The death of Gramie brought us home. From across Texas, from Arizona, from Jamaica, and in a brilliantly kept secret, even from France, as Conrad walked in the front door with nonchalance and beer. Only a few absences made the reunion imperfect.
For three days our independent lives stopped. We were again children, but children with children, swarming about the family home like a gleefully disrupted ant pile. There was a memorial service at the center, somber and teary despite our attempt to celebrate life. On either side of the service was the true celebration, three generations reveling in the joy that Gramie bequeathed.
There was no guilt in hours of coffee and cigarettes on the porch, watching Eli and Ava and Ethan inch permissively from paddleboats to swimming. No guilt in Cody and Conrad playing wandering games of pétanque, nor Cameron studiously tuning everyone out for bitwise operators. None in the sisters running regimens around the lake in brown-limbed clusters, or Ashton waddling gleefully from Savannah to Jon, arms outstretched toward his endless family. In Mama and Papa rocking, relaxed and reflective, on the porch as their generations played out before them. Arguing Lord of the Rings and George MacDonald with Will and Carolyn deep into the night. Tacos from the taco shack, misunderstandings and explanations, flared anger and quiet forgiveness. It was sheer and endless joy, deep and true joy. It was one of the better Bluth parties.
It’s an odd and beautiful thing, that death can be the nucleus for so much life. Odd, but so completely natural. “When we die, our bodies become the grass, and the antelope eat the grass.”
Only the insecure wish to be grieved. Gramie would be happy to know she was the reason for all these beautiful moments. We miss her, but more to her liking, we guiltlessly swim in the joy of being.
Today was the first day since December 20, 1927 that my Gramie did not wake up. She died at 9:07pm yesterday, holding the hands of my brother and sister-in-law, her son at her feet. She lived 87 years, almost 70 of them married to my Grandad. She was a triumph of class, dignity, and poise. She went by Joey to her friends.
For days we took turns keeping vigil and company while she slept. She roused herself only briefly for quiet conversation and smiles. She would reach for Grandad first, ever present in his wheelchair by her side. Then she stopped waking at all. She might open her eyes and briefly see you, but just as quickly slip back away.
We knew this was coming. It was no surprise. The body falls apart at the end, an unhappy but gracious preparation for everyone.
Yesterday, the day she died, I came to her door. Grandad was sitting alone beside her bed, watching her. He asked her a question. I didn’t hear it, but I heard her silence. Grandad waited a few moments and said, gently and truly, “Another time, maybe.”
Ashton woke up early today. I took him to the park and let Rae and Ethan sleep. The sun rose without Gramie. Ash ran guiltless and squealing after squirrels.
My sons will only know her through museum glass. They won’t know her shimmering bell-chime laugh, often delayed by asking someone to repeat the joke. They won’t know the way she would look deeply in your eyes and pour her concerns into you and draw your concerns into her, and the way she would gasp, moved beyond measure by your travails, and say “Oh, Justin.” They won’t know that peculiar combination of intimidation and warmth you felt upon entering her perfect home, where tiny china cups of coffee sat beside ferns she’d potted that morning, where a sparkling crystal decanter cast rainbows on a sleeping cat. They won’t know her as a woman of unimpeachable grace, who showed her class through kindness and hospitality. They will know of her, but they won’t know her.
But another time, maybe.