cafe mama

entering the mind of the married mom

about death and life - March 13, 2005

My Grandma Ruth, my dad's mom, died March 1st. I didn't write about it then because I guess it didn't really strike me until the funeral. I loved her very much, but hadn't seen her in many years. She'd been living in Kalispell, Montana, with her "new" husband (they'd been married a dozen years, probably, but it seemed new, still, to me). Kalispell is just the other end of the earth, and when I lived on the East Coast, my time and funds to visit family just didn't allow a trip to such an out-of-the-way place. In the last few years, she'd descended into the worst of Alzheimer's, and wouldn't have known me if I'd gone to see her.

After Everett was born, my parents went to see her. I was working and couldn't get away. Instead, I made an album for her, of Everett, and wrote how much he wanted to meet her. Dad said that she asked, when they were visiting her for the last time, to see Everett - an amazing thing for as far gone as she was. I hope that my album connected her to my life, to her second great-grandchild.

Even though my dad was the second-youngest of her four sons, the baby wave didn't start among our generation until Everett. Denny, my oldest cousin, has a cute 5-year-old named Yuki. But once Everett came, the great-grandchildren started flowing in, with Ella (Denny's half-sister, Olivia, is her mom), Nehalem, and now Olivia and I are both expecting again.

The funeral was quiet and tearful, with very little remembrance from her sons and grandsons who couldn't talk for the tears. My dad managed some, and my mom read things written by Uncle Denny and some of Ruth's sisters.

Afterward was just family, and really great. The last time all of us had gotten together had been my Uncle Mike's funeral, and it was raucous and big - not at all like this. I had time to sit and talk with all my cousins, while Everett ran around with the other kids outside (alternately being sweet to and knocking over the adorable Ella, and worshipping Yuki, who he called "my big boy"). We talked about pregnancy and plans for it; about jobs and children and life. I learned that my Grandpa had been a naval radar instructor in Hawaii during World War II. I learned that my cousin Tyler (who I used to babysit) had just finished Marines basic training. I learned that my grandma had taught her boys never to say negative things about others, and that she'd taught them how to smile, and that she ate fruit salad with a beautiful slotted spoon.

I stared for a long time at the photos of her, many taken when her boys were babies. Her life wasn't always easy, with a husband away at war for many years and a mother who lived with her most of her life. But every photo was lit by her fantastically beautiful smile. She had so much happiness, yet an equal measure of empathy.

I was struck by a lot of things that day. Mostly I was amazed, and inspired. Grandma Ruth has left such a legacy with our family. The best way I can describe it is a legacy of grace. She gave us all the ability to see the best in people, the strength to communicate our feelings no matter how others might think, a basic goodness of spirit that doesn't judge and creates no drama. Her sons are (and were), to a man, people with this extraordinary generosity of spirit. None of them are perfect, by a long shot, but just be around them for an afternoon, and you would understand - there is no agenda, no hidden meaning. They are who they are, and they accept each other, and they love in big ways.

Those in my family have succeeded to varying degrees in their lives, in their relationships, in their parenting. Some are terrific successes, most are rather mediocre. But all of them are accepting, and happy, and in love with life. After drama with my husband's family recently, walking into my Uncle Jim's house was like being enveloped in familial zen.

My Grandma Ruth created all this, and I admire her so much for what she's done. As I start my own family of boys, I can only hope to be like her. If I look down from heaven some day and watch my boys, my grandsons, choke up at my funeral, and hug as my great-grandchildren scream with laughter in the backyard - well, then, I've done my job. Thank you, Grandma, for all you've done, for your grace, for your smile.