Last week, my husband’s grandmother passed away. She was 88, and we had been expecting it for about a month. It still wasn’t easy.
My husband grew up in the same tiny Mississippi town as his entire extended family.
While my aunts and uncles and grandparents stretched out from Virginia to Georgia to Missouri to even as far away as Kenya, Africa (during the years my aunt an uncle were missionaries), his childhood was filled with swigging sweet tea on Gramma’s front porch and trekking through the woods with his sister and seven cousins, some of whom still call Mississippi home.
We headed to the Deep South for the funeral the day after Gramma died. The trip is 11 to 12 hours each way. We braced ourselves for how the girls–now 3 1/2 and 1–would do on the trip.
They did fine, sleeping or watching movies most of the way. And I entertained myself with a book while he drove down I-85 through Atlanta to I-20 through Birmingham, and we finally made our way to little, ol’ Batesville, Miss.
We were able to stay a week. It was a whirlwind family reunion of sorts. The doctor cousin drove in from Texas, the lawyer flew in from California and the professor from Oklahoma had driven in two days before Gramma died. Gramma’s hoarse utterance of her name was one of her last words, and the professor lay by her bedside as dear Gram took her last breath.
I watched the next generation of cousins play–and wondered how in the world we’d explain to our 3 1/2 year old why Gramma lay there “sleeping” while the rest of us hovered round in the funeral home. Of course, she had only met her a handful of times during our yearly visits, so she honestly didn’t remember her.
We told her Gramma was in Heaven with Jesus now, but her body was still here, and we needed to say goodbye. After the funeral service, we drove to the cemetery, but I stayed in the van with the girls as my husband got out to pay his last respects.
After about 30 minutes, our little girl finally said: “Mommy, why is Daddy taking SO long to say goodbye to his grandma?!”
I got a little laugh out of that one. From the mouth of babes: Gramma was already gone, having been with Jesus these past three days, but Daddy, well Daddy had to say goodbye…for Daddy.
And when we passed by the cemetery later in the week, she pointed from the van window and said: “Look, Daddy–that’s where your grandma’s body is!”
I wonder if she will remember. When she’s older, I wonder if she will look back to her first funeral and remember: watching her great-grandmother “sleeping,” running around the funeral home with her cousins, seeing her Daddy cry for the first time…
Despite the long nights during the infant years, the battles that the “terrible twos” bring and the challenges of potty training, sometimes I think parenting when they are too little to understand the heavier things in life is perhaps the easiest season of parenting after all.
When we arrived back in Mooresville this weekend, I opened up a cabinet in our kitchen and dusted off an old spiral-bound notebook I hadn’t looked at in years: “Gramma’s Recipes.”
It was a belated wedding gift–page after page of hand-written recipes.
“Dear Will and Erin, This may be a recipe book that you’ll never use, but in years to come it may become a treasure to you. You will learn something about your past–about your great-great grandmother, your great grandmother and me. Know that my love for you two is found written in the recipes in this book. God Bless, Gramma-Feb.-March 2007” (We married in July 2005.)
A treasure, yes–for Will, for me and for our girls. They may not remember meeting Gramma, they may not even remember her funeral one day, but they will “remember” her through the pages of her recipe book.