One year ago, we buried my grandmother.
When Chris and I heard that she had died, we packed up the car, buckled the children, and started on the long road to North Carolina. We downloaded “The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane” on audiobook to entertain the kids. As we curved through mountain roads of West Virginia, we imagined that we were at sea, like Edward. The changing landscape rose and crested like waves, and I wondered how it would feel to be thrown overboard. This business of loving comes at such a great cost, doesn’t it, Edward?
Two days later, I plucked a pink carnation off my grandmother’s casket.
I’d been too timid to do it at her wake. I had felt like character in some macabre film – the stage was too set, the costumes were too black, the extras were too unknown.
But at the cemetery? That was different.
I’d been going to that cemetery since I was a little girl. Every time we were in North Carolina, we’d buy some plastic flowers from the local Dollar Mart and head out to visit grandpa. As girls, my sister and I would hop between the rows and trace our grandparent’s names on their headstones – a his-and-hers set – while grandma told us stories we already knew.
“Did you know his buddy’s buried just one row down? They wanted to be here by the pond. I think they plan to spend the afterlife fishing. Fishing and causing problems, no doubt. Lord have mercy.” And she’d chuckle as she fussed at the grave, replacing flowers and wiping away imaginary dust.
I smiled, years later, as I remembered it. Her constantly helpful hands. Her easy laugh. Her love for that mischievous man. I looked at his name on the headstone and walked off stage. No casts or costumes. No strangers and small talk. Just the smell of Carolina pines, liquid sunshine, and the softest breeze I’ve ever known. This was the ground on which grief and hope lived together.
This past Sunday, my mom and I bought flowering plants from our local nursery. Pink, of course, because of Edna, and the first anniversary of her death.
We sat in the sun with our brand new rosebushes, and remembered.
We read a liturgy over her life, and wept.
We retold our favorite stories of her, like the time she shot a hole in the ceiling, and laughed.
And we cracked the spine on the book of poems I’d written about her. They aren’t very good – certainly not worthy of her – but they are products of a tender grief, and so we love them.
As I sat there, in the sun and breeze, I marveled. This day was so similar to the one on which she was buried, like the days were matching bookends on the first year of my life without her.
So there, in the sunshine and sorrow, we read aloud:
I couldn’t have asked for a gentler day.
The wind, sweet and warm, whispered gentle regrets
as it tickled my chin with the tips of my hair.
The flowers poured out their most sultry perfume,
dousing the air with a slumbering weight.
The sun bathed our skin in drunk consolation,
dripping its mead off the tips of our tongues,
tasting of hope and of better days to come.
The mad mother goose stepped demurely aside
as we tore at the earth with the tips of our nails.
We lowered you in and covered your mouth
with the pink flower petals you’d picked out yourself.
Grandpa rolled over to make you some room
just like he had when you’d once shared a bed.
A holy communion, from whence you came,
gripping his hand under mountains of dirt.
Returning to ashes, you sleep near his rib
and the earth uttered thanks for your presence within.
The breath of God meets the man made of dirt
meets the woman of rib: trinity unite.