She'd lived in a nursing home for several years, beset with Alzheimer's and Parkinson's, and she slept most of the time. She'd been a widow for 41 years, and all but one of her siblings predeceased her. Imagine the reunion! Finally, her passing seemed peaceful; there were no signs of distress.
She had been absent from my life for years due to her illnesses, and it was a slow disappearance. Incremental losses are harder to mourn. Still, I am a bit surprised by how bereft I feel today. I am sad at losing my sweet Mam-ma, a loss of several years now, but one I'm grieving today. And I'm sad at the passage of time -- people, places, and times we enjoyed now gone. She was my last living grandparent, which underscores my sense of time flying by, never to be recovered.
Now we're waiting for the details of the arrangements and beginning to make plans for an unexpected trip to Tennessee. The formal traditions of saying good-bye will sweep us along: the visitation, where we'll see friends and relatives I haven't seen in years; the funeral service itself, which I hope includes my Mam-ma's favorite hymns; and the burial in an old cemetery I haven't visited since I was an adolescent. Oh, and let's not forget the food. In the American South, if a family member dies, prepare to be swamped with really good food.
I expect a phone call later on, telling us where we need to be and when. But until then, I'm going to fetch a letter I keep in my jewelry box, a letter my mother gave me last year when she found it in some other papers. It's addressed to my mother and dated March 27, 1968, two days after I was born. In it, Mam-ma writes:
You just don't know how much I wish I could come see you and that little baby today. Since I can't, I'm sending you this little note to let you know we are thinking about you. Isn't it a good feeling to hold your little baby in your arms? I just can't hardly wait to see her. . . . Give that little girl a big kiss for me.Even though she's been "gone" for almost a decade, she was always there, if that makes any sense. But now that she's really gone, the loss seems fresh, as if the intervening years between her full, active life and her death had never happened. I didn't lose my grandmother years ago; I lost her today.