By Betsy Gallup
My grandmother died today. Her pain has ended and ours has just begun. Her death was unexpected but not without preparation. As in life, she died with specific instructions and plans and her family was left unburdened. Unburdened by her aches and pains so carefully guarded in life. Unburdened of the financial responsibility of her care in life and in death.
My grandmother died today and with her death, five strangers pulled together once more to form a family. We blindly finalized plans for her funeral and the dismantling of her life. As careful as she had been to leave us nothing to do, there were still loose ends and people to contacted. One among us was worried about unpaid bills and the cost of phone calls. Another was bitter for the time between visits of distant and close relatives. The third was beside himself with guilt for not being with her at the end. We were all a little bit lost without the matron of the family there to guide us.
She prepared well for this day. She left us memories carefully placed instinctually around her home. There was an old frog pillow made of my green jeans and family photos hung about. The embroidered quilt on her bed was made with love in a joint effort with her granddaughters. The simple salt shaker in the kitchen was a relic from her childhood and ours and our children. Her important papers were placed together in the bookshelf awaiting our final review and her purse lay by her chair where she always left it. The oversized purse made of big bright flowers brought back the fond memories of her eccentric nature. Even in this time of pain, that purse brought about a smile for all those missed matched outfits and knee socks through the years. Grandmother was nothing if not colorful.
The pain receded and was replaced with peace as we leafed through the photo albums and saw what was important to her. She was there with us--in our hearts, in the books on her shelves and the boxes of yarn, fabric and patterns. She was there with each stitch in each pillow, each doll, in each picture so lovingly saved and cherished. We relived our lives with her with distinct memories brought on by the little things we found. Our packrat grandmother had left us with the greatest gift of all. She left us with our memories—her memories. With each box opened and every drawer filled with photos and clipping browned by age, we were told of her love for us and how much we meant to her. We shared our memories with each other and our spouses and children who would be hearing the stories for the first or the fifth or the fiftieth time. And with the telling of each embellished tale, the gathering of strangers slowly dissolved into a family unit.
My grandmother died today. And with her death, ended her pain and with her long cherished treasures, ended our pain as we passed from pain to love for her, for each other, for her vision.