Archive for the ‘nana’ Category
The house is in disarray. More so than usual. We had a water leak that led to walls torn down and floors ripped up. The furniture is stacked in the corner covered in dog hair and medical bills. I am at my desk and all I see is inbox.
There is family coming. They will be here in a couple of hours. There are sheets to wash, shelves to dust, and a bathroom turned inside out beneath the rapid misfires of two little boys.
Not long ago this would have bothered me. I would have tried to fix everything. It needed to be spotless. It needed to be perfect.
Now I am in no hurry.
The last time that family was due they never came, and everything was ready. There was nothing to do but wait.
There was nothing to do but cross clean floors to an uncluttered desk and answer the phone.
There was nothing to do but fall down upon fresh linens and know that you may very well die there. And parts of you do. For death is contagious and when a loved one goes there is little between your heart and the nearest exit, but for those around you and the grieving yet to dance with.
Then nothing became everything, or it may have been the opposite. And the house fell apart around us.
Today my father and my stepdad are flying here together. They are coming for a birthday, bound by grandsons and a lifetime lost to memory.
Now I care little for clutter or open walls, missing carpet, and a home undone. Life is not spotless, and perfect is in the moments that we are making.
There is everything to do, and I am in no hurry.
Oh! I have slipped the surly bonds of earth,
And danced the skies on laughter-silvered wings;
Sunward I’ve climbed, and joined the tumbling mirth
Of sun-split clouds, —and done a hundred things
You have not dreamed of –Wheeled and soared and swung
High in the sunlit silence. Hov’ring there
I’ve chased the shouting wind along, and flung
My eager craft through footless halls of air…
Up, up the long, delirious, burning blue
I’ve topped the wind-swept heights with easy grace
Where never lark or even eagle flew —
And, while with silent lifting mind I’ve trod
The high untrespassed sanctity of space,
Put out my hand, and touched the face of God.
- John Gillespie Magee, Jr
The sound was low and it carried lightly across the aisle. It was the echo of children laughing and the flow of one boy splashing behind the waves of his brother. The video played across the glass screen, a small window held warm in loving hands beneath tired eyes and the gentle roar of engines, peering into mirth now past and the moments left to linger.
There were no awards or milestones, no unexpected need to clinch the gut from fear of laughter ripping it apart. It was just a video of two small kids jumping into cool, clean waters, over and over, a loop of innocence still playing despite the boys now dry and jumping through the elsewhere. The woman watched it with the patience of a saint and the love of a grandmother. And when it ended she watched another video marked different only by the season.
To those behind me it may have seemed that I had far too great an interest in the montage of her lifework, but in truth the images were lost to me aside from the casual glance given when pitches of glee kicked against my eardrum or the sudden flick of her wrist drew me there. Instead, I observed her like a time machine—a white-haired apparition of what should be. She watched video after video of her grandchildren, and I watched her soak it all in to be squeezed and cherished like a sponge saving memories for those days grown dry and far from smiles.
It was as close to my mother as I will ever be, and when the woman finished her viewing I shifted mine, floating through the heavens some 30,000 feet above the ground with thoughts to think and a ticket for my baggage—a loop of love bated on my breath, alive, and always playing.
My boys know things about loss and love. Over the last four years we have lost my grandparents, my stepmother, Tricia’s dad, and my mom—the last two in just the past few months. In the time between we have lost three cats and a dog, all of which were years older than the children—all of which they had always known. The boys have experienced sadness in quantity and quality, something that many of us don’t need face until we are somewhat older, and now, through experiences I rather they never had, they know the things that I have mentioned. And they know so much more.
Atticus came home from school yesterday to say that his teacher’s father had died over the weekend, and that she had taken the day off.
“Of course,” I said. “I am sorry to hear that.”
I am still taking days off.
“The substitute teacher said we should write her a note,” he added. “We should write whatever we want.”
And then, armed with pencil and understanding, he disappeared into the kitchen to offer his condolences. This is what he wrote:
My mother would have been 64 today, and I had the perfect song to sing. There were plans made and places to go, years of things I had written bold in pen, but now those pages are plowed beneath the constant crossing of thick lines over sinking letters. These are the plans we will never meet and the roads that will never rise to greet us. These are the dates we will never keep with every vow on the cusp of broken. The days will drift or pass as they are prone to do, and I cannot help but wonder if there are any promises left.
But who cares about the things we will never do when we are filled with the things that we have done? Who cares about a painting unseen, a punchline undelivered, or this hole in my heart? They are all but shadows of wherever we are as lights strike and hit us—the meaningless goal posts against which we measure things like progress and the distance we have traveled—they are nothing to most of us, and far too important to someone. For we have made memories that are wonderful and stories to tell. We have the echoes of our laughter.
Everything is a postcard for the places we are from.
Life grows, spins, and goes madly on. All we can do is breathe, love, and choose how bright we will shine.
My mother let the sun fall from her in generous beams of warmth and gold. She shared the moon just as lightly and sometimes louder. When she raised her glass it was to your health, filled with wine and starshine.
Now the nights are unraveled by threads of thought, every stitch of time a wish for sleep and the wounds slowly mending. The days keep showing up, set to move us forever forward, and it falls upon us the sharing of her memory. It is a task we accept with bittersweet turns of grace and worry. Our souvenirs are tears and smiles, the lonesome keepsakes of a lifetime. I can only offer you everything she has given me.
I like to think that she is everywhere now, upon the paths we follow and the roads not taken. She is there between the difference.
Today I passed a swollen dell tucked beside the overgrowth of asphalt and a fence that no one ever looks through, and it reminded me of places I have never been. It had the semblance of shelter. I could live there, I thought, beneath a sullen tree, and I would take every single thing that it gave me.
That is the running away and the need to flee. That is the hiding and the want for arms around you.
Perhaps together we could forget there is a cake unbaked in a box in the kitchen. Perhaps together we could grow distracted by whatever looms off across the distance. Mayhap one day will find us there.
The only thing I know is that we are all going somewhere. Sometimes our steps are small, soft, and solemn. Sometimes our leaps are sprung from joy, the landings free and careless.
For now the memories are heavy and hard to open, but I am told they grow gentle and fill with ease, or we become just the stronger for it.
I think my mother would have liked that, and every glass that we are raising.
It would have been a beautiful birthday.
The morning of my mother’s funeral I was as angry as I have ever been. I walked past 400 people with smiles on their faces and tears in their eyes. I avoided them as long as I could, for when they reached me with their hugs and kindness it meant that acceptance had finally won, and I was content to linger in failure forever. I walked on stage and read some words about my mother. I raised my voice and struck the podium. Repeatedly. Then we walked into the sun and I welcomed every bittersweet embrace.
This is what I read:
Memories gain value in a moment. In the blink of an eye. When what once ran steady from story to story, stops forever, despite every sign screaming that we are merely midstream.
Life is dammed like a river, and it is damned in so many ways.
Change changes everything.
Where we laughed about next times becomes a remembrance of what once was, wrapped in flowery language for safe handling, and locked tightly inside the hastily constructed bits of ourselves that we had always planned on keeping open.
Because these are the memories that now mean everything. These are the ways we hold on to each other when we have nothing left to hold on to.
I am lucky enough to have more memories of my mother than I could ever share, and so today I am painting a picture of her with the broadest of brushes, a timeline of moments that flash to the front when I close my eyes, linger for a time too small, and then leak slowly through the pressed, damp corners.
First, I am five or something that looks like it. I am a runaway. A rebel. I have taken refuge at the kitchen table of my grandparents, the parents of my father. There is a puzzle broken unbound upon the surface. She finds me there, like I knew she would, and she sits across from my grandmother. Together we fix every piece we can. It is a healing process, and I never run away again.
And then we are some 45 minutes away at another table littered with felt, thread, and an endless supply of buttons. It is the home of my mother’s parents, our Nana and Papa, and the puppets we sew soon give way to cookies and dominoes and all the things I should do more of with my children. My mom is in every frame, and the soundtrack loops in song and laughter. This is her in happiness.
Fast forward through a montage of smiling years to find my mother crying in the kitchen. I don’t remember which of her parents that it was, maybe the memory is my own concoction, a heartbreaking mix of the two, but I walked in the door and she was standing there, crying, lost in loss, and I knew right then that there was pain coming for all of us, and that tears are kind, and worth it. I don’t remember when the hugging stopped.
When I graduated from high school she wrote me a letter, then typed it to make it official. In it she recounted my apparent childhood desire to leave the rat race behind and pursue a dream that ran directly to clown school, and then, I assume, into a small, crowded car. She reminded me that it was still an option. She knew that life is full of pie in your face, and she felt that I should own it.
The day she turned 40 I was leaning in a doorframe. My mother sat on the bed with my sister in one hand and the phone in the other. On the far end of the line was a woman she didn’t know, the woman that had brought her into this world, and with one quiet word they both knew it. Questions were answered, hearts mended, and from a phone call family sprang.
I walked her down the aisle on three occasions, the first was her wedding to Bill, the second was mine to Tricia, and the third was Tiffany to Wynter. Each time she was light on my arm, a vision of perfect joy, and I swear that she was floating.
However, it wasn’t until I had my own children that I began to really understand what it was that made her do the things that she did. To love the way she loved, bold and constant. I was a father in an instant and it hit me with the strongest blast of emotion, the clearest thought, I have ever known, which was followed immediately by incredible guilt. This is how my parents feel? It floored me to think that anyone could feel for me what I felt for my son at that moment. The first thing I did was call my mother and apologize.
And that is when Mom became Nana, and she took it all up several notches. She was born to be a grandparent, and my boys Atticus and Zane had the privilege of feeling her love for ten and seven years, respectively. Unfortunately, my sister’s son, Greyson, only had Nana for four short months, but she made the most of it. Their loss is our loss. They do not yet realize all that they will miss.
My sister and I, on the other hand, have experienced nothing but the unwavering support and unconditional love of our mother, and we know everything we will miss.
We will miss everything.
The last words that my mother said to me were “I love you.”
And “I love you, too” was my final goodbye.
I will say those words again, often, to her and to all of you, and if you take anything from the life of my mother I beg you to take that. Please. Tell people that you love them. Be loud and unabashed. Be soft and tender. Write it down, text it, leave it in a message, sing it in a song. It doesn’t matter how you do it, but do it. Say I love you. Say it often. Every. Chance. You. Get.
That is the value of my mother’s memory, and we are all the richer for having loved her.