I vividly remember laying in the swing my Pop Pop built in their big green backyard on a pool float because the wooden swing was too hard for my sensitive first grandchild back with her fingers running through my hair listening to her sweet soprano voice sing “Swing Low Sweet Chariot.” I spent so many nights at their house, sleeping in their bed with them, falling asleep while she rubbed my back. I now know how crowded a bed is with two adults and a four or five year old in between you, but they never seemed to care. I always woke up to the house smelling like bacon and big breakfasts of eggs, grits, bacon and her delicious buttermilk biscuits with homemade pear preserves. I watched her make those biscuits from scratch, never measuring, always knowing just the right amount of what to add and forming them with her hands before putting them in the buttered round pan that went in the oven. It’s how I make biscuits now.
On Sundays, being at church with them was like being a celebrity. It seemed like they knew everyone and they were so proud to show me off to their friends. Pop Pop sang in the choir and I would sit with Nonnie often drawing on offering envelopes and listening to her singing hymns. Then we’d all meet for lunch at their house after church where she’d usually have mashed potatoes, which are still my favorite food. She would frequently apologize for the lumps, but I never noticed them. Her mashed potatoes were the best thing I have ever tasted lumps or not.
Then, there was Christmas at the Country House, my absolute favorite. Nonnie grew up in Clio, Alabama. You’ve never heard of it, I’m sure, because it’s in the middle of nowhere and it’s tiny and precious and beautiful. The house she grew up in burned down and then her family rebuilt their home in the same spot and my family still owns it. Nonnie and her siblings and their families would all gather there around Christmastime when I was little. I was small and so everything seemed huge, but I’m sure it was a lot of people. I have no idea how that many people slept in a three bedroom house. Now that I’m an adult and aware of family dynamics, I’m sure it was very stressful for all of the adults involved. I remember a lot of arguing amongst Nonnie and her sisters about meals and meal planning, but as a kid it was fantastic! There was food, and more importantly, desserts everywhere you looked. I was a little taller than table height and would run around grabbing treats anytime I wanted. Have you ever had Divinity? There was a lot of that.
If you can’t already tell, I had a pretty fantastic childhood because I had really amazing adults in my life and I don’t take that for granted. Nonnie is responsible for a lot of that. I know not many people are lucky enough to know their grandmothers into their thirties. She was a huge part of my life growing up, present at my wedding and was able to hold and kiss my babies. Those were dreams of mine and they came true. I can still hear her voice singing, “I love you a bushel and a peck, a bushel and a peck and a hug around the neck…” I know I’m incredibly fortunate to be able to say these things and I am so thankful.
Nonnie left us two weeks ago after a lot of suffering. I’m relieved and thankful that after her stroke in 1997 and being in a very limited body for years, she is no longer limited. I know she’s at peace with Jesus whom she loved so very much. I rejoice that she is relieved of that body and her pain and I know my family does too.
And yet we still grieve her loss. I know we all miss her so much. Even though we knew it was time for her to go, we’re still sad. It’s a strange combination of feelings to know it was time, to be relieved she’s not suffering, to have the reassurance of our faith that she is safe and at peace and to grieve at the same time, but I think that grief is so much a part of our human experience. I think grief is God given because love is God given. I think our grief is big because our love for Nonnie is big.
As Glennon Doyle says, “Grief is, like joy, is HOLY. Grief is love’s souvenir. It’s our proof that we once loved. Grief is the receipt we wave in the air that says to the world: Look! I loved well. Here is my proof that I paid the price.”
I used to be really afraid of grief, like it would swallow me up if I let it catch up with me. I would run from it like a big dark monster chasing me, but I’ve learned that grief, like love, is an honor. It means we’ve had something or someone really good. It wants us to slow down and honor what we’ve lost: a person, a relationship, a potential life, a potential love, a job, expectations, a marriage, a child, whatever the loss and what it represented for us. Just like we let ourselves love, we can stop, be still and grieve who or what we’ve lost. We can honor that person or thing and what it represented for us.
It will come in waves, sometimes and especially when we least expect it, like in the grocery store or when you’re giving your kids a bath, but if we allow it, eventually, I think, it changes us. I don’t think it goes away. We never stop missing or loving our person. But I think like water flowing repeatedly rocks, it carves us more into who we are.
So as I grieve, I honor my Nonnie. She loved us so well. She and Pop Pop both made me feel so incredibly loved and delighted in. They always made me feel like I was the best thing to happen since coffee or chocolate. And I think that is like the love of the Father, what an amazing gift she gave me. The weekend before she passed she told me she loved me more than I’ll ever know, but I think I know exactly how much.