I have very few memories of my great grandmother. Although, many people have few memories of their own great grandparents. But from experiences of my own and from others I can tell that she had a great impact on others besides myself. And still today my memories of her affect who I am. “She could always tell what kind of bird was in her tree whenever she heard its chirp”, my mother told me. “She baked pies for kids in the county, volunteered almost everyday at church, and provided a place for people to come when they needed advice. She was such a wonderful person.” Despite the fact nana was my father’s grandmother, I have always been fascinated how my mother seemed to know so much about her and seemed so fond of her.
I was at my grandmother’s farm and it was just my mother, my cousin and I. We were making zucchini bread, but we needed flour so we went next door to my great grandmother’s house. They lived in the country, so even though they were next door it was still a two minute drive. I remember the grass, it was extremely soft beneath my bare feet and a luscious green. Her house was pure white, sitting amongst the shadows of willows. But the most important image to me was seeing my nana’s face. I can still see her face with its saintly smile looking down at me. The white bonnet that she wore could be found on every other Amish person in that county. The sun hangs behind her enhancing her benediction. Wrinkles cover her face, though as a child they are merely another aspect of my great grandma, not a sign of what is to come.
I was standing before the open casket with my mother, she was holding one of my younger brothers. The casket was a dark, rich brown and was open. What used to be my great grandmother lie in the coffin with its pale face and hands folded on the stomach. My mother laid her hand on the body’s, “She looks like she could be taking a nap” she said. She asked me if I wanted to put my hand on Nana’s. She had always been superstitious and thought it was respectful for the dead. I never did though, just stared at the corpse. The face was empty and lifeless, not the saint I was used to. I was too scared to go near the casket. It was not the fact that she was dead that scared me but the fact that I knew it wasn’t her lying in the casket, like being forced upon a stranger. I had never seen or experienced death before. My mother was wrong, she was not sleeping because if she was she would still be radiating the blessing character of hers. Instead, the body gave off streams of malignant freezing wind like the icy breath of death. The perfect light in my life had been blown out. I was lost. It was as if my great grandmother had left me alone in a dark room.
I remember the day of the funeral as a cloudy, murky, gray day. It was raining and before me was the gaping hole in the ground, the gaping hole inside me. I did not watch the burial. The limp corpse that was a mockery of my great grandmother meant nothing to me. Then on the way back to the car I saw a gravestone inscribed with R.I.P. I knew what it stood for but it was then an actual meaning was applied to it. I used to associate R.I.P. with horror, graveyards, and death. Maybe she was better off, maybe she was still there, maybe she actually was “sleeping”, maybe she would come back. Perhaps there was a glimmer of hope in the dark room where I had been left alone. While looking at the gravestone I said to my great grandmother, “Rest in Peace”, not sure if it was more for her or to comfort myself in all the confusion.
Sometime later my family was driving in our car. It was night and there were many stars in the sky. My parents told us that my aunt and uncle were going to have a baby. Suddenly a thought popped into my head. My great grandmother had passed away but with her death I saw that God had sent down a new life to fill the gap, something to fill the void. I now understood that the corpse would rot away in the ground, feeding the earth while her spirit remained to comfort me. I was no longer standing alone, nor was I lost in the dark. This time my great grandmother had returned to me and with her she brought someone else, my baby cousin. Along with her she brought me a faith, something that I cannot remember having before this. Life no longer ended at death, life no longer was a tragedy but a passing into something greater, and death no longer a break in the circle of life but its completion. There was nothing let for me to fear in life, but life itself and the tragedies within it. But now I believe that with every tragedy would come something that would make me grow, that would make me stronger, that would make me happier.
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