My mamaw had 8 children. Her first were twins. One, my aunt Doris, born with hydrocephaly, had significant special needs until she died at the age of 16. It shaped her life. The other was my momma. My mamaw raised all of her children on a farm in Southern Indiana. She was selfless, generous, no-nonsense and kind. She could play cards or pray the rosary with the best of them. She laughed; really let herself laugh. She showed me who I wanted to be.
A few friday nights ago, I walked in to her hospital room where 25 other family members stood. They made a path for me to the side of her bed. I made it. She had seen all 7 of her living children and their spouses during this long day. All 26 of her grandchildren had either visited in person or thankfully for those far away, through Facetime. The first born of her 31, soon to be 38 great grandchildren, my daughter, got to kiss her face. I felt that kind of sadness that feels like it’s physically pulling the pit of your stomach out through your chest. The sadness that gurgles out of you in sounds you don't recognize as your own and your body shakes....the kind of sadness that some people spend a lifetime protecting themselves from. But I let it come. I feel the intense wave of grief and it brings with it that peace you can only get from knowing you’ve loved with all you have. I could not love this lady more. I could not be more thankful to her for the selfless example she gave. I could not have been more undeserving and privileged to have this Mamaw as my very own. I wanted to see her again before she meets Jesus, we all did…not because of things left unsaid but out of sheer longing to be with her as long as we can be on this earth.
She holds on to my hand with the grip of a toddler to a cheerio and focuses in on me with the one eye that will cooperate enough to open. I can see the recognition. I feel the squeeze of my hand and the squeeze squeeze when I show her Trevor and Grace are here too. She knows. Her breathing is labored and she is exhausted from the work it requires. I kiss her face and run my fingers across her thin skin and the wedding band she still wears. I tell her it is okay. I thank her for her selflessness, her example. I express how excited I think Jesus will be to meet her. I imagine her meeting up with my Papaw and them swinging together on their porch again. I think of my aunt Doris waiting all this time for her momma. I look up from her face and see my family standing in that room. I see their stories like one of those flipograms in my mind. Triumphs and struggles, flaws and friendships, loyalty and love. I see all of us together. Always. This family of mine, half dysfunction half delight. Together. That’s the key. This woman whose bed we are surrounding knew that. She is why we all stand here. She is why we all stand together.
People often say they wish they had a family like ours. I get it, believe me. They sometimes say it like I’m lucky though. It’s not luck. That family is work. This togetherness, this unity, this love is not easy. Every single one of those people in that circle have done something the person standing next to them could be mad about. That circle could just as easily have held bitterness and anger, deceit and dread, tension and tired excuses. But it did not. It won’t. Mamaw has taught us all it’s not worth it. Do we agree 100% with everything everyone does all the time. No. Does being mad about it change anything but your relationship? Nope. It’s not worth it. The only thing worthy of our energy is our relationships. It is why several of the people standing in that room drove for hours with no guarantee they would make it. It’s because of that relationship. It is worth everything. A four hour drive. Worth it. The hard work of forgiveness. Worth it. A last hug, a laugh. Worth it. The pain of letting go of pride. Worth it. Setting aside winning the argument so you can hold on to peace. Worth it. Not bringing up that mistake you made that one time every time you make another. Worth it. Loving others well is rarely convenient but it is always worth it. That circle hasn’t been free of drama or struggle or wrongs done, it’s just known love was more important. Always. Mamaw made sure of it. For that I will forever be grateful.
We buried my mamaw this past weekend. As I watched the little children run in the meadow next to the cemetery, and my aunts make sure each of their sisters had a flower from the arrangement on the casket...as I saw the pat on the back from one uncle to the other and a chuckle from one about something the other said...
even as I felt the aching for her in my chest...
I was reminded that life for all of us continues. Together.