Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Cause for Celebration 5.0

The fifth week of Easter was less about worship at St. John’s and more about my grandmother’s last days. At 92.5, my grandmother finally said something entirely vulnerable to me. Watching her set her stubborn independence aside, she peered up at me through her fingers that guarded the window’s light from her tired eyes and said, “I just want to stay here. I don’t think there’s anything the hospital can do for me.”

I was really proud of her. This old nurse and her young granddaughter with chaplain tendencies sat engulfed by this life’s only guarantee. Death was coming. And something even better than fighting pain, fragility and boredom lay on the other side. That day and the next were some of the best moments I ever had with her. Too tired to worry or provide pessimistic commentary, she was funny and relaxed in her wakeful moments. It was surprisingly good to watch her let go and I dreamed about her twenty two years of widowhood ending, her sight and strength returning, her back straightening and her joy overflowing in the moments after breath and beating here on earth.

When she was rarely conscious a few days later, I sat with her and held her hand. Grandma could no longer swallow and struggled to take in air, but her heart continued to reign, beating in defiance of her own wishes and the hospice life. When I was sure she couldn’t hear me, I said what I needed to say for my own resurrection. I whispered words from one stubborn Herrick to another and knew there would be grace.

“Grandma, I was really mad and hurt when you wouldn’t come to my wedding. It broke my heart to see all four of Matt’s grandparents there and to know that you were just a few miles away, too stubborn to get in a wheelchair for safety and sanity’s sake. And while I still don’t understand it, I forgive you. I’m sorry that you weren’t there to celebrate, but I will choose to remember how much you love me instead.”

I said other things, but this was the heaviest and hardest to put down. She died a day later and, though I waited for the reality of her absence to hit me, I could not cry. In fact, I found myself dancing around the house that first evening singing, “Barbra Herrick is ris’n today! Alleluia!” It felt like Easter and that hymn was the only thing I could muster.

The memorial service was lovely and while my eyes welled and my voice shook that morning, the tears would not drop and my shoulders would not shake. I lapped up stories and dinner invitations from her friends. I was grateful to see her descendents gathered together.

Her apartment still smelled like her when I went to help clean stuff out a few days later. I took jewelry and pictures that meant the world to me, signs of the grandma I am much like and will miss often. Her rings reminded me of the way they would slip around her fingers. She would point that out often, fishing for compliments about how thin she looked while simultaneously pilfering dining hall cookies into her purse. It felt strange to put those rings on my fingers – to see them on young hands. The photograph of her as a toddler always hung next to one of me because we looked so similar. It is the only reason I think I look like a Herrick and was glad for the evidence collected.

I took sentimental and valuable items, but I also took her face lotion and Saran wrap. I even wanted the cheap AM radio she used to listen to Twins games. She wouldn’t want the simple things to be wasted and neither did I. Placing the box in my car, I resigned myself to this strange and tearless goodbye.

A few days later, I found myself running errands near a jeweler I trust and hesitantly entered with items I had not yet made decisions about. Carefully, I showed her my grandmother’s locket and rings, touching them and lost in thought about how to clean them and whether to resize them. The woman was gruff, or at least she seemed that way. “Well, just tell me what your grandmother wants with them.” I can’t.

She slowed to my pace and together we made decisions about the memories I held in my hands. And then, she held out her palm as if to ask for the rings on my finger. They were going into an envelope and on to another jeweler for further care. Looking down at the diamond, I finally started to cry. These rings aren’t supposed to be on my fingers, let alone into your hands and shipped to someone I don’t know.

There, in a small jewelry store with an emotionally detached saleswoman, I my shoulders finally shook. And it felt really good. The belated tears and snot and sobs didn’t make my Easter hymn the day she died any less true. In fact, I think this was just the next stanza.

1 comment:

val said...

Well, wow. First you made me laugh at the service full of goofy moments... and the next entry made me cry. The emotions of loss are like this, disorienting, and grandparents are in a league of their own. love, Val