friends. As we neared the coffin, I starting thinking about what Jane was about to experience. I wondered if she would be scared. Mostly, I worried if I would somehow screw up this important moment.

Me: Here she is, Janey. You OK?

Jane: (nodding bravely) Yes.

We stood quietly for a few moments looking at my beautiful grandmother. I don't know what went through Jane's head, but I thought about plastic bowls filled with corn syrup for dessert. I thought about games of Scrabble played on the green-carpeted floor of Grandma's living room. I thought about hands so strong only she could open the jars of tomatoes she'd sealed (I carried a jar around for years that I never could open).

Me: Are you sad?

Jane: Yes.

Me: Me, too.

Next day.

Me: Hurry up, Jane. We need to get our coats on to go see Grandma A's choir sing for the Olympic torch.

Jane: (pulling on her hat) How can she sing if she's dead?

Me: You're thinking of Grandma D. This is Grandma A we're going to see.

Jane: (thinking) Will I ever see Grandma A dead in a box?

Me: .....probably. But not for a while.

Today. At home.

Jane: Will I ever get old?

Me: Yes. In many, many years.

Jane: Will I ever get dead?

Me: Yes. Everyone dies.

Jane: Like Grandma D?

Me: Yes. Like Grandma D.

Her eyes well up.

Jane: How did Grandma D get dead?

Me: Grandma D's body worked very hard her whole life. She was a baby, like Alice. Then her body grew and grew and grew and became a big girl, like you. Then it grew and grew and grew and became a woman, like Mummy. Then her body made five babies. Those babies grew and grew and grew and became adults, and they had babies. And all those babies grew and grew and grew, and some of them had babies. And all that time, Grandma D's body worked hard to take care of her, and of all the babies. After all that time, some of the parts of her body had a hard time doing the job they were supposed to. And one night, those things stopped working, and Grandma D died.

She thinks for a moment.

Jane: Am I one of the babies?

Me: You are. And so am I. And so is Grandpa A. And so are a whole lot of people.

Thinking again.

Jane: Can you tell me a story about when I was a baby?

Me: Of course I can...


Ruth Anne said...

My eyes well up - as I washed up some dishes in the sink a few minutes ago, I too thought of her - on the kitchen windowsill is a small vase with some now dry flowers that i took from the cemetery bouquet. I plan to leave them there for a very long time...Thank you for the extra memories.

Decadent Housewife said...


Jordan said...

Sorry to hear about Grandma D. Sounds like she was quite a woman. This was a beautiful tribute.

Jenna said...

Thanks, Jane. You just made getting older a little bit easier for all of us to understand. Big hugs from NB.