I was on my hands and knees in the garden getting my pants filthy. It started to drizzle and I didn’t even care because I was already crying. Before I went to the garden I had sent my husband a text, a change from the usual “what time is soccer?” or “What’s for dinner?” banter. This time I had written: “I’m having a hard time this week missing Babci.”
Right before the rain he replied, “I was thinking of her before the party. I see a lot of her personality in you and B. You should take comfort in that.”
We had two years of celebrations without her yet for some reason at my parents’ 50th anniversary dinner days before, I kept thinking of where she’d sit, how I’d make her comfortable. I felt lucky to have a husband who also thought of my deceased Grandmother. But then I wondered with frustration what “take comfort” was supposed to mean—frustrated with the futility of our language. Take comfort? Like a tincture? Could I ingest some until the overwhelming urge to cry passed?
I had done all of the things one is told to do after a loss. I let myself cry. I keep pictures of her visible. I honor her memory, oh, all the time. I hand out tic-tacs with personalized labels (a picture of her on the beach, 1941, with the words Stay fresh and on the back she’s sticking her rear end at the camera and the words Like Babci). They are leftovers from her viewing. A friend had come to it and found a scene she didn’t expect: there was laughing and loud conversation. There were tic-tacs! “This is sort of a party atmosphere,” she noted. Like it should be, I thought, for a long life well lived.
The rain stopped. I thought about my husband’s words and about the direct line I always had felt from my Grandmother to me to our firstborn daughter, B. I thought of the way my youngest daughter, who had just turned three when Babci passed, so frequently asks to hear “Babci stories.” That should please me but sometimes I’m not in the mood. Sometimes I’m tired or it feels painful or she’s just stalling. Sometimes she tries to tell the stories herself but doesn’t understand what it means that a Depression-era family would have a drunken boarder so she tells it as a silly uncle. This littlest daughter is not her biological descendant but there’s still a line connecting them and all of the fierce and feisty women in this world.
How do your extended family members treat the adopted kids? What does your Grandmother say about these little Black babies you keep bringing home? Oh she just loved them. Rocked them and gave them each their first pickles. After I took them to meet their biological Great Grandmother, Babci caressed my hand, saying, “That was real nice what you did, Gina. Real nice.”
My friends indulge me in my ongoing mourning of the world’s least tragic death—a peaceful one at home of a 97 year old woman surrounded by loved ones. They remind me that it didn’t matter how long she lived or how long it had been since she died, that years of grief would be no less than our relationship deserved.
But I wondered again, why now? It was funny that I was in the garden because it was a gardening memory that gave me my first tears that day. It was May when she went to the hospital and we heard it was “World Naked Gardening Day.” My husband and I staged funny pictures with strategically placed watering cans and shovels. My cousin showed Babci the pictures on her phone and she loved them. Every time a new nurse came in, she wanted to show them, too. When we visited the next day and it was time to leave, my husband said one of her favorite goodbyes, which was, “Tell your mother I was here!” She retorted, “Try to keep your pants on.”
For two hours I worked in the garden, thinking of her stories, the heritage for my daughters and my sons. The way she loved babies and children and how she’d pinch someone’s ass at the supermarket and when they’d tell me “I saw your Grandmother . . .” I’d laugh at what might come next. I thought about the doll she stole with her gang when she was a kid and the thrift shop dolls she kept on her bed as an adult. I thought about how that morning I said to the kids, “You know what Babci would have said, right?” They did.
I looked at my phone again. “You should take comfort in that” and finally responded, “I’m trying.”