Dear Grandma:


Dear Grandma:

It’s been two years, and I guess I need to talk to you. Merry Christmas is hard to pronounce, because you left on Christmas Eve.

I remember what your house looked like every Christmastime. I remember you had Mrs. Claus sitting on a child-sized rocking chair and you always had tons of ornaments on your tree. You made a lot of them decades past; I really wish we had gotten better photos of the masterpiece that was your Christmas tree.

It’s been two years since you went to Heaven and I’ve learned that time does not, in fact, heal. It gives you opportunities to find distractions; you pick up new hobbies and responsibilities. You seek the same sort of comfort in other people, but no one hugs like you did, and no one smells like you did.

One summer we were in your basement. You asked me, “Would you ever consider visiting my church?” Because you are Mormon and I have been Catholic since I was eleven. I didn’t know what to say at the time; I didn’t want to get into a religious discussion with my grandma. “I’ll consider it,” I promised you, and though you might have wanted some more enthusiasm, you didn’t press the subject.

When you died, I decided I wanted to keep that promise. I didn’t expect I’d be keeping that promise I made to you while you were in your casket, but I’m sure you were in the same room. I told a story my cousins must have been familiar with. I spoke of how you loved the autumn leaves as they changed with the seasons. I reminded my cousins of how you would point them out every time you drove us somewhere in October.

I spoke to distant family and friends from your church who probably didn’t know this side of you, about how you were an artist. You would pull up in your white Dodge Durango, all dressed up to visit the craft store. One time you accidentally pulled up to get us when I had arranged to go somewhere else with a friend, so you and I agreed to go out again some other time. I regret that decision; I will always regret it.

I spoke a eulogy as a granddaughter, and though I had never done any form of public speaking previously, people said that it was moving. Many asked me to send them the transcript. It was the last thing I could do for you on earth: remind people of how you loved.

Two years later, Christmas isn’t the same. You left us on the morning of Christmas Eve, forever making yourself a part of the Christmas spirit, but we are human and our hearts are still broken. Last year we did not put up a Christmas tree; this year we have a small one, but your house has been taken by another family, and we are utterly alone in this city.

My brother snapped a candid shot of a time you spontaneously decided to teach me to make chocolate chip cookies. You were wearing a cheetah-print blouse and I was paying attention. I didn’t know at the time how desperately I would want that moment back, and I am grateful to Christian for preserving that moment.

One time you were speaking of someone you knew who had gotten engaged, and seeing that I looked melancholy, gave me advice about relationships. “You’ll have one one day,” you said, referring to a wedding announcement. “Men aren’t as aggressive with their feelings.” Whether that’s true or not, your care for how I felt on the subject still serves as a balm.

One time I asked you if Grandpa would be proud of us. It had been over ten years since his death, and you knew him better than anyone else, while I only have flashes of important moments spent with him. “Oh,” you said, nearly breaking down, “he would be so proud of you.” You then walked away, as if to cry somewhere.

I remember being a young child, cuddled up against you while you read out loud from Peter Rabbit. I remember the feel of the couch beneath us, the smell of your laundry detergent, and the illustrations from the book. Then I would want you to read me another book, and you’d wait patiently as I chose a children’s book from your cupboard. It smelled like the library I would one day have. When you died, I kept that copy of Peter Rabbit for myself.

A snippet of a conversation between you and Grandpa lingers in my mind regarding the grandfather clock we inherited from you. He was staring at the pendulum as it went back and forth, admiring how the entire living room could be seen on its face. “Colleen,” he told you, “take a photo of that.” “The flash would ruin it,” you replied. “Paint it,” he said.

There are moments that the four of us feel lost in the world without you. We haven’t gone to your favorite restaurant, Casa Mexico, since then; I don’t think we ever will. We can’t drive by your house.

I always dream of your house, you know. I dream of going inside and everything being where it should be, including the grandfather clock now ticking away in my living room. In my mind, that will always be our family’s house.

“You’re still grieving?” some might ask. “That was a long time ago.” Or, “She’s in Heaven!” Or, “Find a hobby.”

Certain friends could not understand that grief causes change in behavior, priorities, and mindset. I don’t miss them. If they couldn’t stand by me while I grieved, they weren’t really friends.

Grandma Colleen, the thing I remember most about you is how the only thing you remembered to say in your final months was “I love you.” You took that love with you, and I can picture you looking back at us at the gates to Heaven in order to say “I love you” one last time.

I don’t know the point of this post. I’m not sure you can read it. I suppose I want everyone to know for Christmas what a great grandmother you are.

You left a void in all of us. I’m sorry we can’t fill it; I don’t mean to guilt you. We miss you and we always will.

Christmas is about Jesus…but it’s also about you. It always will be.

I love you.

-Mariella

The Old, Grieving Garden


Wildflowers spring to life where they will
As, above, the sun sets on my sorrow.
I didn’t think that I had tears to cry still.
This sadness will last well into the morrow.
The flashes of blue and dots of white
Dancing in patches of summer dirt
Nod sympathetically to my plight,
As if they could comprehend my hurt.
A day will soon come to bid them farewell
When they bow their heads in graceful death;
Not yet!—I have secrets yet to tell,
But cannot catch my breath.
Butterfly, flit from leaf to leaf,
Sending my message to heaven’s door.
Meanwhile, I’ll make peace with my grief,
Here on the cold stone floor.

The Grudge


What am I going to do when the season ends and my flowers begin to die?

How will I cope when I go outside in the morning and, instead of seeing a new darling has bloomed, I find the stalks becoming dry and crinkly—these gentle plants that brought butterflies and bees and joy to my days?

I have a grudge against death and its habit of taking things. I know it’s unreasonable and part of me believes death is not the end. But usually all I feel is fear that the end will come.

Now it’s a flower, later a loved one. Eventually, it will be all of us. Let’s hope we inspire people to plant new flowers in the years to come.

A Whisper in a Daydream on a Hill


Recently I learned that a friend with whom I had been very close a few years ago died suddenly. I don’t know the details and don’t think I could handle getting into them. It has unearthed a whole new set of emotions in me, things I had only read about before in books.

There’s the personal shame, the wish that I had been a better friend and not lost contact. It storms with the logical bit of me which says there is no way I can keep in touch with everyone all the time, that sometimes friends drift apart because life works that way.

There are the echoes. In the days since learning of her passing, I’ve found myself remembering almost every conversation we ever had—vividly. Scraps of advice about hair care and whether a certain artist could sing. Memories of that time we bonded over an online game. And when we agreed that a book we had both read wasn’t so great after all.

I remember music she had recommended to me and know that those songs will never be the same again. At this moment, Whisper by A Fine Frenzy comes to mind—with the haunting lyrics I’m down to a whisper / In a daydream / On a hill… It has always been a beautiful song but now it takes on new significance.

Every soul matters. Every friend does, too. It doesn’t matter if you only ever met them online—now I know that, when you learn they are gone, it hurts all the same. It’s confusing at first, and then emotions come flooding in, and you find yourself wishing to go back to that summer a few years ago…just for a while.

Take care of your friends. If ever you feel the nagging sense to say hello, or suddenly remember their birthday, don’t waste a chance. Take care of yourself because people do care about you. And—I would do well to learn this—if you lose someone, it fixes nothing to blame yourself.

I don’t know the details, but I do know we will never chat again, and that song will most certainly make me tear up for the rest of my life. Take care of your friends, even if they seem fine—and take care of yourself.

The Melody of Moving On


lighthouse

In the past, the ocean’s cry had never filled my heart with sorrow; everything had changed. My heart felt heavy as I approached the lighthouse one last time. Without her hand to hold, the place was bleak, haunted by years of shared laughter.

Our favorite spot at the cliff’s edge had seen good memories, all of which were spoiled the day she fell. This lighthouse was the place where I failed to save her. The blame was heavy on my shoulders; drinks didn’t help and time didn’t heal, so I’d come back for closure.

The air was chilly, fitting for a late September night. I ignored the cold biting my skin, breathing deeply. I heard the waves but didn’t see them, in the same way I sometimes heard her voice knowing she wasn’t with me.

My love no longer breathed, but she lurked in my heaviest memories.

I closed my eyes and let the phantom of her laughter fill my mind, not numbing it with vice or distraction. Her laughter, the singsong way she used to say I love you—and later, her scream as she fell.

It was time to stop running from these sounds.

The full force of her loss hit me in waves colder than the ocean. She was everywhere and nowhere. The sea echoed her poetic words, immortalizing songs she would sing and the way she whispered my name.

It hurt, but I didn’t run. I sat on the cold ground, heart aching as each memory pierced it like the thorns of a rose. Then, finally, numbness crept over me. It might not have been peace, but my agony drifted off in the breeze.

Standing, I walked away from this cursed place, turning my back on a red rose I had left on the ground. The rose was not closure, and wouldn’t change the past. Still, it was my last gift to her—a gift, an apology, and a good-bye.