When I was born, my dad’s parents had started the travel years – the RV, the RV clubs, every national landmark in the country on their list, plus most of the campgrounds between. Mom tells me Grandma wrote in her journal every day until recently. I read an entry once, written during the travel years. It was on August 3, 1976. It was only a few sentences – where they woke up, where they would head next, and then, “Received word that Serenity Beth was born today.” It was fascinating to see my name and history written in Grandma’s handwriting. They say she gave me the cheekbones from her father’s side of the family, and I am terribly proud of that.
On Friday afternoon, Grandma could still say my name. She couldn’t focus her eyes anymore – maybe she couldn’t even see; we’re not sure. She asked me to hold her hand, and she reached the other up to the side of my head and down the length of my hair. When I left that day, I said I love you; and she said I love you, too. I’m a selfish, selfish girl, because it means the world to me that I got those last few lucid moments with a woman so many of us lost the next day.
The night Grandma died, Michael and I were in our hometown at a class reunion. We made jokes about feeling old. But it’s not really true. We are young. Our teenagers and small children all slept on couches and guest beds at our parents’ homes while we talked. We were alive and smack dab in the middle. Though we honored four classmates who went far too soon, most of us – Lord willing – are almost exactly between the beginning and the end. And so alive.
In the beginning, I love hospital rooms. They are the quiet sanctuary before the storm that is actually parenting that brand new beautiful human. But at the end, if it’s a good, happy length from the beginning, they are not so horrible either. They are a new kind of sanctuary, a peaceful different beginning. Grandma has children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren all over the planet, spreading out the good things she passed down to us. When she was ready to let go, we were ready to let her.
Life is so beautiful I want to eat it with a spoon, but it also hurts. Not because it is sad, but because it is big – in all the things that it gives us. It’s not just any Tuesday when I get to share the same space with both my sisters and my brother, with cousins, aunts, and uncles I rarely see, with nieces and nephews my children love so much. Our beating hearts will tumble together for two days – heavy with memories and sadness and oh the giant emotions. We are so connected by Grandma’s touch in our lives. Our chests and shelves and homes are full of the afghans she made us, the dolls she hand-sewed, the letters she wrote. When we remember her, our faith will spill out everywhere, strengthening what binds us. And it will hurt. But it will be beautiful.
I’m so thankful for the cheekbones and the baby blankets, for the money on our birthdays, and for faith. And I’m grateful for these days together. It’s the last great gift she will give us.