I was talking with one of my best friends a few months ago about the losses I have endured and the pain that came along with them. One loss in particular was so monumental that I have yet to write about it like I have written about my mom and my brother. The loss I’m talking about is that of my grandmother, my Mema.
She and I did not always see eye-to-eye, because as I got older I pulled away from religion and Christianity, which was a core aspect in her life. She was a churchgoer, a lover of all things Jesus. I was heavily into religion growing up until I was around 13 years old. I’m talking singing at church, going to bible study, attending vacation bible school every year, and even going to a large camp-style event in North Carolina one year. I knew my bible better than most Christians, but it didn’t change the route I chose to take. Now, I’m not going to bash religion in this, but me going a different route in life in terms of religion put a small strain on our relationship. I wish sometimes that she had been able to understand where I was coming from, but I know she was from a much older generation, and it was hard for her to see things a different way.
Despite my issues with religion, I listened to her every time I visited. She would tell me that Jesus loved me, that I needed to return to Christianity, so on and so forth, and even though it bothered me, I still listened. Because at the end of the day, it mattered to her, and I knew I wasn’t going to have her forever.
Everyone in my family knew that her time was going to come sooner rather than later. My husband and I were told we could stay in her house and keep it up for her return, and if she didn’t return, we could continue to stay there. We both talked to her about her house every time we saw her, so she would know it was still okay. We told her about how we kept it as clean as 2 college students could, and she approved any changes we made before we made them.
When the day came that she was in the hospital for the final time, my mom told me she would only have a few days left. I had to make a decision. It was one of the hardest decisions I’ve ever made in my entire life: whether or not to go see her before she was gone.
I talked in great length with my mom about my Mema’s condition; about how she couldn’t recognize anyone hardly and was struggling to remember people. After a long time of thinking and talking about it, I decided not to go see her. It’s been years since then, and I still stand by my decision to not see her.
How could I possibly go see her in such a condition, where this amazing woman, whom I counted as a second parent, would not remember who I was? This woman, who had walked along the old railroad tracks in town with me countless times growing up; who took me out for ice cream every day after school during elementary and middle school; who stayed up with me many nights to watch America’s Funniest Home Videos; who gave me countless talks about my future and to not let any boy run it; who raised me in a way that I knew how to be a strong and independent person. I could not face a moment of her looking me in the eyes and not knowing who I was.
I am glad that the last time I saw her in person, she was doing well. We talked, and I sat by her bedside with my hand on hers. I remember how soft her skin was, and that she was still wearing her perfume. To this day, I know that perfume any time I smell it on someone or out somewhere. It instantly brings tears to my eyes, just as Phil Collins’ song “You’ll Be In My Heart” reminds me of my mom every time I hear it.
I wish I could relive that day.
I went to bed one October night, and when I woke the next morning, I had a voicemail from my mom. I sat in bed, staring at my phone until my husband woke up and noticed. He asked me what I was doing, and I told him I had a voicemail from my mom and that I knew what it was. That I didn’t want to listen to it, because then it would be real.
She died on the 17th anniversary of my brothers’ death. Now every year, when October 20th rolls by, I grieve them both.
Her visitation was one I dreaded. I knew there would be people there who didn’t really care about her, because they hadn’t visited her or talked to her in years. They were there for their 30 seconds of attention, and I accepted that before I went in. I had a few true friends by my side that night and I am still thankful for that today.
Her casket was closed, and was a beautiful baby blue. My mom told me I could shoo everyone out and visit with her alone, but I never did. I didn’t look at her or my mom when they were in their baby blue caskets, the same color that spread across my brothers’ picket fence surrounding his grave years ago. I held it together the entire night, until close to the end.
When everyone started trickling out, I took my moment to say goodbye.
I laid my hand on her casket, thinking about who was inside. I cried, and my mom noticed. My mom knew me so well, she asked everyone to just leave me alone. It was exactly what I needed.
I went to her funeral, and gritted my teeth through it. I listened to my mom cry her heart out, I listened to the preacher preach, I hugged those who wanted to be hugged. Afterwards, my husband and I picked up food from the seafood restaurant in town, and spent some time at my parents’ house. Then I went home, to face the inevitable.
Just driving into the yard, her yard, knowing she’d never be sitting on that front porch in her rocking chair ever again made my chest feel like it was imploding. I cried a lot after she died, and then when my mom died 2 months later, I felt like it was the end of the world. I’d lost 2 of the most important people in my life in such a short time span, it just didn’t seem fair.
A few months after they were both gone, it was time to start cleaning. The house was going into my name due to my Mema leaving it to my mom in her will. Because my mom died so soon after my grandma, it automatically went to my dad, who transferred it to me. He knew I would use it more than him, and he wanted to give me this one thing to help. I am eternally grateful, because spending those years in her house gave my husband and I the time we needed to get our lives truly started.
I spent weeks going through what everyone called the “junk room”. Furniture, clothes, old recipes stored everywhere. The room was so full that you could hardly walk inside. I saved the pictures, the recipes, the poetry. My Mema was a writer, just like I am. It’s a connection I’ll always have to her, just mine alone. There was a lot of crying, as you can imagine. But eventually, things were donated and things were stored. I climbed my way out of the worst of the grief, and entered a never-ending plateau.
It’s been over 4 years since she died, and I do not visit her grave. To me, she isn’t there. She lives on in the smell of freshly baked biscuits. She lives on in the stones we picked out and hid under the railroad bridge. She lives on in the cool, calming breeze that flies throughout that small southern town every morning. She lives on in my memories, in my heart.
Forever shall she be.