She was an older woman, wearing pearls. She stepped out of one of the other rooms at the hospice and asked my cousins and me to be quiet. We moved to the benches outside after that. Later, as she was leaving, she said, “Thank you. I have a loved one dying in there.”
All I could think was, Who doesn’t?
We were dealing with grief the only way we knew how. Not with pearls and elegant clothing and quiet, but with laughter and hugs and remembering. I will always remember: his red skin; his big hands; his deep voice; his frightening smoker’s cough; his love for my grandmother; his love for all of us; and his peace as death approached.
He was eighty-three. He and my grandmother had been married sixty-three years. Their sons were sixty-two and fifty-nine. They had four grandchildren. They had seven great grandchildren. Now my grandma is alone for the first time in her life, and she cries at random memories. But she laughs, too.
When I am old and dying, I hope that there will be relatives around me laughing, touching, and remembering. I hope I don’t have any relatives who will wear pearls and speak too quietly for me to hear. I want to go out on a cloud of rising laughter even as the tears fall like rain from beneath it.
Her weathered and creased hands hold memories:
She played peek-a-boo with Baby Brother
On cotton bedding in an earthen home
When everyone was poor and life was hard.
Early mornings, farmland warmed by weak sun,
Her strong fingers grasped and milked cow's udders,
Part of chores before the long walk to school.
Her creased hands hold weathered memories:
In worn leather jacket and high-water jeans,
He claimed her hand with his soulful blue eyes
And tender letters written from boot camp.
In tough leather gloves and a safety veil,
She stole amber-colored honey from bees
And taught her young sons to be courageous.
Her hands hold creased and weathered memories:
In the final years of her mother's life,
She held her weak hand while the slight woman
Lost her way, not remembering her child.
She smiled and held the photos out to me;
Her strong, sound mind shared the fragile slivers
Of time and place that connect us to life:
Her weathered and creased hands hold memories.