My grandmother died in early November, the exact date I can't allow myself to remember. I had photographed and recorded her for almost a decade, documenting her aging as she proudly collected years. Eventually, she had become overwhelmed with the pain of the process, irritated by her body’s decay and my camera’s presence. She’d mock it as she lay on her blue couch, wondering if the lens had broken yet and when we were going to go for a run together.
My identity is completely, hopelessly intertwined with hers. Her lifetime of involvement in social clubs and park beautification projects is an intrinsic part of me. Her hatred, her fears, her unique strengths and weaknesses are blended into a shared memory written into symbols in our environments. Her surrounding lamps, paintings, manicured lawns, and brass plaques - each have a specific history. These histories, her stories, they have been imprinted into my being as if they were my own.
When she died, we experienced the quieted process that happens alongside grief - the paperwork, the organizing, the calling. We neatly packed up her boxes of precious dishes, stuffed animals, and wool sweaters. Her walls were laid bare to reveal scars, the remnants of years of art hung salon style in her home, each a little crooked. The refrigerator was removed of all great grandchildren pictures, leaving behind a single butterfly magnet. The discarded miscellaneous.
Months later, we planned our memorialization of her in the woods. My mother’s planner read, “Distribute Dorcas’ ashes”. And we did. Spreading them across land she had cherished, tossing rose petals over the carbon remains. The last pieces of her didn’t fly into our faces or fall on our shoes like a sitcom or comedic movie would have me believe. Her dust just fell and laid there on the ferns, a harsh reminder of how everything seems to be still in grief.
We put an empty urn in the ground the next day, unsure of what to say. No “here she lies” would quite fit. And she never rested, much less in the deep eternal peace we would hope for. So we quietly covered up the fancy Tupperware that had once held her dust, each of us trying a joke to distract the others.
The process of grief is less of a weepy horror. It is a sneaky, daily enemy that creeps into your life and encourages you to carry boxes of wrapping paper into your home. Giving away the wrapping paper that your grandmother had purchased at one time would be too heartbreaking of an experience, so you fill your closets and your basements and your attics with the same items that she filled her closets and basements and attics with. Never to look at the items again - never to really take stock of what you’re doing. Only to allow your grief to pull your legs up the stairs with boxes, trip after trip, as you fill your life with the remnants of hers. Even one donated or sold item seems to echo the quiet “how could you”.