The bag of cheery Christmas decorations lay open before me, but I didn’t know what to do, where to start. Grandpa stood, and with the help of his walker came to sit on the couch near me, and my cousin Becky was in the other room getting her two little girls situated (read: distracted) with a show. I looked up and saw the late morning sunlight caressing Grandma’s favorite sitting chair, empty by the windows, surrounded by photos of the six kids and us grandkids. I glanced at Grandpa- he stared peacefully straight ahead, a usual hint of a smile on his face.
This was the first time I’d been back to their apartment since before she’d gone to heaven, almost six months ago. I hadn’t been able to go to the funeral, and this was the first time I had ever seen Grandpa without Grandma. This was the first time I had ever been somewhere where Grandma was supposed to be- and wasn’t. Tears blurred my vision as I looked down at the bag. Maybe I could clean off the table first since Grandpa wasn’t sitting there now. I busied myself with sorting through mail and cleaning off crumbs. I noticed some ants, staggering under the weight of some remnants of cereal.
“Ugh,” I found myself saying out loud, squishing one under my finger. I looked up at Grandpa. He hadn’t heard. Still peacefully staring ahead. I wondered what Grandpa’s thoughts sounded like, since he couldn’t hear so well. I wondered how much he thought of her.
After changing the tablecloth and putting everything back so that Grandpa could find everything, I eyed that bag of decorations. Becky was now washing dishes, and it was getting close to lunchtime. I had to do something about that bag. I knelt down by it, reaching in and pulling out two identical snowman ornaments, one with “Carol” and one with “Rob” on it. I quickly hung those on a lamp somewhere, trying not to think too much or too hard. I came back to the bag and bit my lip. There were stockings with “Mom” and “Dad” on them, and the beaded tree and angel I remembered seeing in their house in Pennsylvania. Seriously? When can I stop feeling like this? Tears filled my eyes again as they came to rest on Grandpa and his serene stare. I smiled at him, but inside my heart ached. I bit my lip and scanned the room, looking for somewhere to put the ornaments. I didn’t know how I felt about putting up the stockings. I knew she was in a better place, but out of all of the moments of grieving for my grandmother, I missed her the most right now. Possibly even more than the day after she died.
The day after Grandma died, I was staying with a dear friend, far away from the family but closely in touch with them via text and phone call- when I wasn’t crying. Every slow movement of my favorite pieces made me think of her. Especially the slow movements of Beethoven 59/1 and Brahms A Major piano quartet. Weirdly it wasn’t the minor key of Beethoven or the slow, rocking melody in Brahms that really got me. It was the ethereal middle sections where the composer gives you a glimpse of beautiful stillness in motion. The kind that compels you to speak in hushed tones with a kind of whispered “Ahhh” feeling as you observe with wide, wondering eyes. I couldn’t stop crying because I was overwhelmed by the beauty of the realization that she was experiencing something like those ethereal moments- not bogged down by anything on earth- and that we were experiencing such deep and heavy sadness. In a way, sadness is like those delicate moments. Grieving is sad and heavy, but in a way, there was a point that day at which my feelings were just like that hushed moment- untouchable and softly existing- and surprisingly weighty. I struggled with these heavy yet seemingly untouchable feelings for almost half a year. Of course there were many good days among the bad. I was (and am) surrounded by many wonderful people, and I was able to put off thinking too deeply about anything because I was so busy this past semester. When I was sad, I tried to talk and write about it, but almost always things got busy again and I would put off dealing too long or too deeply with any sadness.
But that day in Grandma and Grandpa’s apartment, I couldn’t distract myself. That day I realized once again that I hadn’t been able to fix my sadness. And really, it didn’t need to be fixed- at least, not in the way I was trying to fix it. Most of the time if there’s something in my life that I don’t like, I eye it warily, worry incessantly about it, try to avoid it, complain about it, try to make it go away by doing the whole “If I don’t acknowledge you, you can’t get me!!”, succeed for a while- or so I think, then repeat, and then I wonder why it’s not gone yet. Needless to say, this doesn’t work too well because it’s still there and I’m frustrated. Really, God gave us feelings for a reason. I’m human. I’m allowed to be sad about losing someone. Jesus was. There was no need to be ashamed. I finally realized this and let it sink in as Becky and I sat up late that night, talking about the day shortly after Grandma’s death when she and one of my other cousins Kimmy visited Grandpa at the apartment for the first time. She told me that it was really hard, but it got better after that, even among the sadness. It got better.
So much pain, so much sadness… but there’s also hope. Hope that ultimately triumphs over despair but also the hope intermingled with sadness and pain. The kind of hope that’s not so much the joyful anticipation- the huge-smile-on-your-face kind- but the quiet yearning with that slowly blossoming seed of assurance. The very existence of this hope seems so amazing and unlikely that you can’t help but just stare in awed wonder- and just watch it be. Those moments in Beethoven and Brahms made so much more sense to me when I listened to them after talking with Becky. I heard the melancholy, yearning, sadness in the melodies and the soft, feathery texture, but the burden was no longer there. I heard and was comforted by the hope- without explanation-gracefully existing and growing there. It still grows.