The grief walks stealthily these days, pouncing at strange moments, catching me flatfooted and unprepared. The mild, misty mornings and the green grass and blooming forsythia remind me that nothing is quite right this year. The busy, busy days of before the holidays have given way to a welcome lull. I’ve stirred around in my empty-ish house and worked at the paperwork for the State that has been accumulating for almost three months, and I’ve made an effort to think happy thoughts and to remember good memories, but I’ve cried quiet tears onto the torn tapestry of what is my life in this time and in this place.
They say that the holidays are the worst for missing people we love, and I know it’s true, having experienced the passing of Daddy at Christmas ten years ago, and now this, the first year without Mama. Not only is it that she has participated with almost every Christmas Eve for thirty years, but Mama was born on January 1st. For all of my 63 January firsts, it has carried the extra special connotation of my Sweet Mama’s birthday. This year she would have been 87. The thought of her birthday is dogging my days.
I wanted to go to her grave last night. I had that terrible aching need to just talk to her, and even though I know she isn’t there, it’s still the place that works best for me when I need to talk to her. Certain Man encouraged me to just drop everything and go, but the evening looked full enough that I thought it best not to. My head told me that I could say anything over my sink full of dishes that I wanted to tell her and if she was going to hear, she could hear it as well here as she could if I was out there.
“Oh, Mama,” I whispered when there was no one to worry about the tears sliding down my face. “I wish I could talk to you tonight. I don’t have anything BIG or important or terrible or wonderful. I just need to hear your voice, to have a place to talk comfortably, to tell you the things that I know you would be interested in, to have you cheer me on, to encourage and to remind me that it won’t always be this hard. Whenever I was grieving, your love and concern always helped to hold me steady. And your prayers for me were something that I counted on.” That made me stop to consider the fact that Mama would care very deeply about this grief that I’m feeling over her death.
That was enough to make me thankful that where she is, there is no sadness, no coming back to our human emotions of grief and loss. She’s There and it is light and joy and the very presence of God, and there is no more “death, neither sorrow, nor crying.” (Revelation 21:4)
She’s there, not saddened by the things that tug at our hearts. Things like a great-grandchild picking up a Christmas ornament selected last summer from Grandma Yoder’s things. She carried it to the couch where she cradled it lovingly and wept for the Grandma that always loved her, always played with her, always had time for her.
Or, Peppermint Bark Candy, on sale at Hallmark, always our signal to stock up so that she would have plenty in the months ahead when she couldn’t get it. I blink back my tears and walk on by. I bought some before Christmas at regular price, just for the sake of the memories. I don’t need any more.
That empty chair in our family’s Christmas celebration. No one spoke about it, but I kept feeling the void. And then I opened a gift from Deborah, and it was a lovely blue and white afghan, done in a familiar stitch. My heart nearly burst when I heard her say, “I found this among Grandma’s things, Mama. It was only begun, but I finished it for you so that you could have it.” It’s soft and beautiful and I cannot tell the difference between the stitches of my daughter, and those of my Sweet Mama.
Remembering how she always tried to be first to say “Merry Christmas!” on Christmas morning, carrying on a family tradition from her parental home. She never wanted to be the one to say, “Thank-you, the same to you!”
Visits from the couple that comforts me best, Uncle Jesse and Aunt Gladys. My Daddy’s brother, married to my Mama’s sister. They make monumental efforts to connect, even when the ravages of time make it hard for them. Sitting in our house, reminiscing, talking, shedding tears together helps me gather my courage to go on. Their steadfast support and the reminders of their love has been integral to my healing. The commonality of grief between my Mama’s sisters reminds me of the many facets of my Sweet Mama’s life, and her deep and vibrant relationships with her family. How fiercely she loved her siblings, and there were cousins who were kindred spirits and friends for her entire life. They are grieving, too, and my heart goes out to them when I hear their pain.
Meeting with our Church Family in our renovated church building. It’s warm and inviting and the pews are so comfortable. Everything is so different, but the thing that tugs is my beloved Aunt Dottie, sitting alone in almost the same place that she would sit with Sweet Mama on Sunday mornings. How Mama would have loved this new church building, and it would have been so interesting to her to see the changes that have been made. I can almost hear her saying, “Oh, if only Daddy could see this!”
There are just so many things at every turn that remind me of My Sweet Mama. But I’ve wallowed around enough in these past couple of days. I’ve decided that I’m going to use that sudden stab of grief to recount things that make me happy when I remember them about Mama. I’m hopeful that remembering the joy will transform the paralysis that wants to invade these old bones when the sadness is tenacious. The New Year is a good time to start.
The thing is, Mama would approve. She always believed that you could decide to be happy. “If you smile for a while, you’ll forget that you are blue!” she would carol to me when she thought I should cheer up. (I wish I could find that old song. It’s helped me a whole lot in my life!) So here’s my birthday present to My Sweet Mama:
I’m going to smile for a while. I just might forget that I’m blue.