|Nini & I, Dec. 2009|
I wish I had reached out more to my grandmother Nini, given her more hugs and let her know more often that I'm grateful for the care she showed me in childhood.
Then again, life has an odd way of distilling emotional truths from complicated circumstances.
Perhaps, the taboos of my adult life would have proven too much had I shared more of my mature self with my grandmother. If my stories of infidelity, agnosticism, protest and shamanic quests had stood in the way of her receiving my core truths, I'm confident she'd agree that would have been a greater travesty than my relative silence—especially since I did share carefully selected reflections on making music, running a business and caring for my unique children. As I age, my experience with Nini has inspired the following goals:
- Never place the burden on the children to keep in touch. Instead, continue reaching out to them, sharing tidbits of life as an old crone, reflecting on memories of their youth, encouraging them to discover new things and to keep taking action always.
- Keep taking action always within a community large and loving enough to offer support to my immediate family when I die.
- Continue exercising the ability to hold space for loved ones without casting moral judgment.
Maybe it's odd, but I am very thankful for these goals. I am also especially thankful for my last three visits with Nini.
The first happened last winter. My cousin Will, a fellow only child and thus substitute sibling, had come to visit Nini as well. He'd made the trip by plane from Virginia, and I drove down from Northwest Georgia, where Nini had spent my childhood across town from me and my parents.
|Scene from Nini's Memorial|
On last winter's trip, Will and I had a lot of time alone together. We delighted in the ways our paths have paralleled and diverged. We addressed deep family stories about the way love and fear have created limitations in our ancestry, and about the ways we are re-writing some of these patterns in our lives. Near the end of my visit, when Will and his father were settling into their own rhythm at my uncle's apartment, I took one-on-one time with Nini. We sat at the kitchen table laughing and talking. Were it up to me, I could have stayed through the night, but there was (as there often was) something pressing against our time together. It has always felt a little as though my grandparents open a portal to communicate with me—their world on the other side marked by more complexity than they ever wanted to show. I remember standing in the driveway hugging Nini. I showed her my new car, and she was concerned that my children could crawl out the back seat. I assured her they traveled safely there.
|Playing TerraPan @ Nini's Memorial|
The second visit happened in a Columbus, Georgia, ICU following Nini's first stroke. My mother (Nini's daughter) and I were allowed back together with no other guests. I had brought a TerraPan with me, but my mother insisted I leave it in my car because she feared it would create a stir with the staff and upset her father and brother. I obliged and focused instead on a drawing my daughter made of herself and Nini standing on opposite sides of a rainbow bridge. I also brought a stack of photographs. Most of the time my mother and I were present at Nini's bedside, Nini slept and snored just the same as she had on long trips back from Florida. Fortunately, she woke before my departure. She couldn't speak or focus well, but it was clear she knew I was present. I put my hand on her shoulder and tried to say only what felt most important to me:
I love you. I see the parts of your story which you could not fulfill. I thank you for giving me the chance to nurture those in my own way. I live with immense gratitude for you, for my parents, for my friends and for my children. You have influenced how I treat all of them, and everything is exactly as it needs to be. I will always remember you and will greet you with joy should our souls meet beyond death.
My mother and I formed a circle with her then and meditated on the colors of the rainbow, washing through each of us, affirming our bond, giving us courage despite our fear. Leaving that day, I felt I would see Nini one more time.
|Will & I @ Nini's Hospice|
Again, my mother feared this would create a disturbance. However, I walked calmly past her and sat down outside my grandmother's room in the sun. My grandfather and uncle sat in rocking chairs guarding her door, and I said I was going to play for them. When I finished, they made the request that I play for Nini. So, I did. Her breathing seemed to calm, and the music set a peaceful tone for the gathering of me, my mother, my cousin, his father and our grandfather as we embraced and connected with the few other guests who came in that day—my great aunt Meg, always regarded as being particularly smart and strange, and my grandmother's baby sister Patsy, the organizer of big holiday gatherings from years past. When I left that day, I felt it would be the last time I saw Nini. I touched her tenderly and said goodbye. My mother drove me back to my town, and we waited in the park for my children to greet us there. They came running toward us drenched in the special sunbeams which fall at dusk from the north Georgia sky.
|Nini & Grandaddy's Visit After My Son's Birth|
I still struggle to tell all my family how much I love them. Nini's death also helps remind me this might not matter that much. As much as I love words, they have always created as many barriers as bridges.
A month after her death, my mom and I traveled to Nini's house to help my grandfather sort through her things. He told us then her last moments there had been in the kitchen, sitting as she had with me last winter. She had been looking out the window, watching hummingbirds.
In Nini's honor, I would like to share the eulogy I composed here:
|Painting a Birdhouse @ Nini's Memorial|
Her final years of life centered on the challenge to take ownership of her own healthcare. In may ways, she succeeded in this. Nonetheless, her body still had its final say, and she gracefully released her soul to become part of whatever exists outside our human perception on August 24, 2017. While this process always comes with some level of sadness and regret, it also comes with joy and gratitude. All life is a fleeting part of a much greater whole, and death the natural culmination of life.
In addition to whatever cosmic form her energy now takes, Nini's spirit will continue to live through everyone she has ever touched. Together now, we carry forward her story with a focus on gentleness, transition, change, hope and love.
We light a candle for these things now and draw their energy into this garden grove to be dedicated in her honor September 5, 2017.
The formal obituary my grandfather wrote is here: http://quattlebaumfuneralhome.com/tribute/details/1881/Laura-Yarbrough/obituary.html
Thank you for acknowledging these stories.
|Me, my mother & my children--returning from our final visit with Nini.|