We had a memorial service for my grandmother this past Saturday. She died on the eve of Christmas Eve last year, and this was the first chance we had to get everyone together. It was an interesting experience, but I felt somewhat detached.
My parent's pastor said a few words and a prayer and asked those of us gather to relate examples of my grandmother's sense of humor. I had nothing to add at the time. I remember my dad telling stories of my grandmother's humor. She once sewed (almost) every hole in one of his sweaters shut; the only hole she left open was the one at his waist...
After a few prayers, my dad spread my grandmother's ashes in the Columbia River. Then, he drank a gulp of beer (her preferred drink, though she gave it up when my grandpa got sick) and poured the rest of it over her ashes in the water. Followed by a bloom from my grandmother's rose. The rose was from a small plant that she'd had when she moved into the assisted living facility, but she was worried that it was dying in the room with her so she asked someone to take care of it for her. That was three years ago. According to the caretaker, it bloomed every year but hadn't bloomed this year until just this past week. We all stood there watching the current catch and pull the ashes, and for just a moment I was overwhelmed by the idea that I would never see my grandmother again; never touch her extremely soft skin; never kiss her whiskery cheek; never hear her recitations.
My grandmother was sharp as a tack to the very end, at least until the doctor's put her in a drug-induced coma to manage her pain. She was a whiz at reciting poems and songs from days-gone-by, and could remember things she had learned as a very little kid. I wish that I had learned some of them from her; I'd like to have that connection with her, and I'd like to be able to pass them on to the future.
Then, my father, my brother, his wife and the pastor rode up the hill and my dad placed the remainder of my grandmother's ashes at the base of a tree around which he had also spread the ashes of his other family members, my grandfather and my uncle. It hits me now, as it did in December, that my father is an orphan; the only remaining member of his birth family. He has no surviving predecessors. That makes me ache for him, and for my children, who can no longer touch that part of their history.
Finally, we went to another park for a picnic. Perhaps some of my grandmother's ashes floated by us while my children frolicked in the river. Perhaps, instead, she settled in the soil of the river she loved so much. Or perhaps she did both. And, even though we were never really close, she did have a hand in making me who I am.
Wherever you are, Grandma, I love you.