On September 18th, we lost my grandma to pancreatic cancer. She was diagnosed back in July, and even though we knew that death was coming, it still felt very sudden.
This past Saturday, we laid her to rest in Richland, WA, and then celebrated her life during a 2-hour service at the church she had attended nearly her entire life. My grandma was widely loved, and the hundreds of people in attendance were confirmation of her gigantic sphere of influence. She lived her life so well.
This weekend, I was reminded of what it means to be part of a family – the complicated parts and the beautiful parts, the uncertainties, the joys. To belong to a family means you’re going to laugh and you’re going to cry and you’re going to roll your eyes – and sometimes, you’re going to do all three at once. Especially when you’re all sharing the 15-passenger church van.
Anyone who knows me (or has visited this site for any length of time) knows that these days, my family looks different than I ever anticipated. Maybe you feel the same way about your family. Maybe things have not turned out the way that you planned. Maybe you assumed one thing with such certainty that your new, unexpected reality causes nothing less than an internal shriek.
Family members were missing. We are broken and incomplete. This weekend held moments that were so potent with reminders of the way that things used to be, and will never be again.
People are quick to glibly label those feelings “nostalgia” – but that’s absurd. These feelings are more important than that. The lament and longing that come from the loss of a former life that molded you into who you are today are no small matter.
When I was dropped off at the airport yesterday, I told my mom and our friend Sharon, “Going back to Denver feels really lonely.” And it did – it does. I left my family members and the town in which I was born, and flew back to Colorado alone. When I landed, I took the shuttle to the long-term lot where I’d left my Subaru, and headed back toward the city.
As I drove, I remembered that I was missing a show that I had initially planned on attending. Peter Bradley Adams is one of my favorite songwriters – maybe even my soul mate. Probably. Is he married? Let’s look into this.
PBA writes some of the best songs I’ve ever heard, and I was crushed to be missing his show in Denver. So I turned on his music, and listened to a song about the loss of place and of belonging – the loss of what was, what might have been, what can never be again.
And yet, his words have a hopeful, trustful bent: “If I wander ‘til I die, may I know whose hand I’m in.”
Of all of the ways I would like to be like her, this is the greatest: all the way to her death, my grandma knew whose hand she was in. And prone to wander as I am, I hope to continue this legacy.