When our loved ones move on to heaven our human hearts want the world to stop. There is a need for everything to be frozen and covered with ash gray quiet. Forward movement seems so unbefitting when we are mourning loss. We yearn for a blanket of stillness to cover the globe and keep us isolated while we adjust to a life where they are no longer physically present. And yet, somehow everything keeps moving, changing, evolving, growing. There is an abundant amount of laughter and light that seems so out-of-place. For me it seems this must be God’s way of trying to soothe us to let us know that one day forward movement will not seem so odd. His way of reminding us that life is all forward movement. There is no pause button, no still frame except for in our photos and even then sometimes nothing is standing still.
All four of my grandparents are in heaven. My fingers shake as I write this because a world without their stories, advice, unconditional love seems a bit colder, less comforting. As each of my grandparents passed I tried to merge some of who they were into me; into my soul because if I did that then they continued to live. If I have to move forward because of the will of the world and the will of God, then it is my need to take the essence of who they were with me.
Twenty-one years ago, my grandfather (papa) went in for a routine surgery, and then I got the news he wasn’t going to ever leave the hospital again because his body had decided the surgery was not so routine. The day I heard I ran up and down the stairs in our house and did sit up after sit up. I thought if I could feel some physical pain that matched my emotional pain then that would bring harmony and peace. It did not. Time would come to pass and I would learn that nothing brings back the peace you had before you lose someone. Nothing is ever the same. I wish I could have had more wisdom in my adolescent brain that June, but I did not. For my grandfather, who was Irish to the core, I decided to move on with the importance of heritage being a core value.
He also loved his family fiercely and that too I incorporated into the fiber of my being. I know that he watches over us; his pennies from heaven are everywhere when I need them. He was also a wonderful story-teller. I think that I chose to write again because of a need to make his story-telling live on. Slowly picking up my once abandoned journals after his passing and beginning to fill them with my own stories. His picture sits at my desk and I talk to him every day. The hole he left will always be empty. I wish I had done more to remember all that he was, record his stories, ask more questions, learn more, but I was too naive and young to gather those extra memories of him when I had the chance.
My mother’s father passed on Valentine’s Day almost 8 years ago. It doesn’t seem like that, but time keeps moving propelling us forward. I had been so fortunate to see him two weeks earlier. He lived in Utah, so it was a treat that I was out there visiting friends and was able to escape away for a day and spend it with him. We visited my grandmother. Then, watched a part of the series “Earth”. We made plans for breakfast the next day and I headed back to the house my husband and I were visiting. A freak snowstorm set in that night and I was not able to get back to see him for breakfast. I called to tell him and of course he put my safety first and understood. I told him I loved him and he told me the same. As I hung up, I cried uncontrollably. Everyone thought I was crazy, but I knew I would never hear his voice again. That was the last time we spoke.
When my dad called to tell me two weeks later, I sank to the ground in my kitchen. And a cruel joke that on Valentine’s Day he left the Earth, leaving behind the woman he loved so much. My grandfather took care of my grandmother as she struggled through Alzheimer’s for 12 years. His unconditional love became an example to me; to our family to love those dearest to you through anything. His goofy jokes and singing became part of his essence that I needed to carry on. A sign of his hangs in my kitchen, “A good day is not complete without laughter.” That is what I carry with me and try to incorporate into my soul. Also to always drive the back roads, that is where the good stuff happens. There is no need to take the freeway when you can avoid it.
A few short weeks later, the love of his life, my grandmother passed away. My sweet, kind, generous grandmother who fought early onset Alzheimer’s for 12 years went to heaven to be with him. My grandmother was one of the most selfless, thoughtful people I have ever met. When I would complain about how someone being rude or grumpy she would say, “Michelle, they might be having the worst day of their life. Maybe they need a little kindness.” or “You don’t know their story.” This has become a mantra of mine, to give people the benefit of the doubt, to offer kindness no matter what. She had the best giggle and enjoyed her family and grandchildren so much. She was always finding the neatest toys for us to play with. Little People became a favorite of mine for my own children because it reminded me of her house. She also was a writer; she had written for the paper in college for a brief time. She is another reason that I write. Her grace, kindness, and love of knowledge and life I try to absorb in every way.
I call on her daily because she raised six with ease and sometimes I feel like I am drowning raising four and I long to hear her words of wisdom. My drive to help others comes in part from her.
This past Friday, November 6th at 8:15 PM my grandmother went to join my papa 21 years after he passed. That is a long time to be a part from one another, so I know they are catching up on lost time. I am grateful that she can be with him and her brothers and sister that have passed. I know she missed them dearly. But as I stood on the Boardwalk, listening to my dad tell me she had passed, the dazzling sunlight and joyful volleyball games and happy adventurers that passed and buzzed around me seemed so wrong. Why couldn’t everything stop just for a minute; my last grandparent had left this Earth. Why wasn’t there quiet and calm? Why hadn’t clouds at least dulled the blazing sun?
My grandmother talked to everyone. When I would visit in the summer, it would take us an hour or more to get through the aisles in the grocery store. The first time I thought she knew everyone and then I picked up that she was meeting all these people for this first time. She always talked to anyone like a friend, an important note that I need to gather into my soul and become one with so that she can live on through me. She also loved to laugh and was always about a good time; even though she hated parties that were thrown in her honor. It will be good for my soul to laugh even more and something I will fold into the fiber of my being so that she can continue to exist here on Earth. My grandma won everything all the time, so I know the Bingo Game in heaven will be forever changed; she is pretty unbeatable. There was a lot my grandmother didn’t talk about from her past and I know there was a great deal of pain that she carried with her from that. I hope that escapes her soul as she settles into heaven. My grandmother also loved to give back to the community, she helped with Girl Scouts, the Soup Kitchen and her church. I think a part of me knew this was coming, a need to make this year’s 25 Days of Holiday Cheer bigger and grander than the past two years a need to make a mark, a memory in her honor.
Life keeps going. We can’t stop it. We can only join it as best we can. I try to do that with my grief; warp it into a part of the person I loved and use it to move forward and pass that piece of their memory onto others I meet. If I keep pushing them forward with me in the best way I know how, a piece of them will always exist here on Earth.
May the road rise up to meet you.
May the wind always be at your back.
May the sun shine warm upon your face,
and rains fall soft upon your fields.
And until we meet again,
May God hold you in the palm of His hand.
Until we meet again,