I held the hand of my great aunt when she passed. She’d been in hospice and was ready to go. Not conscious anymore, at least we thought, I held her hand as family took a break from the bedside to eat the food I’d brought.
I talked to her like she was awake and told her of how everyone was doing and detailed the makings of the food. Sometime while I was admitting my biscuit failure her steady beep became a long continuous alarm. Startled, I grabbed every gadget at hand and pushed every button I could find. Then I bent down to her and touched her cheek and yelled at her not to go on me. I begged her. The alarm turned back into a syncopated beeping and I ran to the break room.
Halfway there I met my father coming to check on me, and seeing my face, he pivoted around and hollered for the women to come. My mother and her sisters rushed to the room and twenty three seconds later, Aunt Fae was gone.
I’d taken up a corner in the lobby and put my face into a bookcase to cry. I remembered Grandma’s funeral and crying so hard there that I hyperventilated and had to be taken to a separate room to breath into a bag. So I did not fight my tears again.
Both of the women who served as grandmothers to me were gone, and though I had all of my immediate family still, I felt a special kind of alone. I was never anybody’s favorite but theirs. They didn’t think I shat gold nuggets but they knew my heart better than anyone. They both knew deep down that I loved first and always even when I denied it to myself or loudly to others right before hugging them.
I missed or do not remember their burials. But I know exactly where they lay without looking. Even in the snow I can find them. I visit them near the start of every new season and sometimes in between. When I felt the need for strong protection it was at their graves I where I scooped a bit of dirt to bring home.
Last spring I let the dirt loose in flower boxes and gardens around my porch. The ivy, their maiden namesake, in the boxes grew and flowed strong and sure. I have their flowers, from the seeds and bulbs they passed on, lining my fences. My home is their home if ever they want it. And I feel them here. Though I do not have a formal ancestor shrine, I light a candle for them now and again wherever I may be. I tend their graves and we talk. Though I never thought they would be in the midst of tears, they are a part of my life every day still. And I love that about those old sassy women.
I can almost hear them, “Thought you were gonna get rid a us, did ya? You kindly had a nother think a comin’ on that one darlin’.” Of all the faults they had, loving too much was the most severe. They forgave the unrepentant (sometimes after a good hollering or an ear pinching). They took in anyone or anything that needed them. They made do and they eked out, and always gave the best pieces to the people they loved at dinner and didn’t make a show of it. Before they’d spend a dime on themselves, they’d make sure nobody else needed it more and never let on when the cupboard was going bare. I’d be satisfied were I to die and the same be said of me.
They weren’t saints. They stayed married to bad men for too long and their sacrifices led to their own health issues which eventually led to their deaths. But I have felt their pinches and support. They gave me the strength to get out of a bad marriage, and they whooped my ass into getting more healthy. I don’t think death stopped them one bit from meddling.
Though ladies like themselves would never admit to anything other than being Christian, it just wasn’t done, they’ve been supportive of my own pagan truth. I see it in their flowers and hear it in my own heart. I am lucky to have such women in my life. They may be buried, but that just means their toiling is over.