Tribute to My Grandmother

On March 10, 2020 my grandmother, affectionately called Little Bit, died after a massive stroke. She hadn’t been sick or anything and was just days before jumping on a bouncy castle with her great grandkids at a birthday party. The whole family was shocked when she died, to say the least. I find myself rocked to the core with this death… beyond the others I’ve written about, the death of my grandma has me deeply sad but also very grateful for her.

She was feisty, small in stature, big in love, the heart of our family, the thrill seeker, the wrestler, the fearless matriarch. Everyone who knew her loved her. She was a Christian woman who relied heavily on her faith. She was a phenomenal cook. She ran a tight ship in her restaurant business and didn’t take kindly to laziness or ineptitude. She loved all animals and often had various animals on her farm. From chickens to geese, sheep to pigs and cows that would nurse on your hand, she had them all at one point. She was a huge fan of emus before her farm life came to a close. She and my grandfather cornered the market on emu oil and all things emu. They raised them, farmed them, and sold the byproducts. They were all in!

As for her family… she was something else. Grandkids always have a different perspective about their grandparents than our parents had about their parent. My mom lived a different life with her mother than I did with my grandmother. My grandma taught me about Jesus Christ and led me to know him as my personal savior. I learned hymns like “Amazing Grace” and “I Fly Away” by singing them with her during bible study in the evenings in the living room of a small shack we lived in at the time. I learned to pray and what it felt like when God was in the room. Grandma always gave us a place to live when things weren’t going well with whatever man my mom was with at the time. We always had food because grandma would send my mom home with leftovers from the restaurant. If it was her delectable biscuits and gravy or the despicable liver and onions, we had food. My grandmother taught me to brush my teeth. She made sure my sister, brother and I all had Christmas gifts every year regardless of what was happening with my family. Grandma gave me my first job at her restaurant where I earned my first paychecks and saved enough money over time to buy my first pair of brand new, name brand shoes. Grandma taught me the value of hard work, discipline and servitude.

She was a giver in the truest form. Every year on thanksgiving she would have the whole family come together to cook and prepare a thanksgiving feast for the community offered through her restaurant. She had a donation jar for people who wanted to pay for their meals but she had no expectation for payment from anyone regardless of their ability to pay. The entire meal was free for everyone. Every year. Once everyone was served and off to their homes to rest in a food induced coma, all of the family, and any employees who wanted to, stayed for our own thanksgiving meal. We would make a 20 foot long table and load it with turkey, stuffing, sweet potatoes, mashed potatoes, corn, green bean casserole, biscuits, dinner rolls, gravy, and fruit salad. Then dessert was always homemade pies: apple, cherry, blueberry, pumpkin, and other varieties from time to time. The cleanup was always the worst because we all just wanted to go home and knock out for a nap, but alas we had to clean and prepare the restaurant for a full shift the following day.

Grandma was an exceptional cook. She was famous for her homemade jams and jellies. She made blackberry, strawberry, prickly pear, apple butter, peach, marmalade, and so many more. She had the greenest thumb I’ve ever known. She could grow anything out of nothing. She liked to grow cucumbers for homemade pickles that she would use in her restaurant. She liked to grow flowers and plants. She especially loved purple irises and marigolds. I remember both flowers being on her property and behind her restaurant all the time. She also hand an affinity for hollyhocks. A flower I’ve only ever seen in Arizona. She loved green houseplants like the philodendron. Even as she aged she maintained flower beds and small gardens that she diligently tended to daily. She was one of the few motor homes in the mobile home park that had a garden and flowers. It seemed as though she would plant something everywhere she went. A small bit of Little Bit was left in her wake. Gardening and planting joy was her passion. She did it with a smile and great pride. When I would visit she often start off by showing me her plants and what’s been growing in her garden. She would brag about the fact she had the best garden in the mobile home park and would smile in delight.

To grandma, no one was a stranger. She was friends with everyone. She didn’t meet a person she couldn’t connect with or find a way to serve. She was generous in so many ways and found ways to bless others. I’ve learned in the last few years that we had several regular patrons to the restaurant who never paid for a meal because she just fed them. They were hungry and so they ate. She would use that time to talk to them about Jesus or Pop would come out and make friends, smoke cigarette or drink a cup of coffee while they ate. But those guests always had a plate of food and no judgement passed, not that I ever witnessed. Grandma lived a modest life. She didn’t have a lot but she did all at the same time. She was wealthy in family, friendship, and character.

Every being has flaws. We all make mistakes. We all do things we wish we wouldn’t have done or said things we wish we wouldn’t have said. We all have rough edges and need polishing in some regard or another. We are not born perfect, and we don’t die perfect. But, I know that my grandma taught me so much and gave me so much that I will forever be grateful to her. I think she likely saved our lives in more ways than one in the course of my lifetime. Thankfully I had opportunity to meet with her alone a couple times over the last five or so years and expressed my gratitude and the magnitude of the impact she had on my life. I hope she remembered all I shared and how much I loved her. I pray she knew my voice as I spoke to her in her final hours via video-chat. I pray the tears I saw gathered in the corner of her eyes was from the intensity of the love she felt. I pray that in her final hours she knew no pain and ran happily into the arms of God the Father as her spirit left this earth. I pray that she wasn’t afraid or worried about anything. I pray she was at peace with the legacy she left behind.

And for me, I pray that in time my heart will heal and this won’t hurt so badly. This post alone has taken me nearly four days to write because I couldn’t keep it together long enough to finish in one sitting; I was too overcome with emotion and the intensity of it all. I pray that I live the rest of my days honoring her and living up to the person she believed me to be. And more so, I pray that I live a life where I create a legacy of my own while also honoring her legacy.

Until we meet again Grandma, I love you, I miss you, and I hope you know how much you mattered. Rest easy in heaven and I hope you and Pop are enjoying your heavenly reunion! I know he missed you so much! Love you forever and always.

In memoriam,

The Repressed Peach

Notches of grief

Brain cancer. 5 years old. 

Brain cancer. 27 years old. 

Suicide. 30 years old. 

Brain aneurysm. 27 years old. 

Car accident. 17 years old. 

Old age. 83 years old. 

Drive by shooting. 16 years old and 3 months pregnant.

Cancer. 35 years old. 

Cancer. 53 years old.

Drive by shooting. 19 years old. 

Sudden infant death syndrome. 4 months old.

Drive by shooting. 16 years old.

Your lives mean too much to be relegated to a list on a page

But your numbers consume so much of my heart and I fear I don’t have enough skin to ink your name

My life of white privilege and living in no fear will never be the same

Cancer. Suicide. Shooting.

All of these and more will be gone before I. 

Where does it end?

With you?

With me?

Between lines on pages and ink making its mark? 

With brush strokes and poems or song lyrics and rhythms? 

Where does it end?

A life is sacred. A life is precious. Without life there is no me. Nor a you. Without life there is no purpose. 

A familiar face unfamiliar to me in a

cold

hard

steel box

wrapped with embellishments too gaudy to be sentimental.

Your soul is gone.

Your life is gone.

Your nails too brittle.

Your eyes never to open.

Where does it end? Life is too precious to be gone too soon. 

This, too, shall pass

Waves of grief wash over me after a simple thought enters my mind. I’m sitting in church, the safest of places, the warmest of warm, the haven for hope when suddenly a single thought snares my mind and slips through my facade. Now I’m crying. To the people close by, I am crying because the hymn we are singing strikes a chord with me. Not the case today though. I’m crying because a memory of my friend and co-worker Milyse entered my mind and I unravelled. I smiled carefully to myself as I felt the thought blossom and I thought I may be able to just think the thought and let it go. But that song, that song was my undoing. And then the pastor’s message. The pastor’s message was about death and the coming of the Lord. The message started last weekend when we started reading John, chapter 11 and we finished it today. I let the tears flow. I didn’t stop them. I bowed my head and stopping singing to let the words and love of God’s hymn wash over and through me. I stayed in that moment for the remainder of the song just to be in the present. I just needed to accept my grief and be right where I was in order to feel like I could move on. I stopped crying for brief moments until I felt Milyse’ spirit with me. Then the waves came crashing through me again. It was a good cry; the therapeutic kind that just comes from the center of your soul. I’m glad I can cry. I’m glad I listen to my heart. I’m grateful I have a church home where people will hug me and console me without trying to stymie the tears. I’m thankful for the connections I make with them as I cry and they hug me because they have a great way of following up with me in future weeks to see that I am well. I am so grateful.

We use so many sayings in society that are meant to ease the pain of one’s grief; “This too shall pass”, “I’m so sorry for your loss”, “Don’t dwell on it, just be grateful it was a peaceful death”, “They lived a good long, happy life”, “They aren’t in pain anymore”, “They’ve ascended to glory”, etc. In reality, those sayings are just said because we don’t know what else to say. We don’t talk about death at all, we just try to pacify the pain. But damn it, I want to talk about it! I want to talk about all the aspects of death that transcend my consciousness. I want to talk about how pissed off I am that the strong woman Milyse was is now relegated to a pile of sad, lonely ashes in a box tucked away inside a stone monument at a cemetery. I want to talk about the fact that Milyse was only 52 and died far too soon for my liking and that I am angry she won’t see another sunrise or coach another basketball game. I want to holler, scream, and yell about how angry I am at myself for not telling her how I felt about her while she was alive and that all I have is hope that she hears my cries in heaven. I want to talk about these aspects with people who can handle listening to the tough stuff. I am not a sissy about these things. I face them head on and get messy with it! I want to talk about the human side of death and not so much about the spiritual. Some may argue that this is where I go wrong and why I can’t heal faster from the number of people who have died in the last two years, but I feel like I need to just grab hold of this death concept and shake it until all the plinko chips fall into place for me. I absolutely despise death. I hate it. I fear it. I tremble at it. I know it’s a fact of life, but not one I am quick to accept. My spiritual self knows where I will go once I’m called home, but I am so far from ready for that. I have so much left that I want to do. So much life I want to live. So many dreams I want to see come to fruition. A son who I want to see graduate high school, go to college, fulfill his dreams, and become the man God intends him to be. I want to get married again one day and feel the warmth of love in my heart. I want so much. Yet I feel so fragile. All these great people who lived so wonderfully and loved the Lord have left the earth and left their dreams behind. They left their hopes, dreams, and loved ones behind. Not like it was their choice or anything…surely they wouldn’t have chosen to leave so soon if they’d had their way, but nonetheless, one moment here, the next moment ascended to glory. What saves me from this same fate? Absolutely nothing. I am not in control of this part of life and maybe that is what scares the shit out of me. As our pastor said today, “each breath you take, every heartbeat is only by permission of the Lord your God.” Life is so fragile. Too fragile. Yet, we are asked to live life fully. We can find inspirational quotes and wall hangings in any department store that speak to this, “Live the life you have imagined”, “Live, Love, Laugh”, and more. I want to live fully and I intend to do just that but in the meantime (ironically enough) I need to get over this being sad part of my life. Those who know me would likely say that I am the eternal optimist. I see the silver lining in all situations and I am a beacon of hope in the darkest of storms. But in my storms, in my dark times, who is my beacon? Who is my rock, upon whom shall I rest? Where shall I find hope when my hope is tattered and torn to itty bits? I don’t know. I don’t have this answer. If I did I would likely feel a lot better. But, in my current state, I have my God. And only my God. Now, in theory, this is fantastic. I have a strong, wise, omnipotent God who loves me and has died for me and my sins so that I can find my place in heaven alongside God. My spiritual self is comforted in this knowledge. My human side, the side which could use a strong hug and warm laugh shared with people who love and adore me, doesn’t feel so much comfort quite yet. I need. And I’m not a needer. I am a giver. The people in my life probably don’t understand how much I need right now. They don’t understand because this isn’t my usual modus operandi. I am the giver. I am the healer. I am the therapist. I am not the needer. Please know something, my lovelies, please know I need too. I am just as human as you when pain gets the best of me. I need phone calls and hugs and love even though I seem strong. Don’t placate me and don’t dismiss me. My sadness, when I feel it, is heavy and burdensome. I am not an easy person to have a conversation with because I go places people don’t like to go. But be brave for me. Let’s go deep and get to the root of all things so I can heal. Let’s dig right down to the heart of the matter and suss out all the messy details together. And I promise, if you go there with me, I will bring you back safe and sound. I just need to travel with a person to the edges of my understanding. I need to contemplate all the many wonders of a subject and explore the unturned stones usually more than once. Sometimes I don’t trust my travels alone. I need company and another brain to go with me as a compass for the navigation. Traveling at night is scary if you don’t know where you’re going or where you’ll end up. It’s called the buddy system for a reason.

I’m just not good at this part of life — accepting death. It’s so contrary to all that I am and all that I believe in. Hysterical in some ways, right? Sounds foolish to me as I sit here and type it while I shake my head and grin sheepishly. I know better, yet here I am, in an existential dilemma because people I care about have died and I didn’t give them permission to do so. God, I’m shaking my head at you, but I’m praying for your patience with me while I get right about this. Loved ones, be present for me. Be with me as I travel this road of uncertainty and too many questions. Let me be the needer during this time and you take your turn in giving. I don’t ever ask for it, but just this once, will you try to give back to me? I need strength to be restored to me. If all you have to give is prayer, I will be grateful. If you have more, I will be indebted.

This, too, shall pass.

Mournfully,

The Repressed Peach