T he repass would be at our house. Gram’s closest friend, Mavis, would handle the floral arrangements. The funeral would take place on Sunday. Just when it seemed everything was in place, the mortuary called Mama and said Gram would need something to wear. I watched as her eyes shifted left to right. Her mind moving a thousand miles a second. She was an only child and all of the planning had fallen on her.
Gram was one of eight, number seven in fact. All of her siblings except for one, Great Aunt Babe, had been called home. Even as the youngest, Auntie Babe was too frail to help with the arrangements. She already suffered two strokes and no one wanted to press her to bury her last surviving sibling. I watched Mama holding together her feelings. Of the nieces and nephews, she was the strong one. So, that means no one questions if you are okay. I tried to take some of the pressure off her, but she insisted on doing mostly everything on her own.
“I know you’ll do right by your mother,” said the women of Gram’s book club.
Gram spent practically every Saturday, for fifteen years, entertaining the women of Charmer’s Read. It had become her place of peace after Pop passed. Though Gram would never admit it, losing herself in the lives of characters helped her move past her hurt. For me, the club was my introduction to the love of literature. I listened as they dissected everything from the classics to modern literature, Shakespeare to Langston Hughes. Even on her sickest days, she insisted on running the meetings. Mama and I took turns getting her dressed. Putting on makeup was a must. Gram had to have it fixed just so, so her friends would focus more on their read for the month than her exhausted appearance.
Each month had a theme. “To be loved” was the theme that month. Gram was a romantic and felt from time-to-time a sprinkle of love was needed. I did not want her to get out of bed that day. Gram being Gram though, she had to. Looking back on it, I am glad she did. She had a chance to spend time with her friends and have a final opportunity to feel normal. In those moments, she was not the sick woman, now completely dependent on help from others. She was just one of the girls. Fooling around, laughing, and enjoying life.
I prefer to remember her this way. As a vivacious woman keen on maintaining her youthfulness and the importance of connections. I do not share these memories with Mama. Not right now at least. She cannot bear to talk about Gram these days. Her most vivid memories tend to be of Gram moving in with us and of her last few days on earth. A few years ago, she fell and needed a hip replacement. She stayed with us but hoped to return to home after she healed. Things did not go quite as Gram planned. After her surgery, her health kept declining. One thing after another until her body decided enough was enough.
Tired of the chaos downstairs from family and friends coming in and out, and decisions being made that I did not want to make, I figured I would check on Mama.
I found her in Gram’s room, going through her things. Carefully piecing together memories. The hat she wore on our last girls’ trip. Gram’s family photo from when she was six. Her tiny bottle of lily-scented perfume that she could not throw away until the last drop was gone. Mama reluctantly made her way to the closet and stared. Her hands hesitantly moved back and forth before she finally rested one on the crystal glass doorknob. She opened the door slowly, as if she did not know what to expect behind the door. She gazed over the clothes and tenderly ran her hands over the fabrics. Cotton. Silk. Polyester. Wool. They blended between her fingers. Mama lifted a sleeve and brought it to her nose. Lily. Lilac. Lavender. Gram had a thing for flowers. She was a florist by nature. A real green thumb.
I remember her garden. Every year, Gram was knee deep in soil. She could have been a landscape artist. Carefully plotting out each flower, each color, and the arrangement. That was her time to think. Sometimes mama and I would help. I loved those moments. Three generations sharing stories, advice and time together.
Her last arrangement sat on her nightstand neglected. Mama could have willed them back to life, but the funeral took precedence. It was odd; their wilted petals reflect the passing of time and life. The gradual transition to the unknown. Another side of somewhere.
Mama spotted me in the hall and smiled as she invited me into the room. I had not gone in since Gram passed. She took her last breath there. I can still see the image of her lying in bed. It was only right that she passed in her sleep. In the last few days, she was full of pain. It hurt to see that way. She tried to let on that her pain was not as bad, but Mama and I knew the truth.
I walked over to the closet and held Mama’s hand. We have always been close, but Gram’s passing put us in a different place. One that has caused us to question our own mortality.
Death has a strange way of doing that. One day you are thinking about your plans for the future, then, suddenly you are thinking about the end of life. Death means something different to everyone. To some, it is an unwanted part in life. To others, it is just that, a part. A culmination of one’s life; achievements, goals, sorrows, regrets. For mama, it is figuring out how to go on without her mother. For me, it is wondering how I would manage losing mine. I am an only child too.
Mama wrapped her arms around me and asked, “Which one should we choose?”
I looked through Gram’s closet and digested the gravity of this decision. This would be the last thing she wore. My eyes fell upon the rainbow of memories left behind. In its saddening beauty, I saw it. Lavender. Gram’s lavender dress from cousin Sharleen’s wedding. She said to me that day, “Lavender is for love.”
“How about this one?” I asked somewhat reluctantly. I did not want to spend too much time in Gram’s closet. I hoped the choice would be accepted.
Mama took a deep breath, tilting her head slightly to the left as if she was marveling at a work of art. She tended to do that when she was in deep thought. Most times, when she does that she wants to take more time to consider her options.
“I think this will do just fine,” she said.
We drove to the mortuary to drop off the dress and stopped for dinner on the way back. Mama seemed different. Calmer. Maybe she had cried enough that there was only acceptance left. A few times, I heard her in the night. She tried to muffle the sound with her pillow, but I could still hear. I was sure she heard me too.
“Gram wouldn’t have wanted us to mourn her,” Mama said as she lifted her cup of coffee. She drank that when she felt stressed. “She would have wanted us to celebrate her.”
I believed her. Gram was a woman that lived her life as full as she could. I do not doubt she would have continued to live the same way if her health had not gotten in the way.
Sitting in Gram’s room the next morning reminded me that I had not picked out something for the funeral. I went through my closet, but nothing felt right. I could not just wear black. That was not Gram. As much as I hate shopping, I decided to go to the mall. I looked through rack after rack. For some reason I thought it would be easier. I thought the hardest choice would be finding something for Gram. I was about to give up when it appeared, peeking through the mess of clothing tossed everywhere. A lavender shawl. It was as if Gram led me to it. I grabbed two. One for me, and one for Mama.
Sunday came quickly. Maybe because I wanted to skip the day altogether. But it was here, and there was nothing else to do except go through with it. I decided to wait until that morning to give the shawl to Mama.
“How about we jazz up that dress?” I asked Mama.
I wrapped the shawl around her shoulders, cradling her as if she was my baby.
“You’re gonna have us looking like twins,” Mama joked. It was the first sound of pure joy I heard from her in days. “What made you get two?”
“It’s lavender. Lavender is for love, and I love you.”
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