Dear Grandma Joyce,
When they carried your body out on Wednesday, the staff and residents of Chaparral House lined up to throw rose petals on you as you traveled down the hall like your own decorated float. I don’t know what you would have thought of this; maybe you would have said it was too much fuss over a dead body, or maybe you would have thought it was beautiful. You loved flowers. And you were loved every minute of your life.
Last week you told a nurse that Herb was calling you. I’m not sure how that all works, but I can see you together again, somehow, in some form, folk-dancing through the swirling universe.
(Herb died 2 years ago; it was a good death)
Here you are on the beaches of Trinidad in 1942.
This photo was taken before the births of your two daughters, when you were a carefree newlywed who typed letters on thin sheets of airmail paper, assuring your well-heeled mother that despite the house-dwelling insects and shoddy appliances, island life was “swell” and Herb was learning a lot at his new job as photographer for the US army.
At some point we all write this same letter home to our parents. In 1995, I wrote home to assure my parents that despite the fact that my roommates were sort of like house-dwelling insects, buzzing around the couches and television, life was awesome: my new friend Dan and I had just tapped a box elder tree for syrup!
Or even now, I could write about the fruit flies that mill around our indoor compost bucket like a singles bar, and I wish I had even a shoddy dishwasher somedays, but life at 6512 feet with a rumpled blanket of snow is fabulous and we’re learning a lot about following our hearts everyday.
Maybe someday my children will write this same letter to me, and I will press it to my chest, envisioning their adult lives while a grainy flash of their small bodies flickers across my eyes.
You quietly poured yourself into what you loved: piano, art, children, creating a beautiful home, world peace, helping people. I like thinking of you reading to the hardscrabble kids at the Berkeley women’s homeless shelter. Or laughing shyly at your husband’s jokes as you set the Thanksgiving dinner table with a poached salmon. I like thinking about you holding your 4 grandchildren, and your 7 great-granchildren – each child settling into the crook of your arm while your eyes crinkled in a smile. Or marching for peace amongst the wild wooly radicals of Berkeley. Or, when your daughters were small, hiding a woman in your house who belonged to the Communist Party during the McCarthy era (I think it’s okay to reveal this now).
But my favorite memory of you, Grandma, was a phone conversation we had after I finally brought Col home from the hospital. After 101 days of government-like regulations on when and how long I could hold Col, I called you; you, who had a long standing love of babies.
“Grandma, he’s home and I can hold him as much as I want.”
“Nuts to you Nurse!” You replied triumphantly.
It’s mind-boggling that you were here on this Earth for 93 years, in all your different life phases—from infant to great-grandmother—and now gone forever. When I think about how your genetic code is folded into your children and grandchildren, I can’t help but notice how your descendants—like you—love books, fresh vegetables and babies. Perhaps nothing is ever gone forever, just transformed.
Thank you Grandma.