Final goodbyes are emotionally challenging and tinged with bittersweet reactions. We can experience our own loss and sadness while also feeling relief and tender joy for our loved one who's passed on.
As our extended families drove from different states to gather at Grandma's memorial service last weekend, we each carried a sense of anticipation to see one another yet also felt a solemn emptiness, missing the focal person who centered our family gatherings.
We faced the uncertainty of how we'd navigate the nuances of social distancing during such an intimate ceremony of farewell. Bereavement is not a natural companion to social distancing!
We arrived, sporting pink gingham facemasks in honor of Grandma, and shuffled through the initial awkward steps of greeting family members in a meaningful way, yet also hyperaware of personal boundaries that have new social norms (and consequences.) Talking to each other through facemasks was uncomfortable - - - yet we were so grateful that we could meet together during this pandemic.
This was the first service for both the funeral home and church since the Covid-19 lockdown restrictions had eased. Even in her final goodbye gathering, Grandma was still pioneering her way into new territory.
We ventured in and had a few quiet moments of reflection. One of Grandma's beloved quilts was draped softly over her casket. In her folded hands dangled her well-used rosary. Stillness and peace permeated the visitation room.
Hushed voices and sniffles gradually gave way to family stories and an occasional ripple of laughter, easing the tension and unifying us in our shared bereavement.
An album of Grandma's quilts got passed around and we were all amazed at how many she had created over the years. Even now her handiwork softened the edginess we felt in these strange circumstances.
Ever the social butterfly, Grandma would have loved all the family getting together again. Cousins got reacquainted. Generations mingled and tried to trace the lines of the family tree...all leading back to Grandma and her beloved hubby.
- - - What an honor to celebrate a life well-lived. - - -
As usual, Grandma got the last word in. She had written a final letter to us, which my cousin read aloud at her mass. In this portion, she shared her encouraging wisdom:
"You all go on with your lives. It takes a lot of patience and love.
Keep God in your hearts and He will be with you always.
I will say goodbye until we meet again.
God bless and love to all."
It was an honor to be a pall bearer, carrying Grandma to her final resting spot. Since it was Memorial Day weekend, the flutter of American flags and colorful flower arrangements greeted us at the cemetery, lifting our spirits in this tender moment.
We were blessed with a lovely spring day, full of sunshine and hope.
Grandma unified us one last time, drawing us together through laughter and tears. Her practical words of wisdom echoed in the occasional lulls of conversation,
"You all go on with your lives."
Grief is interwoven through our life experiences and we journey through it in different ways and at varied paces.
Sometimes grief is enjoying fellowship in the twilight, joining in childhood games once played with beloved grandparents and attempting to pass along a little of that magical feeling to your kids.
Sometimes grief is commiserating with one another through the distinctive depth of maternal loss, mourning together and finding memories that eventually bring you both a smile.
Interweaving nostalgic memories with new ones is a vibrant way to journey through grief together.
Sharing a meal, playing games, and swapping stories of Grandma connected our hearts.
Walking through her empty house, childhood memories lingered in cupboards filled with the empty cups Grandma had initialed for our cousin play days. The cups seem smaller now, but that plastic smell brought us right back to treasured times.
A chippy red tricycle evoked remembrances of races down the driveway and all the hours spent outside playing at Grandma & Grandpa's house.
Our adult selves now recognize how well Grandma had managed the chaos of 7 grandchildren. She kept us busy, shuffling us from one play zone to another based on weather and our interactions. She had meals planned out and provided at regular times, expecting us to eat what was offered and to help clean up afterward.
Grandpa cheerfully pitched for our endless wiffle ball games, then shifted easily to grilling chicken for dinner when Grandma said it was time. They were quite a team.
Although it was surreal roaming through our grandparents' home without Grandma's chatter keeping us company, it provided us with some emotional closure, allowing our memories to circle back and gradually complete the loop back to the present. It gave our children a chance to see us together in this familiar environment and have a glimpse into our childhood stories.
Grandma's kitchen is a snapshot of family history, a reflection of her tidiness and order. Her solid kitchen table represents countless meals and conversations shared with her, nurturing and nudging us all at one. Just pulling out a chair with its characteristic scuffing noise evokes the security and safety I felt in this home throughout my childhood, a constant in a world of perpetual change (I once counted up 20 different addresses I had lived at before I graduated high school. Grandma's was always the same, providing an anchor I could rely on.)
Throughout the weekend, we encountered feelings of sadness and loss, tears welling up in our eyes. Yet we recognized the sweet gift of celebrating a life lived fully and productively. We were able to appreciate the beauty of the family legacy Grandma nurtured for so many years.
We enjoyed the serendipity of honoring the graduations of four #classof2020 seniors who share the unique bond of distant learning and "virtual" ceremonies. Typically we would have been scattered in 4 different states, but these circumstances provided a chance to acknowledge these resilient students in the midst of mourning Grandma.
"God bless and love to all."
Life is all about the crazy mix of loss and gain all at the same time. This messiness of life is what we all have in common and resonates deeply within each one of us.
Loss is a multifaceted knot that sometimes is hard to untangle, however, Grandma made it pretty simple for us.
"You all go on with your lives."
With patience getting through pandemic protocols and our love for one another, we were able to humbly celebrate Grandma's long life and her final journey home.
And we go on.