My mother’s best friend is keeping my grandmother company while my mother is on vacation. She flew in from North Carolina on Sunday. She had never met my grandmother, nor my siblings and me, but upon introduction, she said “I’m a hugger. Come here.” Her embrace was one of the warmest embraces I’ve felt in a long, long time.
My grandmother’s 86th birthday was on Monday, exactly one month following my grandfather’s passing. It was the first in a year of first; you know, the first year of holidays and celebrations without my grandfather around. My grandmother was somber in the morning according to my mom’s best friend, but as the morning pressed on, her spirits lifted. They prayed together and looked for pictures of my grandmother and grandfather.
I overslept enough to make my grandmother anxious, and I awoke to four missed phone calls. I woke up knowing that I had to make the day special for her, but I didn’t know how. I gathered my things and sped to my parents’ house to be with her.
And that’s when I met my mom’s best friend. We hugged for a long time, long enough to be considered incredibly awkward by some standards. She told me that my mother spoke about me a lot. I don’t typically get praise from my mother, but her best friend told me that my mother was incredibly proud of me.
I cooked, we talked, and it was an amazing experience. I felt, for the first time in a year, like I had known her forever. We talked about my mother, my mother’s stress, our worries about my littlest sister, our worries about my grandmother, general health, and autoimmune diseases. The conversation lasted for hours and I didn’t want it to end. But my mom’s best friend has scleroderma, and it like other autoimmune diseases, causes great fatigue. She excused herself for a nap.
I walked next door to ask my neighbors if they would come over for dinner. They were a great support for my grandmother after my grandfather’s passing. My grandmother has great amounts of love and respect for them. They happily obliged. I was making plans impulsively. Dinner had been planned on the spot, so had the guest list. I called my brother and boyfriend to confirm they were both coming to dinner.
Everyone gathered between 6:30 and 7:00, and for once, I finished cooking dinner at the time I said it would be done. It was a personal victory.
We ate, we talked, we laughed. My cooking was very good by all accounts. My grandmother actually cleared her plate without any coercion from my brother or me. The conversation flowed so freely, and almost everyone was meeting for the first time. It was beautiful.
We brought out the cake and sang the “Happy Birthday” song, in English and in Spanish. I turned the candles around and claimed she was 68 and not 86. For the first time in my life, she corrected me. “Tata,” I said, “You were 60 for my entire grade school career. Now you tell me the truth?” Everyone laughed.
My grandmother’s one wish was for my grandfather to be there. I cried a bit, as quietly as possible. It was an emotionally charged day, and I tried my hardest to make it as positive as possible. I think I was successful. She thanked everyone for attending, and she thanked me for organizing the party. Despite the past and the differences my grandmother and I once had, I was happy to do it.
I’ve been listening to a lot of music from my early 20’s. It wasn’t that long ago, I’m aware. But with the current rate of new music being released, it seems like an eternity has passed since these albums came out.
Sufjan Stevens’ “Illinois” album plays in my head quite a bit as I think of my grandmother and grandfather. After listening to “Casimir Pulaski Day” repeatedly, just because it felt “right,” I found some amount of comfort. The song, as I interpret it, is about the passing of a loved one. The song conjures religious ideas and images repeatedly in the chorus of the song, but the last version of the chorus is what resonates with me.
“All the glory when he took our place
But he took my shoulders and he shook my face
And he takes and he takes and he takes”
I guess it resonates with me because of my anger with the idea of God. While religion comforts others, it does nothing but upset me. My agnosticism stems from a place of not understanding why such a loving, benevolent god would allow such suffering on earth. I’ve never understood that, and I probably never will.
Have a listen. Hug your loved ones. And I’ll be back tomorrow.