My grandmother's hands held a bouquet of pretend-to-be flowers. About once or twice a year, she would tell my mother that she had purchased new ones and needed to go place them at the site. We loaded up in the car, me in the back and my grandmother in the front with my mom, and wound through the little network of pretend-to-be streets until we reached the right spot. I was little, and it was mysterious to me. This place, this lady that had gone on before us. The tragedy left my grandmother in a broken place, and any time someone mentioned her name, she got up and left the room. I questioned my mother when we were alone about her sister and the circumstances surrounding her death, and my mom always answered freely. She had lost her only sister in a car accident before I turned two, a day that shook her family and changed their lives forever.
We wandered in between the rows of bronze and granite. Names, dates, loved ones laid out at my little feet as I followed my mother and grandmother to the special spot. My mom would always kneel down and pick away any weeds surrounding her sister's name. My grandmother would take the old flowers out and place the new ones, fluff them up a bit and then just stand there a minute. I don't remember her saying much or even crying any tears while we were there. I feel certain she reserved her tears for when she was alone.
At the time, I didn't understand the emotions. I was trying as best I could to put the bits and pieces that I gathered all together to make some sense of what it all meant, but my little brain wasn't capable. My big brain still isn't quite able.
Some things just don't seem right whether your brain is big or small.
Yesterday, I wove through those same little narrow streets. I went to see my Mama first. She is easy to find. A statue of Jesus stands several yards behind her with His arms stretched out. Her spot is just off the cracking asphalt, and I sat down and looked at her name, the dates, the newness of the bronze, remembering the wee hours of the morning in which I sat at her kitchen table looking at the options for the marker while I waited on a man in a black suit to carry her out the front door.
Then, I found my grandmother. She's a little more difficult to find. She's down in the midst of so many strangers. I had to hunt for a few minutes to find her name, but I finally found her by using the three large pines as a landmark. And I set out to find my aunt, the one who held me as a baby though I can't remember. She's not very far from my grandmother. I stood in that spot where as a child I watched a scene of quiet grief. Now, at 35, I stand on the same patch of thick grass with so much grief in my heart it nearly bursts. These ladies, all three, all gone.
I thought about the child that stood there in wonderment and curiosity and how she had no clue she'd only have her own Mama for 35 years. I thought about the two lovely ladies that had always been by my side. And I realize that I am there alone. And that's when the tears fell.
You see, sometimes the grief is more about your identity than it is about a feeling. The loss of familiar connection. The loss of a glue that held it together. The loss of commonality, consistency, tradition. It's the realization that everything all at one time is completely different, and yet, somehow, I have to carry on the same. I find myself feeling as confused and bewildered as that child who was just along for the ride thirty years ago.
I spent Saturday night reconnecting, mixing up a new batch of glue. Four adult cousins. Four different lives and ages and stages of life. Four ladies with a thread of familiarity no matter how long we go without talking or how many miles lie between. A blood running through us not exactly the same but not altogether different. Family. Sometimes when what we know to be family is no more, when the people who have always been there have gone before us, the need and desire to create a new sense of family burns within. And somewhere down the road, things will all look totally different but feel so familiar it won't seem strange at all.