Gram: waving goodbye
A rambling by Tom Knapp

I went to my Grandma's house the night after her funeral. A single, final peach rose bloomed in her garden under the sort of Maxfield Parrish evening sky she would have loved. The yard was damp after a brief rainfall that followed after her burial in an otherwise sunny day. I let myself in through the back door, as usual, and was instantly overwhelmed by the familiar scent of her home.

I walked through the quiet rooms remembering, and talking softly with her, hoping maybe she could hear. Exhausted by the day, I laid myself down on the plaid sofa in her living room and, as so often happened in the past after one of her belt-loosening meals, I dozed.

What happened next was a combination of drowsy imagination and longing, not a true recounting of a dream. I wish this had happened, and perhaps if it's true that the departed can know our thoughts, in some way it did.

The rustle of a skirt and the sound of a body shifting on the aging springs of well-used upholstery woke me. I opened my eyes, and Grandma smiled at me from the comfort of her chair, the one she always sat in. "Hi, honey!" she said, the tone and cadence of her voice so familiar, the two words I most wanted to hear just then. "Hi, Gram," I said, automatically. Then, a wondering "But...."

Her hand fluttered, dismissing my question before it was voiced out loud. "How are you?" she asked.

That was Grandma all right. It didn't matter if she was busy cooking a meal or if she was lying sick and dying in a hospital bed -- or even, I guess, if she was a few days dead and resting in a coffin under newly turned earth. Her first thought and priority, always, was how her family was doing.

"OK, I guess," I said.

And we started talking about the inconsequentials of normal, daily life, things recently done or said by my wife and kids, my parents, my brothers. Things I was doing at work, attempts to find a new singer for my folk band, things she'd seen on TV. It didn't seem to matter, for a few moments, anyway, that the room we were in, like the rest of the house, was bare of decorations. There were no flowers in baskets on the floor, no roosters or tea cups on the shelves in the dining room. No clothes in the closet, no sensible shoes. God forbid, no food in the kitchen. Grandma was gone, and the house was a shell, sparsely furnished, waiting to be sold, as it had been for the last several months after it became clear that Grandma, suffering in the aftermath of a stroke, could never come home.

But for those few moments, the house to my eyes looked as it always did, smelled the same, even sounded the same as traffic whizzed by on Main Street, and Grandma's voice was hearty and strong, her chuckle throaty and warm and impossible to resist. The look in her eyes was warm and loving, rarely leaving my face as we talked. It was comforting, familiar.

After a while, I sensed this wouldn't last. Grandma finished telling a long, rambling tale about some of her friends, people I didn't know but heard about often. "That's the story," she said. I smiled. "Grandma," I said, "I have to get going."

"OK, honey," she said, smoothing her skirt with her hands. "You stop by again soon."

"But Grandma," I persisted a moment longer, "how are you?"

"Oh, I'm fine," she said, almost dismissively, as if the question didn't even merit a moment's thought.

"Really, Gram," I said. "How are you? How are ... things?" Tears were rolling down my cheeks by this time, and her expression softened.

"Don't worry about me," I imagined her saying. "I'm OK. I'm happy and safe. Nothing hurts any more. I'm where I'm supposed to be. And I'm surrounded by love." I thought about her husband, my grandfather, dead for 52 years, reunited with her at last. I thought about her mother, my Nanny, with whom she'd lived for many years, now dead for 24. And I thought about Gram's own father, who died when she was only 4 years old -- she would finally be getting to know him, I realized.

Of course, this is all in my imagination, since Gram didn't talk about herself all that much. About her family, sure. About things we've done together, absolutely. About the latest episode of Dancing with the Stars, The Bachelorette or anything on the Food Channel, no question. But herself? Gram never considered her own needs to be that important.

I shut off the lights and locked the door in a gloomy silence. Gram's death was still too fresh. The ache of missing her was too new. But as I started my car, I looked back at her kitchen door ... and if I allowed myself to believe that she was standing there, waving, as she'd done every time I'd left since I was a child ... well, where's the harm? I lifted my hand and waved at the empty house before backing out of her driveway. Grandma, I knew, was at peace.

My own peace was still eluding me. I knew it would come in time, but I would never lose that image of Grandma at her back door, smiling and waving, with love in her eyes.

by Tom Knapp
16 June 2012