Today is a day when I wish words were enough to untangle all that has me wrapped in grief. As one of the youngest cousins out of the two plus dozen, I don’t have the same memories as all the older kids who stayed with maw in the nursery and elementary days.
I don’t have a lot of memories of Maw Maw before hers began to leave her. But the ones I do have I hold close today as we prepare to say goodbye.
I remember the trailer and the bird in the birdcage that all the cousins told me was real that was decidedly not real and didn’t need to be kept in a cage.
I remember those few times she stayed with us to babysit me and she folded the towels all wrong and I informed her my dad wasn’t going to be happy with her chore performance.
I remember the night a falling glass bowl shattered my mom’s face, and MawMaw holding the bloody towel, looking at her in the mirror, telling my mom to go to the hospital. It was that moment—maybe only that moment in my memory—that I was aware that she was my mom’s mom and not just a grandmother.
I remember her distinct, loud, unapologetic laugh. The way it would sometimes turn hysterical. A choking, trying-to-finish-her-story laugh. The way her laugh sparked a genuine, sometimes eye-rolling laugh from my mom who’d always look at me and shake her head as if to say, “I don’t know, but what can you do?.”
My mom laughs that same way now; it’s one of my favorite sounds in the world.
I remember walking from St. Leo with my brother and sister, 10 blocks to Maw’s apartment. How grown up I felt, like a unit, with my brother responsible for us in a way that he wasn’t when we rode the bus. I remember staying at Maw’s apartment, sleeping on the pull out sofa, loving the adventure of it. (We were sheltered children.)
I remember learning that her plates with the gold stripe around the edge shouldn’t be put in the microwave after one occasion of hot pocket cooking gone wrong.
I remember finding her hand-written journals in an old cabinet when I was snooping, shocked, not by the content, but that she’d had this whole life and a handwriting and a vibrancy before she was our MawMaw living in an apartment on the second floor, at the end of the hall.
And I remember when she stopped remembering.
My grandmother lived a life full of family and love but also tragedy. She lived a hard life. At times, maybe a lonely life. And that feels a lot of ways to me as one of the people who left town and didn’t stick around when it got tough.
But when I think about her life, especially the last fifteen years of it, I realize she taught me love above all. I am full of regrets and guilt for being far away, for being unable to face the heartbreak of memories and life trickling away, but I am full of awe for the love her children and grandchildren have demonstrated over the last twelve years.
In particular, I learned what deep, gritty, hard love is from my mom and nanny and cousin who gave so much to loving MawMaw for more than a decade. For years after she knew who they were. For years after she stopped speaking. For years after she laughed that deep, contagious laugh.
Collectively, they’ve taught me that love is showing up. It’s not always laughter. It’s not always groceries or staying the night on a sofa-bed, watching nick at nite until 1am. Love is letting her talk about her late husband like he’s still around until she can no longer talk. Love is making someone eat and drink, demanding that her caregivers take time to match her clothes in the morning. Love is putting pictures of all her family members on a construction paper family tree so if she wakes up alone, she might know who they are, or who she is, or just have a sense that she is still somebody who is loved and part of a unit.
Love is making sure that at the end, she’s not alone. That she knows we loved her and that there’s life beyond a disease that has diminished this one. Love is knowing she isn’t just at peace, but enjoying life everlasting with a Savior and friend who will make her laugh her air-gasping laugh, that will undoubtedly bring the love of her life running through those proverbial gates toward her. Love is knowing they are reunited and cajun dancing in the kitchen with that stupid little maybe-alive, maybe-dead bird free of its own cage.
But today, love is deep grief and tangled thoughts about a life lived and stalled and changed. It’s personal inadequacy and sadness, and respect and heartbreak for the ones who loved her when it got hard and real and raw.
I have loved you all the days of my life, MawMaw. I have missed you for a very long time. May your body rest in peace and be free of such a savage disease, and may your new body and soul celebrate in heaven tonight with joyful dancing and laughter.