This has been a week of transitions. The weather changed from rain to snow and back to rain, the season shifted from Thanksgiving to Christmas, my best friend and her pets moved from small-town Eugene to big-town Portland, and my great-grandmother transitioned from life to death. I am grateful for the ability to bear witness to these changes, to the rhythmic movement of life. I am grateful for the ability to use my pen to stay present to these moments.
I loved my great-grandmother, Eva. She was a storyteller, a poet, and a lover of God. She died in the peaceful way many of us hope to expire: at home, in her own bed, and in her sleep. She was one-month shy of her ninety-sixth birthday. She was a widow, a mother of seven, a grandmother, great-grandmother, and great-great grandmother. She was a woman who lived. She was a woman who loved. She was a woman who ate raw onions with her meals and read her Bible everyday. She once told me that, growing up, she could eat a sweet onion like an apple and her pastor always said she knew the Bible better than he did. Her father had been a revivalist Pentacostal minister in Southern Missouri beginning in the late 1800s and she grew up playing the organ in the church he built. I was unable to attend her funeral, but I was in her home on the day her organ was hauled out and donated to a nearby congregation. I watched, as that musical instrument made it’s way through her front door, carried by her son and grandson, and was transported away in the back of a red pick-up truck.
She had been born on Christmas Eve in 1914 and her mother died when she was still a child. The two of them had been sick at the same time with the same illness. She was called to the bed of her dying mother in order to say good-bye. I remember, ten years ago, when her oldest child, my own beloved grandma, was dying of cancer. Great-grandma was brought to the deathbed of her daughter and as she left the room crying, I heard her say, “No mother should have to watch her child die.” She lost her second child, my great-aunt Marie only five years later. A widow for eighteen years, my great-grandmother had known her share of loss, but she was a woman of great courage, perseverance, and real grit. She was the stuff heroes are made of.
She knew how to love, how to grieve, and how to laugh. She knew how to draw the poison out of a snake bite and how to sing a hymn. She taught me the strength required to be a woman. I am grateful for the thirty-three years of life I was blessed to know and love this incredible human being.
Do not stand at my grave and weep;
I am not there. I do not sleep.
I am a thousand winds that blow;
I am the diamond glints on snow.
I am the sunlight on ripened grain;
I am the gentle autumn’s rain.
When you awake in morning’s hush,
I am the swift uplifting rush
Of quiet birds in circled flight.
I am the soft star that shines at night.
Do not stand at my grave and cry,
I am not there . . . I do not die. ~Mary Elizabeth Frye