Also, on December 4th, the day before Nelson Mandela died and 11 days before her 95th birthday, my Gigi died. My dad called me that morning at work but I didn't leave or collapse dramatically onto the floor. The holidays weren't cancelled and the laundry hasn't stopped. But I can hardly bear to talk about it - not with Matt, not with my various siblings, and certainly not during holiday parties with well meaning relatives. I don't want to read sweet condolence notes or discuss memorial plans. I'm holding this in a small tight ball deep in my gut because if I expose it to light it might just crumble to ash and blow away.
There is so much tragedy in the world, so much injustice and violence, no one will be especially moved at the death of someone nearly 95 years old, nor my grief thereof. Mandela was celebrated the world over but no one said he passed too soon. We all leave, eventually, and she had lived well and long. She would have preferred to die last January, after her aneurysm, but she died peacefully in her home, cared for and loved. There was no news coverage, no presidential musings, but my world has shrunk and darkened.
Ironically, despite living in Los Angeles for 60 plus years, she loved dreary, rainy days. She would have loved Seattle.
A friend of mine, facing her own loss, quoted Kate Braestrup, "One hundred percent of all relationships end: paternal, maternal, spousal, avuncular, friendly, or filial; one way or another, you will lose everyone you love, everyone you cannot bear to lose.
Everyone you cannot bear to lose. She was my rock and safe haven. I moved around so much as a kid my most vivid memories are actually of her home, her magnolia tree and camellias out back, her favorite chair, her every room. Even the 7-11 at the bottom of her hill. She could whip up a gourmet dinner out of nothing and was the only person ever who could cajole me into eating broccoli. Because of her I believe in the transformative power of garnishes - even her simplest meals were beautiful. Just add parsley. Maybe a slice of lemon.
I recently finished the second to last jar of her plum chutney. I can't decide whether to save the last jar in perpetuity or eat it alone, strait, in my closet. I made bacon and for the first time saved the grease, (though my sister will be happy to know it's in the fridge - Gigi's jar was kept under the stove). I drank a gin and tonic, her favorite, out of the fancy glasses she gave Matt after our trip together to Ireland. I did not do anything on her birthday, except pretend it wasn't. I sent out cards this year, for the first time since 2010, and updated my address list but couldn't delete her name. I kept thinking I'd forgotten someone when Christmas shopping, and kept staring at my lists, until I realized it was her. She was entirely impossible to buy anything for.
I cannot bear to think what will become of her house or her beloved lemon tree. And I suddenly understand why relatives become grabby after people die. It's not the money, it's the need to cling to what's left, to grab the shadow before it fades. Salvaging her house isn't remotely within our budget but I wonder if she'd parceled out her cookbooks, her drawer of clipped out recipes, or her little broiler. She'd been labeling stuff with her grandkids' names for years, planned bequests via sharpie & masking tape, but I doubt she thought what I'd treasure most is the memory of our meals together.
Braestrup continues with, "One response to this appalling reality is to posit the existence of heaven, a place where everyone gets to be together again, just like the old days...In the meantime, however, what are those of us still here on earth to do in the face of loss?...Love more. Start with your siblings, or your spouse, or your parents, but don't stop there. Love whoever needs what you have; love the ones who have been placed in your path. It seems so obvious, doesn't it? It is the kind of knowledge we all should know, and instead even the wisest need reminders. Fortunately, the reminders do come, from sages and prophets and out of the mouths of babes: If your heart breaks, let it break open. Love more."
I could tell you what an extraordinary woman my Gigi was, but it all fades next to the fact that this was how she lived. My dad, one of the least saccharine people you'd ever meet, wrote she "had absolutely no quid pro quo about life. You just felt love. All give, no take. A lesson for us all."