“Piglet sidled up to Pooh from behind.
‘Pooh?’ he whispered.
‘Nothing,’ said Piglet, taking Pooh’s hand. ‘I just wanted to be sure of you.’”
My grandmother died this month. She was old and it was not completely unexpected and everyone said things to our family like “she’s in a better place” and “at least she’s no longer in pain” and I thought there might be a class on the subject back in school because everyone had mastered the lines. Although what exactly does one say in this situation, anyway.
My sister and I shared every holiday with my grandparents, five minutes from our house. They lived on a hill with a stained-glass door where breezes flowed over the porch like heaven’s whispers. Growing up we spent almost every weekend there. Birthday parties. Christmas Eve. Easter Sunday. Fireworks. All my childhood memories are wrapped up in that house and my grandmother’s presence and the knowledge that I could always come back home.
That’s big in our family – the rooting of home. It’s a safe place where you can let down your guard and be true to who you are. And when you sit chewing on a piece of grass on the side of the house, looking for secret pennies or colorful rocks my grandfather hid in the concrete walkways, you could dream or think or fall asleep under the weeping willow, later wandering through the sculpture garden filled with deer and cactus and rock creatures who stare into the sun like we will not be moved from this place. My grandmother wanted to die in the home where she reared three children, and she did, peacefully in her sleep. Just one day she was here, and then she wasn’t. On the day of the viewing, mom kept wanting to say “I can’t wait to tell mother you came” to all the guests, but of course that was silly. We all feel so silly for our daily routines in times like this.
My mother calls me a lot. Sometimes it drives me mad when she just keeps ringing when I don’t answer or have a bad day and I sometimes I treat her like my dirty laundry takes precedence. But when I was in the hospital in Philadelphia being radiated for melanoma, I called her. My shaking fingers dialed her number with one working eye and I just cried into the phone because it hurts, momma, and her voice on the other end, well it was enough. She was there when I had seizures in the ER, or when my abdominal pain from my staph infection raged through my post-partum belly and made me feel like fire itself, or when I lay on my bathroom floor in a puddle of tears screaming out loud at the unfairness of a torturous heartbreak. She handed me a cup of coffee and a piece of toast, told me to eat: keep your chin up. But mostly she just listened.
A mother has a way of seeing through your ugly, and always bearing your burdens. She prays hard and makes you feel that there is love in the universe when you can’t see it and a beating heart when you can’t hear it and consistency in her acceptance even when you feel lost or thrown away like a used diaper. And she reminds you that God redeems, and we must always forgive, and everything we do must be rooted in kindness. Like a song chorus, she repeats it until I nod my head in agreement. Redemption, forgiveness, kindness in all things. I seriously have laundry waiting, for the love.
When my grandmother’s body lay vacant in a casket, her soul in a different place, the empty set in. This was my mother’s mother, the model for who she is and had become, a woman who let my mother be herself and always, always loved. And inside this caretaking relationship was a filling of time and space and when it ended, a void grew vast in my mother’s grieving heart and it burned like my abdomen and my eye and my broken heart all wrapped up into one ball of flame and I just let her cry it out and I said here, have some coffee and a piece of toast, please eat: keep your chin up. There is a lot of listening to be done.
I am a mother now, and there is no love greater than the love I have for my children. I’m hesitant to ever remarry because I know that no one can love them the way their father and I do, and when they are not here in my home there is a strangeness that hurts when they leave and a filling when they come back. From my mother did I enter this world and from my loins did my children arrive and there is a bond between us mothers that holds generations and families together. There are recipes and stories and birthing and bathing and it’s more powerful than spider’s silk and it is what makes us human beings greater than lions.
Our Heavenly father loves, but so also do mothers, and that’s why thinking of Jesus’ mother upon his death is so immensely heartbreaking. From the moment they are born, children take from you and you willingly give, and all you want to do is keep on giving until you have no more breath or power left in you. And when you see the one that went before you pass, it’s an immense weight that you might not have done enough or loved enough or been enough. But you did, and you are, and you will be for your own kind. I pray that I can be the type of mother that my daughter respects – the kind that is always accepting, praying hard, loving long, and calling her even when she hates it, because there’s laundry to be done and boys to date but honey I’m your mother so you’ll just have to make the time.
Oh, mom. I am so sure of you. You are a tethering place. You are the rooting between my soul and solid ground. The steady rock that remains when all the sand is washed away. Thank you for all you have been, and what you’ve done to create in me a feeling of worth, and for never, ever letting go.