Wednesday, April 25, 2012

I Carry Her Name with Me

What do I do when I can't sleep?

I write, among other things. And tonight, I write and work and write and think.

Tonight, I carry her name. (I carry it with me.)

gen and joe, gram and gramps, 1962

Genevieve. It sits in between my first and last name, and has always been one of my favorite things. The only grandparent I've ever known is her, so naturally, she's my favorite. The rest have all passed, gone on. She has remained and has given me an example of a woman who knew her worth, even more than I think she'd give herself credit for.

I know no one lives this life perfectly. My grandmother would tell you that. My memories of her are good. And sometimes hard. But mostly endearing, honest, strong. Mom tells me I don't remember the bad things about people. She says it's good I don't remember how upset Gram was the night she had to drive me home after I decided I didn't want to spend the night. I remember the night. I don't remember her anger. I have a selective memory it seems, and my mind only steals away with the good.

(You can bet this carries over for most people. It's why I rarely nurture grudges; I hardly remember them.)

The days she waited for me at the sidewalk after school. Her car, talk radio, rosary beads dangling from the rear view mirror. The camp at the lake. Teaching me how to tat a doily. Hours of Full House and Saved by the Bell and Catholic Mass from her couch with her world famous waffles, coins of chocolate. The comfort of her home after late night play practices. And when she could still remember, her stories. Goodness, her stories. Traveling. Friendships. Family. Her notebooks of tales. Her whos, wheres, whys and tears.

We age, we grow, we forget that life is passing quickly. So I would send letters, pictures, and visit when I could.

The last visit, Madeleine spun around in a hat and showed her a litany of tricks. Old, aged and tired, she watched and clapped. 98 years is a long time, and I see the toll of it in her eyes. I couldn't help but stare at her. She's so... old. I notice her hands as she adjusts the old crocheted afghan on her lap. They shake slightly as she fiddles with a loose piece of yarn. In this moment I can't help but wonder how she is feeling. Not just in her body, but in her heart. In her head.

Mom tells me she's fading. "We're not sure how long but she's nearing the end of her life."


Y'all, that is a whole lot of century to see and witness.

My sister says, "She's still gram, though. She's telling her old jokes still."
(sister: Gram, how are you feeling?
her: With my hands.)

But something strikes me tonight as I'm sitting in a room of friends. We are enjoying dinner, we are telling stories, and all I want is to keep busy. I want to keep my hands busy, my mind busy, my heart busy. I don't want to think about her alone, waiting. I don't want to think about the watching of a clock. I'm sobered by the nearness of death again. Reminded that it comes for us all. Grateful for the gift of family. Saddened by the normalness of it all. Knowing that even when I see her again, it will be short, quiet, and won't feel like enough.

This woman from whom I've inherited tablecloths, furniture, silverware, and a name.
We noticed smallest things,
Things overlooked before,
By this great light upon our minds
Italicized, as 't were.
(emily dickinson, 
excerpt fromtime and eternity)


  1. NINETY EIGHT YEARS!?!?!? My heart is aching thinking about a life lived so long .... and this is what drives me to tears. Stopping to THINK about the life of a loved one and how utterly sad it is to lose them - thinking about it even before they are gone. 98 years is such a long time! I cherish the memories I've written about the loved ones I've lost - writing helps the memory stay sweet.

    1. Exactly. That's a long life closing, a generation of stories we will never rehear. I'm cherishing, trying to capture it all and hope to see her before she's gone. Writing does help the memory stay sweet. And for me, it locks it in for me. It keeps it from slipping.