Pieces

How do you say goodbye to the person who shapes so much of who are? That is what I have to do.

In many ways it has been a long goodbye, drawn out by time and forgotten memories. My nanna had changed so much in the last ten years–years marked with unspeakable losses and seismic shifts. She lost a grandson, a son, her husband, and a loving son-in-law. She sold and moved from the home she made with Grandaddy. And as all of this happened, little pieces of her drifted away. Her memories lost in a cloud of mini strokes (her spells she called them) until a major one finally claimed her.

Max keeps praying to Nanna every day. “Nanna, I hope you have a good life in heaven. I hope you are happy.” His father chuckles at his innocence while I tell Max that he can talk to Nanna whenever he wants.

This is the truth I tell him. The ones we lose are with us in pieces. For me, Nanna is with me in gestures and actions pieced in my everyday life.

Every time I open a book, Nanna is with me. After all she is the one who made me love them. Not because she herself was a great lover of reading (though she read her Bible every day), she would drive my brother and me to Kemp Public Library every week in the summer to check out books. It was there that I checked out and read some of my favorite books–The Velveteen Rabbit, Little Women, The Hobbit.

Last night I wound the hanks of alpaca yarn to knit a sweater for Madeleine. As I wound the yarn into lilac balls, I could see Nanna, yarn piled in her lap, with her crochet hook an fast fingers working on an afghan, hat, or scarf for someone she loved. While I never enjoyed crocheting even after she taught me, her love of yarn led me to learn to knit. Like her, I almost never knit something for myself.

My nanna was the consummate hostess. Every Sunday she made a large dinner spread. She set the table with a lovely white cotton tablecloth trimmed with flowers. These dinners were not necessarily a special occasion, but she made them that way. They were not just for our family. Each week new faces would join the table–sometimes the pastor and his family, sometimes aunts, uncles, cousins, and later my friends–they loved her lasagna. Her home was a gathering place for all. When I went to college, I took that with me. I knew food brought people together, so I used it to connect with those around me. When I was lonely or wanted to know people better, I invited them over for dinner. My closest friendships forged with bread and wine.

Before she passed, I asked her, “Nanna, do you remember how we used to make candy together?” She taught me how to watch the temperature by plopping the sugary mixture into cool water. She would stir, and I would add ingredients. Later, I would do the vigorous stirring while she added the ingredients until finally I would have to make it on my own. When I asked her, she couldn’t respond. Her speech already lost to the blockage in her brain. She squeezed my hand.

All these pieces–parts of me–remain even after a goodbye like the sweet lingering of fragrance of lilies from fresh cut flowers. Fudge, Sunday dinner, lasagna, rainbow sherbet, “Brookies”, crochet, hymns, singing, cards, libraries, poems, crosswords, doodles. These are the pieces left even after someone is gone.

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Warning: Spontaneous Emotions May Overflow

 

Today my dad would have been 75.  I didn’t realize it right away.  As every morning, I became caught up in my routine.  I woke, showered, ate, drove to school–the same as every weekday morning.

It wasn’t until a student came to me for a pass to work on Shakespeare scenes during homeroom when it hit me.

“Today is April…” I hesitated trying to remember what yesterday had been.

“The 25th,” she said.

I paused and jotted the number down as the realization came and my eyes burned with the holding back of preliminary tears.

“Here ya go,” I said quickly and handed her the small green paper.

I held my breath as she left and then released it slowly.

My morning went on as usual.  During my planning time, I checked my phone including a quick review of Facebook.  There it was again.  The reminder.  It’s his birthday.  I quickly tucked my phone away.  I wasn’t ready to deal with the full range of emotions such a realization brings.

And I went on with my day.  I talked about totalitarian governments.  A student brought up her father’s own involvement with air force intelligence during a brief discussion on spies.  There it was again.  I remembered you had done that too.  I answered her questions and moved on.

I taught Shakespeare.  Miranda proposed to Ferdinand, and Prospero expressed his happiness.  Students eagerly asked me about my proposal, and I told the story of how Jedidiah asked my father’s permission.  Jedidiah had asked, and he said, “Are you sure?”  It’s one of my favorite stories to tell.  And there it was again.

Once my day was over, I came home and looked at the calendar.  There it was.  Your picture and no longer just a birthdate and year…there was the death year.  There was such a finality to it.  Then I finally cried.  All of it, out like a flood.  I sobbed.  My throat burned and felt tight.  It hurt to swallow.  There it was again…finally.

And even though it’s your birthday, Dad, it’s there every day.  That reminder that you were, and then suddenly you were not.

I think of you every day.  Some days are just harder than others.  Today is always one of those days.

Little Brother

Good morning, Little Brother,

It’s hard to believe it’s been 10 years since I’ve seen you.  I still remember the last time we were together, hanging out on the porch with Dad.  It was late fall, and he was sweeping the leaves from the tile on the porch.  I had just told you that you were going to have a niece.

I still remember when I heard. Jedidiah’s reaching for the cell phone in the car roused me from my half sleep.  He looked so alarmed but gave no clue as to why.  I knew something was wrong–the way he urgently asked Bobby questions and slowly pulled the car over.  My first thought was something had happened to Dad.  You weren’t even on my radar.  You were a cat with nine lives.  You were always convinced you were invincible.  I guess somehow you had convinced me too.

It’s hard to lose a sibling–your only sibling.  Who knows you like that?  Who else knows and understands those childhood secrets and dreams?  The mischievous plans forged through walkie talkies and late nights?  The sneaking down the hall to see what grownup shows the parents watched? From the moment one of you is born, a relationship like no other is forged–especially if it’s just the two of you.  I felt like David losing Jonathan.  I still feel like that sometimes–whenever I hear “Somewhere Out There” or “Ice, Ice, Baby.”  You’re the only one who  could know or understand because you lived my childhood with me.

You never had the chance to meet your niece and nephew.  You would be so proud of Madeleine.  Her brilliance would blow you away, and you would tell her just how much she is like me.  And Max?  He reminds me every day of you.  You would have been the first person he would have called when he scored his first soccer goal this year.  I look at him, and I see you.  It helps.

So today, ten years later, I want you to know I miss you.  I miss you every day.  In honor, maybe I’ll give our old friend Coconut a call.  She probably misses you too.

**Please take a moment to remember those whose lives have been changed by suicide today.**