Life is absurd. And life is precious. Family is a lot of both.

Thursday, June 27, 2013

Grandmother's Hands

The day began early. I dressed quickly and hurried to the back bedroom to check on my Grandmother, asleep in the hospital bed which had arrived two days before. At 95, her heart was giving out quickly and a severe spell meant her life was about to end as she had always planned—in her own home, surrounded by those who love her. God bless a hospice system that allows such endings to occur peacefully.

I reached out and held a hand that had been holding mine for more than 42 years. Her hand was always warm. It was always soft and sweet-smelling, like her favorite pink baby lotion. Her hand was always smooth and strong, doubtless from the hard work she made look so easy. From my earliest memories, those hands lifted me onto the kitchen counter, helped tie dozens of pairs of ballet shoes, applauded for moments both great and small, and were folded in prayer many times a day.

Each of us believes we were her favorite.
Grandmother’s hands produced from her purse sticks of Juicy Fruit for fidgety grandchildren, endless quarters for video games, and a baggie with a freshly moistened paper towel every single time we needed it. Those hands traced photos of whichever children were not nearby and patted the knees of those who were. They wrote checks for frivolous treats and serious investments on behalf of us all. No arguing, she would say as she handed over her money. No doubting, she would say as she folded her hands in daily prayer for every single one of those she called her own.

She fed two children, five grandchildren and 13 greats.
They were hands that rolled out hundreds of perfect pie crusts, stirred together countless bowls of chocolate chip cookie dough, battered the best fried chicken in the world practically every Sunday for lunch, and were used to measure out seasonings for all of her recipes in such a way that she could never pass them on with specific amounts. Those same hands were folded again and again in prayer to bless the food she had prepared for her beloved family, ever thankful for the bounty we enjoyed and the source of it all.

The day I said good-bye her hands were still warm, though frail and spotted with age. She could squeeze my hands and smile and say good-bye and don’t cry as she held on. “Please don’t stop praying for us,” I asked her. She didn’t have to answer.

A true matriarch, she was teaching us until her very last day.
And so I kissed and hugged her for the very last time and walked away to drive to my home nine hours north.  I had to gather my family and sort out the jobs and the meetings and the packing that a last-minute trip back for her funeral would require. We both knew I wanted to stay, but we both knew I needed to go so that we could all be back for a final good-bye.

The day ended late. I was finally home and rocking my littlest before bed. He grabbed my hand and I could not help but notice the pink skin and dimpled wrists and a lifetime ahead in his grip. Who will hold his hand on his last day and remember all it had given? One who had been a lifetime recipient of his love, I hoped. And I prayed. Just like Grandmother taught me.

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Driven to Grief

It was supposed to be the closest thing to a vacation I will get this year. I drove four children, four bikes, six suitcases, two parakeets and a variety of playthings to Texas for a two-week visit with my extended family. We loaded up our trusty old (as in 195,000 miles) Suburban and headed south, thankful that the horrible tornado had already come and gone in Oklahoma.

The short story is that the car broke down as we sat in the traffic of rubberneckers slowing in Moore, OK, to see all the damage caused by that tornado. I managed to restart it and limp it off the interstate to three different shops before someone had the time to assess our problem. Getting it fixed meant leaving it in Oklahoma City and cramming all of us and our stuff into my parents’ SUV for the two-hour drive to their house just across the Red River. You are never really too old to have your daddy come and rescue you, by the way.

Thinking the worst was behind me, I was able to enjoy time with family and borrowed various vehicles that week to get around. My plan to go back and get the repaired Suburban was cut short by a phone call that left me speechless. “I am so sorry, Mrs. Bartee,” she said. “Immediately after the second round of tornadoes yesterday our shop’s electricity was knocked out, we had our first break-in in 25 years, and the thieves stole your car.” Speechless, I tell you. They stole a car with almost 200K, torn leather seats, impenetrable stains, and sticky cup holders.

I am usually very unsentimental about things. But I took the loss of our family car kind of hard. There are five stages of grief, you know, and I have been through them all.

1. Denial. As in, “No, no, no, no, no. There is no way any sane crook would choose such an old car to steal. Really. That car was on its last tire and the dashboard vinyl was peeling and the heated seats haven’t worked in years. They don’t want MY car. They want something newer and better and more fun. And I definitely do NOT have time for this. No, no, no, no, no.”

2. Anger. As in, “Are you kidding me?! Suburbans are popular to steal because of their parts? You mean to tell me they used that car, the very one we drove home from the hospital with our youngest and the setting of many happy family road trips, to crash through a metal security fence? And we STILL have to pay for the fuel pump? And I had just filled up the tank to the tune of $85? And if they happen to find it we have to take it back and forego any settlement? What?!?!?”

Happy family, happy car!

Right there in the background of an all-American Cub Scout parade moment.

 3. Bargaining. As in, “Okay, insurance company, I know what the stated value is. I realize it’s not your problem that the tank was full, and I had never made a copy of the college-era photo of my husband and me that was in there, and that my kid’s favorite pillow is one of the things we left behind, and that my hard-earned marathon sticker was on the back window. But let’s discuss why that car was worth so much more than what Kelly’s Blue Book wants to tell you. I mean, if you think an old Suburban with so many miles is worth only THAT…well, I’m just not sure that’s acceptable. No really. I insist. Let’s negotiate a little more.”
So many many memories.

4. Depression. As in, “The reasonable thing to do is take the (measly) settlement from the insurance company and invest in a used minivan instead of a new SUV as we are about to have two kids in college for the next four years. But here’s the thing—I’m a mom who spends most of my time hauling kids around. Driving a black Suburban let me pretend I was in the Secret Service or guest-starring on an episode of 24. I have already owned three different vans. Have to be honest—there is no pretending I am a crime fighter in a van. Sigh.”

One of the four vans we have owned over the years.

5. Acceptance. As in, “Fine. This is incredibly frustrating and a huge inconvenience, but a car is just a car. The fact that the saga began against the backdrop of a neighborhood devastated by a natural disaster makes it pretty easy to keep everything in the right perspective. In a very abrupt and unkind way we lost something. But it was just some thing.”

I do believe that, but it’s possible I am still working through the depression stage when it comes to the minivan. I’m more than a little bummed that my imaginary career as a spy is over.