family

Joy and Loss

A recipe in her handwriting
A recipe in her handwriting

It was, as they say, out of the blue. These things always are. One minute, you’re nostalgic because your sweet little babies have grown into wonderful young minute. The next, you’re in tears because you saw a face, a sweet, wild, wonderful face you haven’t seen since her funeral.

Cleaning his office, my husband found an old video from when our teenaged daughters were in preschool. They’ve recently celebrated birthdays, so this ancient video had me keenly feeling the swiftly spinning planets. They were so young! I was so young!

There they are, my girls, in handmade with lots of love and frustration, princess dresses.
The oldest spins in her Snow White get-up and recites words for Grandma. Younger sister caroms in the back ground, Cinderella’s got nothing on her. Their voices are higher than I can possibly remember, their little fingers small and chubby.

Near the end of the video, still images of a day I had forgotten. Our two and our niece with their grandmother at Build-A-Bear. Their grandmother, who died in 2005, shortly after the video was made. When I saw her, my throat fills with cement. My heart drops three speeds. My stomach lurches with acid and grief. And I smile.

I smile because there she is, this amazing, and opinionated and frustrating and frustrated woman. There she is with her red fingernails and her denim shirt, her perm and her gold rimmed glasses. She huddles over the three girls like a mama bear, proud, protective, hopeful. I see all of it in her; everything she wants for these little kids, everything she hopes, and this stunningly powerful love that seems to enwrap all of them like some kind of shimmering force field.

I wish. I wish all the time I could ask her one more question. Learn one more technique from her. See her find some strange tool or adhesive in her workroom because one of her babies needs it. Her craft room was as organized and thoroughly confounding as she was.
She could find anything in there, but woe be unto anyone else looking. She had her own system and it worked. It worked for her.

I didn’t know it it then. I didn’t know marriage, life, friendships are a collection of decisions. That making life work mostly with peace means making dinner someone else likes, doing laundry without complaint, making tiny days seem big and full of meaning. My mother-in-law, she could do that. If we went over for Sunday dinner, she would roll real napkins in cute napkin rings. If one of the kids had a birthday, her gifts would tie together in a cute and interesting theme relating to that child and her personality.

She could see people. And she could treat them with care as if we were all due the white-glove treatment. And maybe we are. Maybe we are that fragile.

And I didn’t know it then.

When I saw her face, I missed her. The pang of loss throbbed. But as it tolled, it rang in tune with a chime of joy, a kind of undercurrent to our pain. She was there. She is still here, with our children, in their mannerisms, in their humor, in their bright, gleaming eyes.

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