When I was in Idaho a couple weeks ago, I was mourning my beautiful Grandmama, my mother's precious Mama.
We were going to go and visit this week on the kids' fall break, our whole little family. I had called her because of it, and I thank God for that. I had meant to call for months, kept thinking about her but, yet, never did what I had the feeling I should do. When Matthew came home a few weeks ago with the news that he could take this week off work, I finally called to tell her we were coming to visit.
I remember one thing in particular she said to me during our conversation. We were talking about my babies growing up, and she said, "Someday, Hilwry (I was always Hilwry to Grandmama), your arms will feel empty."
Her words struck me at the time. I knew without doubt they would be true for me. My babies spend a good majority of their infancy in my arms. Once my little Daniel is a preschooler, my arms will suddenly be a whole lot freer. I'm afraid they will feel painfully empty and idle, too.
After she passed, however, the words felt different, of course. My arms were empty in a different way. For Grandmama.
Many relatives gathered around Grandmama. Many more would have liked to. And we all broke down. We all wept in our own moments. The day of the vigil was a particularly hard day for my parents. Dad finally fell into grief; it overwhelmed him. And I cried for my mother that day more than for my own loss; I was almost frightened to see the level of Mama's pain as she broke down every few moments. But then that evening the family got up and spoke in turn about Grandmama at the Vigil-first Uncle Artie, then all Grandmama's children-Mama, Uncle Jim, Uncle Brian got up and lightened things up a little, and Uncle John and Aunt Stephie spoke, too. The grandchildren and friends followed. We still cried, but when we each took our turn to talk about her, some of us repeating her famous, "Oh, Gene!" that she always said to Grandpa after one of his jokes, our grief became less desperate or, in some cases, less stifled. We began to heal. And Grandpa was surrounded by his children (those by marriage, too) and grandchildren. Many of us laid our hands on his shoulders after one of us spoke of Grandmama's true love for this man, and the remarkable and consistent every day ways she found to care for him. At the last my sister Vinca got up to sing a beautiful Irish song. I was outside the chapel walking my restless baby son. I hadn't heard my sister sing in years, and her clear, sweet voice elicited new tears from me, but it made me feel better, too.
And there is a blessing that comes from gathering to mourn someone you all love so dearly. I saw relatives I had not been privileged to see in years, some whom I had not spent time with since childhood. And Vinca figured out that our mom and her siblings had not been all together for forty years. Granted, it was hard under those circumstances, but by the evening after the funeral, Grandpa and Grandmama's children were laughing and joking together. And even Grandpa joined in as we took a huge family portrait.
Grandmama would have been happy to see that.