Grief. It is a peculiar aspect of our human existence. It affects us in different ways, and we express it in surprising ways, at surprising times. It can transform us from normal civilized loving people into a primitive version of ourselves, expressing our emotions in grunts, yells and cries.
The day of my grandmother’s viewing, my immediate family went to visit earlier in the day, so that we could cry like we needed to before the official viewing when we would be doing the comforting. I hadn’t truly cried before this point–it didn’t feel like she was gone, merely stepped out to the grocery store. My stomach flipped around a bit when walking towards her room, and as I stepped through the doors and caught just the first glimpse, I lost it and had to turn back. I had to give myself a few minutes before trying again.
Seeing her in the casket was sad and shocking–it was affirmation that she was in fact, dead. And that she wasn’t coming back. And that it wasn’t her. It was an eerie replica of her, a close resemblance. But try as I might, I couldn’t’ imagine that version of her talking to me, laughing like she did. It was her shell, and that actually brought a enormous amount of peace. I was able to see that the person she was truly wasn’t there anymore, that she had left it behind. It only strengthened my belief that she did indeed possess a soul and it had indeed flown away.
I love love love to think about her reunion with my Papaw. They were in love from the moment they laid eyes on each other–they were married a month after they met, and their marriage was strong through 42 years. I don’t know that she ever recovered from losing him, they had been partners and soul mates for so long that she was adrift without him. So it gives me such great pleasure to think of that moment when they were reunited–how immense their joy must have been. The complete peace of coming home at the end of a long journey, the satisfaction of being in the company of those you love best and wish to never leave. That’s what I held on to, that’s what let me smile throughout her entire ceremony–the thought that she was so much happier where she was.
So while I grieve for her, while i cried over her casket and felt my soul shift a little, through the tears I remembered that this was actually the best thing that could have happened to her. I like to think of death as the next adventure, that once we walk through that door and our soul is unstoppered from our body, we begin another life that is simply unfathomable to us now.
My family grew so close on this trip–laughing and loving and grieving and binding tightly together, an unexpected blessing this week. It isn’t that we aren’t close, it’s just that we sometimes lose the sense of each other in the everyday living of separate lives. But between a shopping trip funeral clothes for my brother, walmart runs, back-bedroom bitchfests, backyard clean-up, and too-long pants, we all reconnected in a very healthy way, regained the sense of who our family is and what we’re about.
My siblings and I rode up together, without all our significant others, and I feel like I saw a more complete picture of my siblings. I learned so much about my brother: for the first time in my life I feel like maybe I know him and can relate to him. Part of it is that we’re older now, part of it is that we finally had the time to sit down and connect. There are so many reasons to respect him, so many times I sat back and marveled at the man he’s become, and the man he will become. And while my sister has always been my best friend and has never failed to impress me, I loved having her to rant to, and appreciated her well-founded opinions and perspective on things.
The three of us talked frankly and freely about where we as the adult children in our family need to step up. It’s time that we take on more responsibility for things like holidays and making our own family traditions. Since I have no more grandparents, our family dynamic has shifted and regrouped–a new patriarch/matriach are stepping forward in the form of my parents. This means we need to create our own traditions and work hard to make things meaningful. As the oldest child, I’m learning that means sometimes I have to do more than I want to do, which is usually just showing up. I need to make plans, make food, and make time for events. I don’t want my family to drift apart, because they are so precious to me, and if this week reminded me of anything, it’s that my family members are the greatest people in the world and I want to be around them all the time.