We stand on the grass (my mother, father, and my uncle who has come so far to say his goodbyes). I kneel down to trace the carved flowers, names, and dates on the name plates of their urns with my fingertips. They are finally side-by-side, where they belong I suppose, resting together in silent stillness.
For twenty-one long years she spoke lovingly and longingly to him, each evening before going to sleep. She kept his urn and a photo of him on her dresser. Some find this an odd thing to do, but everybody does grieve and deal with loss in their own special ways.
I would talk to him, up there in her room sometimes, but my memories of him were beginning to fade – fuzzy around the edges of my mind’s procuring of my opa.
For sure twenty-one years was an awful long time for my oma to be without him. She brought it up often, the hole left in her life since losing him to a heart attack so suddenly.
They had been married for nearly fifty years and had come across an ocean together, starting over here in Canada after World War II and the horrors they’d certainly both seen.
I loved to visit her and we tried to help her feel a little less lonely for him, by visiting as often as possible.
She could always be found down in the basement, with the television cranked as she became harder and harder of hearing.
Or else I would open her porch door and then the one into the house, calling for her, and into the kitchen she would come in her slippers. I can still recollect the clip clip noise they made as she walked across the linoleum.
She always had a bowl of chocolate bars and a fruit cellar, not full of just fruit alone, but many cans of pop.
She told her grandchildren the doctor assured her chocolate was good for us. What grandchild doesn’t love to hear that?
Okay okay, so she fed us healthy things too, on occasion: apple slices with the peelings removed. Of course, because they weren’t good for us. Perhaps she thought, even if you washed the apples first, that dirt might still be clinging to the outside.
Her special pancakes, with the correct number of eggs, and with plenty of Ketchup of course.
I miss her little house, which I live close by and feel so far removed from now.
I miss the way she used to say my name. Her accent affected every word she said, but it gave her character and made me feel like she was from a different world entirely, one I would never truly know.
I miss her laugh.
I miss our big birthday celebrations. Our birthdays were only days apart.
Of course she could be a lot to handle sometimes, for a lot of people.
I know now that I got the best of her, something others experienced much less of.
She could be damn stubborn when she wanted to. She would plant her feet firmly on her little piece of solid ground and Heaven help you if you tried to make her move.
She couldn’t remember my boyfriend’s name, so:
“How’s your boyfriend? Where’s your boyfriend today?”
That was the best he or I could hope for, but I could tell she was happy to know I might be taken care of and loved, after she was gone and couldn’t be the one to watch over me.
She was bad with names by this point, often saying one son’s name when she meant another, or simply running through them all, hoping to get the correct one eventually.
I could go on forever with these memories, but everything does come to an end.
She fell and broke her hip, remaining in hospital and never recovering. She was mostly bright and upbeat when I’d visit her there, until the end that is.
The last time I visited her I held her hand and spoke gently to her, hoping against hope she knew I was there, as she clutched her afghan, but the awful little whimpers she made were telling enough. I knew the sound when I heard it, the noise one makes when they are in terrible pain.
I knew enough about pain to recognize the end when I heard it, as hard as that was. I desperately hoped they were keeping her comfortable and that she would soon slip away in peace, like we’d always hoped she might do in her own bed at home.
“No nursing homes,” she’d say. Such tough decisions my father and uncle had to make.
I knew that I’d never hear her say my name again. Would I ever be okay again, I wondered, if she was not there to love me like she always had?
After we lost her, I sat in the room and touched her still hand and her cheek. In that moment, she felt less like the woman I had hugged goodbye so many times at the door and more like the dolls she kept in her spare room or the China dolls she’d given to me when I was ill.
I felt her rib cage and realized, finally, how skinny she had gotten from refusing to eat in those final days and weeks.
I was nervous to speak at her funeral. I knew mine would be a much different tribute, in words and tone, than my cousin who also spoke. Memories are simply an individual person’s perspectives and interpretations of what once was. I hoped my eulogy reflected that awareness.
I was nervous to have her only daughter there to hear me speak. I was happy beyond words to have her with us, but hoping with all my might that something I said would not trigger a painful memory.
These things I could not control, like the loss of her. Oma. Anna. You are missed.
February 7, 1921 to June 15, 2010.