My grandmother sits in the same plush chair that my grandfather sat in before he passed. The red reclining chair, next to the old brick fireplace where an oversized picture of our extended family smiles down from the mantel above.
Recessed lighting illuminates her freshly washed white hair, a startling contrast to the dark brown perm of her past. In lieu of her signature sapphire blouse, she wears a striped blue bathrobe, the hem settling around her calves and accentuating her swollen legs.
She clasps her hands together and closes her weary eyes. I wonder if she is ready to sleep. Instead, her pale lips part.
“Do you still want the china?” she asks.
Confusion clouds my thoughts. My mind reaches for a memory from nearly 10 years ago when my grandmother first asked me about her wedding china. It was another season of life, before she was actually ready to let it go, her now apparent sincerity lost on the invincibility of my youth.
“Grammie, I’m not sure,” I begin, searching for the right words to say. “My house is pretty packed right now,” I awkwardly reply.
She sighs and says matter-of-factly, “Well if you don’t want it, it’s going to be sold like everything else.” She opens her eyes and gestures toward the dining room. “Why don’t you take a look and let me know.”
I hesitate in my seat, reluctant to leave her side. I do not want this conversation to continue. But she is sick, on hospice care at home, and I’m only in town for one day.
Today will be the last day my grandmother and I share on this side of Heaven.
I swallow the sob that is building in my throat and rise to leaden feet. “Sure, Grammie,” I say. “I’ll be right back.” She nods, her confidence urging me on, and I will my legs to walk 20 feet from the couch to the china cabinet. My heart hammers wildly in my chest, each step in the opposite direction a reminder of our impending goodbye.
When I reach the wooden cabinet, I peer through the glass doors. My grandmother’s sparkling white china, hand-selected before her wedding day 66 years prior, stares back at me. Delicate flowers of blue, yellow, and red swirl on olive-green vines. Perfect patterns on pristine plates, cups, and saucers. My grandmother’s china that I took for granted for the last 34 years, takes my breath away now. I inhale deeply and breathe in the memories that my tears wash over me.
I am eight years old, wearing the gingerbread dress my grandmother sewed. My sisters and I sneak chocolates from the floral plates and shove them into our mouths. Our giggles give us away.
I blink tears from my eyes and am suddenly 23, celebrating my first Christmas as a newlywed. I select ham biscuits and place them alongside each other on a single plate that I will share with my husband. I hear him laugh in unison with my uncle from the adjoining room.
I lift my hand to the glass and turn 32 again.
My toddler boys run through the kitchen, chasing after my dad’s old toy truck. I pile finger foods on a plate, the traditional assortment of family favorites, prominently displayed on the exquisite china. Food enough for three generations of children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren. For children who have grown into adults, changing with each passing year though the china has stayed the same.
“It’s true what they say,” my grandmother’s voice carries from the other room. “You really can’t take anything with you when you go.”
“Don’t go,” my heart implores. “This is not how it is supposed to be.” I want her to stay, to use the china on this Christmas and the next like she has for the decades of Christmases prior. I glance in her direction and take in her deteriorating body. I breathe out in despair and walk back to her side.
“Grammie,” I say, cherishing the way her name flows from my lips, “the china really is lovely.”
I lay my hand on her shoulder, “I will think of you every time I use it.”
She lifts her head from the red reclining chair and smiles. “That’s wonderful!” she replies with unexpected exuberance.
I sit on the couch and picture my own china cabinet at home, housing colorful tea sets from my childhood. My beloved collection, displayed behind glass doors of their own, waiting for a new owner to give them life again. I decide then to move them to my daughter’s room where she can take over their care. I will let go of my treasures in order to make space for something new.
And I will remember my grandmother, ready to let go of her belongings, to leave them in good hands, in anticipation of what awaits her on the other side.