“Grandma, do you like Johnny Cash?” I asked, from the kitchen of her apartment. She sat in her recliner in the living room, going on and on about Dean Martin.
“Oh, no” she said, making a face. I laughed, my grandma who always smiles and laughs whether it fits the scenario or not, almost scowled at the mention of his name. I thought for sure she would’ve. She grew up around the same time as him. It always fascinates me talking to people who could’ve seen the performers I’d sacrifice so much for just to see live in concert. She may be the reason I love Sinatra but she had no interest in Cash.
She would’ve been 88 this July 5th. I don’t think I’ve actually dealt with her death. I think I just paused the grief and/or transferred it to other things. The fact that I won’t see her again on earth hasn’t really hit me even as I write this. I don’t want to be sad about her death. I’d rather celebrate the love she gave in life. I just didn’t think it would happen. Not in the sense that she wouldn’t die but I didn’t think she would die when she did. I remember visiting the hospital almost everyday for about two weeks, visiting my G’ma as I normally would in her home with her friends where we would do a bible study once a week. As far as I was concerned, our visits simply had a temporary change of location, she would be back soon enough. She and her friends would be playing bingo together again soon and I would see them all on Wednesdays. She passed away on a Sunday. It was hard but she was not well and her body was failing. Above all, she was ready to die, which was hard for me to understand and still is because I believe in the fight to stay alive.
I don’t want to be sad about her death. I’d rather celebrate the love she gave in life.-Genevieve Rose
During that time I’d go to work and help people write, then I would go to class and learn about film and almost everyday after that I would be Crossfit training. Afterwards, I would go to the hospital and visit her. I didn’t really talk about it much because I was waiting and praying for her to get better. At some point, it was clear that she didn’t want to get better, this is the hardest part for me to comprehend. There is always a way, even if it hurts. I remember being in the gym on the ski erg, sweating, heart pounding, struggling to breathe and thinking about how I train to be stronger and live longer. I was fighting to live while my G’ma was praying to die. I wanted to be able to do something more than be with her. I wanted to fix her since she didn’t want to fix herself. I wanted to be helpful. I remember one day I ran up and down the hall of the hospital gathering blankets and pillows for her, which for some reason were all in separate closets. By the third request, the nurses were getting annoyed with me but I wasn’t the one who put pillows, sheets and blankets in separate rooms. Getting things to make her feel comfortable was really the only moment that I felt like I did anything that mattered. Most days, I’d leave the hospital irritated that she wasn’t discharged yet. Despite the eerie stillness coming from my parents and the fact that long lost relatives were flying in, I thought she would get better. One evening I thought it might actually be the last time I saw her alive. I remember breaking down in the lobby because I didn’t know if I had any final words or what they should be. I love my G’ma but the only part that was deep about our relationship was the love, which I will forever appreciate because she loved me in a godly fashion, she just didn’t know me personally. I don’t think I knew her personally either but I certainly loved her back. Toward the end, I did tell her who I would be since I thought she may not be around to see it. I told her I would get married to a great man, a godly man, one that she would love and not have to worry about. I told her I would be the fittest woman in the world with Cerebral Palsy. I just wanted to speak my truth since I felt that when I am there, looking at the faces of those sitting in the seats at my wedding, hers would not be among them. I wanted to tell her out loud that I will be the fittest because when I’m standing on the podium she won’t be in the crowd.
For the wake and funeral I was pretty much on autopilot. I did what I had to do, picked out a black outfit for the wake and a deep purple sweater dress for the funeral. Boots because I cannot wear heels and layers because it was freezing. Sometimes though, formal wear and layering doesn’t work and women end up freezing in tights. Men however, have had virtually the same options for formality since 1910. Is it just me or does the bleak decor in funeral homes make the whole experience much worse? Not suggesting that the style should be loud but who wants to stand in a room that feels like an old shoebox when they’re already sad? I don’t think I have ever seen my grandma wear black. She was a bright person. It was quite the contrast to be dressed in black surrounded by such colorful flowers. It was symbolic in a sense, she was the color in the family, the bright red blood that kept the heart pumping. Now the oxygen that pushed life into the lungs of our family had become black and motionless. I just prayed that I would get through the days with grace and I did. At the wake, they all showed up for Rose, who I found out didn’t even like red roses. She would have absolutely loved her funeral. That woman loved a party and lots of attention, so an occasion with all eyes on her was ideal. The funeral was held in the chapel of the home she had lived in for more than a decade so her friends got to attend. One of them even read a scripture on her behalf. It made my day better just talking to them. Those older women who loved my grandma. They’re so full of kindness and wisdom. Some of her friends I hadn’t met until that day. They came up to me with delight on their faces and said,
“We’ve heard so much about you, you’re the writer.” That group of women who my grandma loved dearly were the kind of people that in an instant made me believe I could be a kinder person. I hugged them and said,
“Have you? Yes I am, I actually wrote this,” I opened up the trifold that had been created in loving memory of the original Rose and pointed to the tribute for her.
“Oh you did! Have you published your book yet?” I got that question repetitively that day, which stoked the fire I am currently in of having people review my first novel before it’s published, all thanks to my G’ma, loving me from above. It seemed everyone she talked to about me, she made sure to tell them that I was a great writer. When we left the chapel to go to the cemetery, I felt a moral responsibility to publish the book and prove my grandmother right.
It was a mixture of joy and pain. The beauty of the chapel, warm golds and blues, centered on the cross with the vocals of the organ player that truly lifted my heavy heart. Music that I made sure to thank him for. The casket, picked out by my uncle looked as if my grandma had painted it herself. Then the pain of her not being there to celebrate her life with us. A party just for her that she didn’t get to attend. The pain of a funeral being the reason our family got together. The pain of my father who I’ve never seen cry once before, breaking down at the lectern talking about his mother. Her youngest song, dressed in a nice black suit was able to pull himself together but not before myself and the rest of the family lost it. I was sitting in the front row in the ugly cry holding my brother’s arm, at first to support him and then to support myself. She was gone and the rest of us were still here. I have no answers for dealing with the human side of death. It’s just hard. I do know that time helps but only God heals.
“No I got it,” I said, heading towards the exit.
“The dog kind of looks like he’s slowing you down,” the boy who offered to help said. I couldn’t help but laugh, thank you God, for those surprising moments of levity in such deep pain. Getting in line for the funeral precession was comical too. Dozens of cars full of sarcastic family members. There was some back and forth between by father and my aunt about who’s going first that made me smile. At the cemetery, I remember walking through snow in my black boots up to my cousin who for some reason, had a shall and wrapped me in it. She is one of the best humans I have ever known and her husband, who was her fiancé at the time, my grandma adored. We went inside together at stood around her gorgeous casket. She was the center of the room just as she was the center of our lives. After the priest invited, my uncle, her oldest son, spoke and then opened it up to the room. Words of love filled that hollow corridor. How nice it was that no matter how different we all were or where life had led us, we all come together over her. Myself and my family would not exist if not for my grandmother. How do you say thank you for that? Family is what she talked about at the very end to me. God and family. I think that’s all she had ever wanted. My grandmother would laugh after just about everything she said, a trait I see in some of my cousins and no matter how she was feeling, she smiled all the time. I think she was alone a lot though and I hate thinking about that because I don’t want anyone to feel alone even if they are. I know I can’t stand it. She questioned her purpose constantly, even though she was close with the Lord, she had this why am I here? Mantra playing over and over. As I stood next to her casket with an arm linked through my mother’s I understood her purpose, it’s all of us. We are her legacy. She was in love with family and togetherness and on that final day, her family was all together.
“Say something,” my mom said, shaking my arm.
“I don’t know what to say. You say something.”
“C’mon,” she said. A few others whispered the same insistance. Her friends who I had just met spoke on their beloved friend’s behalf and then gestured to me.
“You,” one of the three pointed to me with praying hands. “I feel as though I knew you before I met you,” she said. “The way she talked about you,” now I felt I had to speak.
“No one’s ever loved me like her,” I said in a shaky voice. I tried to wave it off, not meaning to insult those who do love me. “I am very loved but it’s not the same. I would always think I had to be better or do better but that didn’t matter to her. She was always proud of me and she was always love to me. Every time, no matter how I felt about something, she would say; ‘my Jena, my Jena’ and suddenly it was enough.” I tried to speak to the whole room but I was emotional and it was hard to pivot. “I am very thankful to have had that love, to be her little rosebud.” I shrugged, cried and smiled. Unsure if the other side of the room had heard me because the casket rose above me but I had said what I could manage to say without crying again. When my cousin came up to me, it was then that I remembered something I forgot to tell my grandma. I had gotten rose tattoos and I forgot to show them to her. She didn’t like tattoos but I had one for her, my cousin and myself, one for each rose in the family.
“I told her,” my cousin said. “I showed her the picture.”
“You did?” That made me so happy.
“Yeah, she liked it.” At least she knew. I gave my cousin the white rose I had been given from the bouquet adorning her casket and left the building with a sense of peace.
When someone dies, I believe they leave their love behind because we need it.-Genevieve Rose
I know where my G’ma is now, I know her heart was with Christ and because of her faith and salvation in Him she now resides in Heaven. Something that makes me both jealous and sad because I’m still here and even on a great day, I’d rather be there but I know she would want us all to continue with our lives. If there’s anything my G’ma didn’t want to be, it was a burden and with that I can relate. It hurts me that she won’t be around for the remainder of my life but I am so grateful that she was there with me for 25 years and I was with her. I saw her almost every week, we spent a lot of time together. I got to do with her what I wish I had done with my great grandma, be less selfish and spend more time. When someone dies, I believe they leave their love behind because we need it. Love never dies and it doesn’t need to go to Heaven because Jesus is love and He is there, so it lingers on earth where it is the only pure source that keeps us going. Love is her legacy. My G’ma‘s love has dispersed into the atmosphere, into her children and her grandchildren. We have more love now. Our hearts have grown because of hers in ours. She is the rose and we are the rosebuds.