Wednesday, January 19, 2011

On the Trail of the Bittersweet

That trip to Idaho was a bittersweet thing.  Sweet, mostly, in ways I didn't expect.

Going back to see my Mom so quickly after being there for Christmas somehow eliminated all of the weird warming-up we usually have to do on our visits, the strange formality that exists between us as strangers with whole lifetimes of memories existing under the surface, and with the strain of her near-death, our relationship's near-death, a few years ago.  This time there was none of that.  We went shopping together, without any of the weirdness of my self-imposed rules about consumption.  We ate lunch together, made easier by the fact that I am no longer vegan.  We crawled into bed together and cried over Eat, Pray, Love (I know).  She told me I was beautiful, and I allowed myself to believe it.  I allowed myself to believe that maybe I still have my mother, that maybe I can soften a little around that and not protect myself so vigilantly.

And there was my grandmother's funeral.  It wasn't sad, really.  My aunts were sad, I think.  But for the most part, there was a gentle acceptance.  She was 94; lived a good life on her own terms; and died in the home she loved in the place she loved, surrounded by her girls.  The service was Episcopalian, with all the ritual that entails, but it wasn't stuffy.  The kids had placed Muggs's ashes in an MJB coffee can--MJB were her maiden initials, and she has used the can to huckleberry, and had requested that they "just put her ashes in a coffee can" when she died.  So they did.  There was laughter at the reception afterwards, an astonishment at the breadth of our family, all the kids, grandkids, great-grandkids.  The introductions to a cousin you know you recognize but about whom you know nothing, really.  So all that was good, and fine.

The Great-Grandkids

The sadness, for me, came on the way home, thinking about how it might be to live near my family, or near E's.  Thinking about the moments we miss, and that they miss, because we are apart.

Totally romanticizing things, of course.  I know that.

Still.  The longing is there.

Oh, and one more thing.  Like I said earlier, I don't feel like I knew my grandmother very well.  I didn't see my Dad much growing up, much less his family.  And they really only get together for funerals.  It's just "the Davies way," this friendly distance.

But my Aunt Diane told some lovely stories about my grandmother at the service, and one in particular stuck with me.  She talked about how there is usually one message or saying that sticks with us from our parents, one thing they say over and over again that then plays in our heads as our own.  For all six kids, she said, it would be my grandmother's voice saying, "Be yourself."

That's pretty after-school-special, isn't it?  Pretty inspirational-poster-stuff?  But I don't know what else to say except that it hit me like a ton of bricks, that fact that my grandmother passed that onto her kids, that imperative to individuality and uniqueness and self-security.  I'm sure they've had their own struggles, each of them, and yet it's hard not to look at them and see how each has done exactly that:  been themselves.

So I'm thinking on that this week, this injunction from my grandmother to "be myself."  For some reason, simple and cliche as it is, it's bringing me comfort and peace, and even joy.  It's even inviting me to laugh at and celebrate things I've maybe been ashamed of or intent on hiding.  And what a great thing for me to remember to tell my own kids.

Thanks, Grandma, for that.

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