“What are all those things?”
“The big rocks over there in that park.”
We were driving past a cemetery. This was going to be a load of fun.
“Those are called gravestones. We put them there to visit people who go to Heaven.”
“So you talk to the rock?”
“Yes, but…like, my grandma Gracie, I go and sit at her stone and tell her about my life, and about you guys, even though, I mean, I don’t HAVE to be there for her to know stuff. She can see us and she knows what’s going on.”
“Because she’s in our house? Floating around? Like a spirit?”
“Well, yes and no- I don’t think she floats around our house like Casper-“
::Hysterical laughter from the back seat::
“-but I do smell her perfume sometimes. Like she’s…around…you know?”
This was going so well. So very, very well.
“Ok how about…would you like to come see my grandma with me?”
He was battling a sinus infection, it was 28 degrees outside, it was noon and neither of us had eaten, and my logical next step was to bring him to kneel on the frozen ground and talk to a cold gray stone.
Maybe my head was clogged too.
“Sure, I haven’t been there in a while- let’s go together.”
The truth is, I don’t visit my grandmother’s grave very often, partly because I live almost 45 minutes from the cemetery and partly because I don’t believe you need to sit in front of a grave to feel connected to someone.
But mostly because it’s too damn hard.
It’s been 8 ½ years and I still can’t approach that stone without flashing back to where I was standing that day; where I placed the rose on her casket; where my shoes sunk into the ground because it was one of those rare cold, rainy days in May. I like to tell myself it was the joyful tears of her parents, brothers, and the husband she hadn’t embraced in 32 years, pouring down from Heaven onto us as they had their big, happy (most likely boisterous and involving mussels marinara and pinochle) reunion.
But no matter how much I tell myself that story, I still can’t stand on that spot without losing it. I can’t have a “nice” visit with my grandmother.
And now I was bringing a (sick, hungry) 6 year-old boy to “meet” her. This was a terrible idea. This was not the right time. This…was happening, because I had already pulled into the lot.
“Wow! Look at those thrones! They’re huge!”
“Oh, no, those are just very large gravestones- some are bigger than others.”
“STONES! I thought you said thrones.”
I smirked and giggled, which I’m pretty sure you aren’t supposed to do in a cemetery but I wasn’t struck down, so we moved along.
“So….where is everybody?”
“What do you mean?”
I knew what he meant.
“I mean, if their thrones-“
“-stones, are here, where are….they?”
“Well…they’re under the stones.”
“You buried your grandmother in the ground??!!”
“Well, yes. See, our bodies are just these things that we borrow when our spirits come down from Heaven….once the spirits go back up, they’re just an empty shell that doesn’t work anymore. So we…”
“Put it in the dirt.”
“Oh….ok. That makes sense. Since no one is using it anymore.”
Maybe he could handle this after all.
Turns out he could- I couldn’t.
I parked, took his hand, led him over to the plot, and kneeled to pray, silently willing myself to keep my shit together so I didn’t scare the poor kid.
I was barely level with the “throne” before I felt the silent sobs wracking my body. I stared at her name and the pain shot through me like it did the day we buried her.
Well, I tried. I just wasn’t capable of having a “nice” visit with her.
And then…I felt his little hand wrap around my back, and his arm pull my head onto his shoulder.
“It’s ok, Mommy. It’s ok. We don’t have to do this. Let’s go back to the car.”
I looked up at this little old soul staring reassuringly at me, and I giggled again.
“Oh Vince, she would have LOVED you.”
“You think so?”
“Oh my God, you guys would have been best friends! And I promise, she’s around- she sees and hears you. When you were in my belly she came to me in dreams and gave me advice. She told me you were going to be a gymnast during your birth but that I’d be ok, and that’s exactly what happened.”
“Oh yeah! I flipped over and climbed into your ribs while you were trying to push me out of your belly button!”
Tell him anything other than belly button and I will ban you from this blog. All of you.
“And remember you told me there was an empty chair in the delivery room, and you thought she was there??”
“Oh she was SO there, buddy. She wouldn’t miss your grand entrance.”
“I’m really sad I never met her, Mommy. I wish she could have waited until I was born before she left.”
“You know what? I don’t think it could have happened that way.”
“Because I’m pretty sure she’s the one who sent you to us.”
“You mean she told God which baby to send?”
So I told him the story.
She wanted us to have a baby so badly, but we weren’t ready. And then she was gone. And then, when we started trying, it just wasn’t happening. We gave up and went to Ireland, because we figured if we couldn’t have a baby we could just travel and see cool stuff. And one day we were driving through this little town, and we pulled over to get a better look at this impossibly tiny church. The door was unlocked, and it was pouring outside, so I slipped in, looked around, and something just…came over me.
“So I got on my knees and started praying. I prayed to my grandma Gracie to find a soul that needed a Mommy, and to send it to me.”
“And she sent you me!”
“And she sent me you, because a few weeks later, I found out you were in my belly. She hand-picked you for me, Vinny. And do you know how I know?”
“Because I see SO much of her in you. The way you worry about everyone, the way you just burst into song, and how you’ll do anything to make people laugh…and your love of hot dogs and chicken on the bone, of course…and oh! The hugs! You hug with your entire body. She used to do that. She was the BEST hugger.”
“I hug like Grandma Gracie?!”
“Yup! Whenever you hug me I remember what it was like to get a Gracie hug. She’s still here, Vince. She’s in all of us, especially you.”
“Wow. So I guess I do know her.”
“You know her very, very well, my friend.”
“Thanks for bringing me to Grandma Gracie’s throne.”
“Ugh, I keep doing that!”
I looked at my son, glowing and giggling, and once again couldn’t stop the tears from pouring out of me- but they weren’t the sad sobs I was used to when I came to this place.
This, for once, was a “nice” visit.
She always did have a way of showing me the good in everything.