I was getting my hair cut earlier this week, and the salon chair is always a great place for conversation. Somehow our talking turned to my grandparents – I think maybe we were talking about this post I wrote recently about my grandfather’s poetry, but at some point it turned to my grandmother’s numerous talents. Our family is nearing eight years without her, which seems both incredibly long and short at the same time. I think I assumed that the missing would fade somewhat with the passing years, but I find myself thinking of her more often lately than I would have expected.
I’ve been wondering about why this is, and I think maybe I’ve settled on an explanation. I’ve talked a lot about incorporating rituals into my life that help me connect with things that bring me joy and calm and respite, as well as celebrating the beauty around me. I’ve tried to be intentional about this practice, and most importantly – specific, and focused in my attention to them. Because I can remember times in my life when I’ve struggled with difficult transitions, or battled depression or anxiety, or felt immense and relentless grief – and during those periods I would frequently tell myself that this life – MY life – was beautiful, and that I should feel lucky and grateful and satisfied, not unmoored and untethered and bleak. It stayed in this vague, gauzy, abstract form that did nothing for the very real and tangible struggle I was mired in. It didn’t bring me comfort; it encouraged guilt, and feelings of inadequacy.
Specificity changed that, not overnight, but with time. I named those things that made life beautiful – that gave it meaning, that challenged me, that inspired me. And then I mapped out where those things could fit in – daily, weekly, with specificity and priority. I documented them with photos and words – many I share, most I don’t.
I found ways for these things to bleed into each other. I strengthened the ritual of early morning walking in the garden, first with E, now with F. I allowed the excitement around new discoveries in the garden to help motivate me to run a little faster and longer on the park trails in the afternoons. I brought those colors indoors – on my counter, in my vases and my lunches, on our bookshelves, in our art collections. I sought out inspiring people around me, and stopped admiring them from afar – I said hello, I’ve been thinking about this too, let’s talk more, grab coffee, collaborate. I tuck away all these things for now and for later, so if I’m asked to help out here or there, I can pull from all of those things just what I need. A catalog of petals and poses and pages and poetry and passions and people that I draw deep breaths from each day.
And so I miss my grandmother in this moment, because I’d like to share this all with her. Partly because I know that she would draw equal or greater joy in the collection of these things. But mostly because I wish I could share with her my thoughts on this. My grandparents loved me and my sister unconditionally, and they were passionate about everything that we were interested in. But in my memories of my grandmother, I will always be young – and so I miss these deeper conversations I’d like to have with her now. I wrote these words as part of her obituary –
Jo was a gifted artist, particularly with textiles, and graciously shared her numerous talents throughout her life with family, friends, and the many church homes served by Jo and George. She was exquisite in every sense of the word, and she leaves a lasting legacy of a beautiful life and a life made beautiful.
– and I really meant them. I just wish that I could talk to her about them now. I’d like to tell her how I squeezed up my face in thought and reflection in the quiet of my dad’s office the day after she died. I was looking for words, and had no shortage of them – but this kind of writing requires a complicated balance of both depth and brevity. It was not enough to simply acknowledge her passing and our grief in biographical form. I needed to be specific, to name what I had always thought of in a gauzy, vague, and abstract sort of way. I wish I could tell her that the specificity required of me in that moment would become a seed that I have tended now for almost eight years. That when I finally relaxed my squeezed up face and settled on those words something had changed in me. I would tell her that I look for the exquisite in every part of this life – the challenges and the setbacks and the triumphs and the mundane – and the whole of it is so very, very beautiful.