This is going to be a strange week. I cannot believe it has almost been a year.
Wednesday is my Mama’s birthday.
Almost two years ago, Mama planned for us to have Stevi B’s pizza and gather together for Daddy’s birthday–the first one after he died. I stopped and picked up the pizza and a tea olive and some balloons. We ate in Daddy’s honor–he loved Stevi B’s. He and Mama used to eat there every Monday. After he got so sick, we would take the “buffet” to him.
After we ate our fill of the different pizzas we’d brought, we loaded up the tea olive, a shovel, and the balloons and drove out to the cemetery. The children had all “written” something for their Cap, attached it to the balloons, and let their messages fly towards the heavens. Mama and I worked to dig the hole, and we finally planted the tea olive, Daddy’s favorite.
I am remembering all of this as Mama’s birthday comes closer. I want to celebrate and honor her and make it a special day of remembering and joy, just as she did for Daddy. But I’m not exactly sure how.
Tonight before Evening Prayer began, I was visiting with my knitting diva friend. I mentioned that this week is full of one year marks in addition to Mama’s birthday. And that all of that remembering is tiring and hard.
“Well, don’t do that,” she said quite reasonably, with love and wisdom. I really do adore her. “Really that’s not good for you. I have to think to remember dates and years like that.” As we talked, I envied where she is. She has great stories about her family, but her memories are not bogged down in dates and sad anniversaries.
Oh to be at that place.
They play through my mind like that ticker tape on Wall Street, constantly running…..January 15–her birthday (we didn’t get to celebrate because of sickness), January 17–hospital, January 18-transferred to Macon (oh that awful ambulance driver blaring the rock and roll), January 19–her first surgery, January 21-her second surgery…..and it goes on and on. For three weeks. All of these recalled without looking at a calendar. But if I needed to consult, there are the update emails sent daily still somewhere in my email sent box.
As Evening Prayer began I wondered why I am wired this way. Why I remember each year the day that someone I love was born…..and when they died. And for Mama and Miss B, our cousin, this first year since they’ve passed, I will remember the days leading up to the day we said goodbye. Why? What am I hanging on to all of that for?
And then the service started. Today is the day we remember John the Baptist baptizing Jesus.
Worship and grief–they both follow a calendar, don’t they?
I stopped listening for a moment. My mind was spinning. It wasn’t until I was an adult, attending the Episcopal Church, that I became really familiar with the liturgical calendar. Before that, yes, I realized we remembered Jesus’ birth, death, and resurrection each year, but we actually do so much more. So much of our worship is about remembering, honoring, and sharing the stories of what happened so long ago. Holy Week leading up to Easter Sunday is especially hard. I feel as though I am grieving anew each time it comes around.
And that is when it hit me tonight, as I rolled through the year of worship in my mind, this is why I am this way. It is what my people do. We share the stories of those we love who are no longer with us. We honor them with what we do. We give dish towels and handkerchiefs and remember our Great Aunt who made Raggedy Ann, Raggedy Andy, Sylvia the cat, Cocoa the bear, and so many other stuffed toys for us, and who loved us dearly. We eat coconut cake on Granny’s birthday, and I remember all of my special times with her, including the birthday it snowed, and it was just the two of us eating cake and celebrating. I planted a yellow rose bush in memory of my Great Aunt, who loved them. We have a version of caramel cake on Daddy’s birthday, and whenever we see matchbox cars, my little guy Cooter still asks to get one, remembering how much Daddy loved them. There are so many ways throughout the year we honor and remember and share these stories.
And it’s the same in the church, isn’t it? We study and remember words from the past each and every week. We look back to what we’ve been taught, what stories Jesus shared or David told or how Jacob got his hip out of joint. Joseph’s coat, Noah’s Ark, Zacchaeus’ tree. We share these same stories year after year. And as we do it, we are called as a community, as a family, to look forward and take care of each other.
The same is true for me. I have to figure out how to balance the remembering with moving forward. I think this is what my wise friend was trying to tell me tonight. I don’t want to get bogged down in the pain of the memories of all those days of Mama’s suffering and us feeling helpless and then hopeful and then helpless all over again. It was more than hard the first time. I cannot imagine that it will be much easier reliving it a year later. And yet, if I let these weeks pass by without acknowledging where we were a year ago, I will feel somehow incomplete. And truthfully?
A bit disloyal.
That’s crazy, you say? Maybe, but there it is. I think it’s my job to remember.
I’m the Rememberer.
I’m the one who asked Granny to tell me the stories of our folks, who listened as Granddaddy talked about a mule that fell down a hole in downtown Fort Valley and about a politician that came to town in a horse and buggy. I’m the one who asked my Great Aunt what it was like when she worked at the courthouse. Way before she was married. I’m the one who remembers why my Great Aunt loved the house on Bond street. I love the stories of old, and I wish I had written down all of the ones that Daddy used to tell.
My heart breaks over that.
I think that’s the biggest fear I have though. If I don’t remember, each day, where we were, I might begin to forget. And once I start forgetting, it might be like losing Mama all over again.
And I can’t bear that.
I will try not to get too maudlin these next few weeks. I will try to set boundaries on my remembering. Doesn’t that all sound quite healthy?
In reality, I will try to survive and get through them. This year, it will be about surviving. I can’t speak for those that follow.
I just know that grief is an odd duck. And the more I experience it, the less I understand it.
Love to all.