My grandmother died in the early hours of morning just two days after Christmas. The Hospice nurses said she had a peace about her near the end. They said she asked if her children were playing in the corner of her room. She kept repeating “I have to feed the kids.” Sounds just like her. I am so thankful for this peace. For calmness to have entered where there had been nothing but restless, nightmarish delusions in the weeks leading up to her death.
I don’t know how to say it all. This is all so fresh in my heart. Words seem so small when you try to squeeze this much blood into them. I miss her, achingly. Heaving over, I long for her. I have never lived life without my grandmother. Close to her death, I saved all the voicemails she left on my phone so that I could hear her voice once she was gone. Now, I can’t bear to hear her telling me how I forgot to take the tomatoes when I left or that she’s checking in to see how me and the kids are doing. It seems, or at least I feel, I need her now more than ever before.
On the day of her funeral, the women all wore red. We wore red because red was her favorite color. Everyone in the family knows “red” isn’t just “red”, it’s “Sipe Red”. Sipe was her last name, as it was for all three of her sisters. As children of the Depression, they didn’t have much say in the color of their simple cotton flour sack dresses, but as the sisters grew, they grew into wearing the color red. When they were small, they had small shoes and small dresses but as they grew into women, the shoes became higher and the dresses more detailed. In pictures, red cardigans were thrown over their shoulders and their lips were painted red. They drove red cars and I’m sure added a few red lacy undergarments into the mix. It became their signature color. They passed their love for the color onto their daughters and finally to their granddaughters. I don’t remember a time in my childhood when I didn’t have a pair of red patent leather shoes to outgrow or a “red egg” died with beet juice in my Easter basket.
When one of the sisters has passed, the women of the family do not wear black to their funerals, we wear red. Red dresses, red sweaters, red shoes. Red symbolizes and embodies the strength of these vibrant women. We have honored them in this way. So, on the day of my grandmother’s funeral, I dressed myself in red. My three daughters wore red and my son even put on a dapper red bow tie. I think she would have liked to see all of us in so much red. But I had to leave the church, watch men place her into the ground, come home and take off my red sweater to start another day. I took a single rose with tips tinged in red from her grave to press and keep with me in my journal, close to my heart, to remember. Just to remember.
My grandmother taught me to savor life’s simple comforts without even knowing it. There’s glory in a summer’s tomato and the skinned knee of a playing grandchild. Tastes and smells to savor just before they crack the bow of your heart. When I am in the kitchen, restitching her ways, she’ll come to me, whispering through my intuition “just a pinch here”or “till it looks right”. There’s divinity in the massive mounds of simple petunias and yellow day lilies as they sprayed all over her front porch, greeting me as I pulled up in the driveway. I’ll separate and plant those lilies, paying it forward from one place to the next, making sure I leave a place more beautiful than when I found it. From behind wire-rimmed glasses, sitting in her armchair, she taught me when to stay and how to leave and the strength to do both. I anticipate more teachings and will remember her in so many ways, but when I want to savor the essence of her spirit, I’ll wear red.