Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Dirty Diapers and Grilled Cheese Sandwiches

What happened to Fall?  I utter those words to myself every morning as I look out the window to see the scrawny, bare limbs of trees that once were covered with blazing red leaves.  It seemed as though right as the colors burst out of their hiding spots, a storm came and blew them all away.  For a few days we could still enjoy the yellow, red, and orange blankets on people's yards as we drove to and from work.  But now it is mostly bare.  The ground looks hard and cold.  The branches of trees shiver in the breeze. It's not full-out winter yet, but we sure are getting a preview.

What happened to Fall?  My favorite time of the year.  The melancholy lyrics to The Mamas & The Papas California Dreamin' drift around in my head every time I look at the trees..."all the leaves are gone...and the sky is gray..."  

This autumn has been a monumental one in my (almost) 30 years of life.  It was the season I became an aunt and the season I lost a grandmother.

On October 15, Jeff & I rose early to drive to Nashville for the birth of our niece, my sister & her husband's first child.  We got up early to get to the hospital...only to wait all day!  But it was totally worth it.  Ella Taylor Booker was born around 6 p.m. that night.  She has been the apple in everyone's eye since the first moment we laid all eyes on her.  For my sister, Katherine, and her husband, Chris, this has been the season of learning, adjusting, sleeplessness, and change.  New life comes with joys and challenges.  I don't think life was ever meant to be perfect and smooth sailing.  And babies remind us of that with every poopy diaper and every feeding that comes back up.  Jeff and I will be initiated into our own new adventure with all of this in February.  But for now, I'm happy to be the googly-eye'd aunt who can drool over her adorable niece, perhaps change a diaper or two when I visit, but leave the hard stuff up to mom and dad.

On October 15, our family grew.  It was a beautiful, long, exhausting, exhilirating kind of day.

In the middle of lunch on Friday November 8, I received news that I knew would come some day.  Nana had died.  This was not an unexpected announcement.  Nana has been bedridden for 2 years now, going in and out of periods of improvement and setbacks.  Last year around this time, even though she physically could not come to Thanksgiving dinner, she could have a conversation with us and knew what was going on in our lives.  Earlier this year our visits became more and more difficult as she drifted further and further away from reality, from familiarity, and from us all.  For my Mom especially, it was a (drawn out) season of learning, adjusting, sleeplessness, and change.  Still, I wasn't prepared for the news I received that, finally, it was over.  No more pain.  No more suffering.  No more confusion.  Nana was freed from the bondage of what her life had become.

When we were little, Katherine & I absolutely loved to go to Nana & Granddaddy's house.  I remember times when I begged my parents to let me stay the night.  Throughout my entire childhood and adolescence, we ate supper there at least once a week.  Nana was an amazing cook.  And supper was always at 5:30 on the dot.  Pork chops, chicken enchilada casserole, pot roast....heck, even her grilled cheese sandwiches had this touch of perfection.  She never failed to ask us if we wanted more.  We usually did.
As kids, when we spent the night, she would tuck us into our own twin beds and read "The Golden Treasury of Caroline & her Friends." I remember how delicately and lovingly she would rub my back until sleep overcame me.  In the mornings, Katherine and I would wake to the smell of sizzling bacon and fluffy scrambled eggs.

(Oh, and did I mention the grilled cheese sandwiches?  I wish I had a dollar for every grilled cheese Nana fixed me over the years.)

Nana had her own special way of doing things.  She ironed the sheets before she put them back on the bed.  She drove using both feet on the pedals, one on the brake and one on the gas.  She had a dishwasher, but used it only as a drying rack for the dishes after hand-washing them (and always immediately after eating - even if her company was still visiting).

During the graveside service, Nathan - Nana's minister and my friend & colleague - used the story of Mary & Martha from Luke's Gospel to describe her.  Nana's name was Martha, and her unique way of preparing a place for her guests fit the character of the Biblical Martha to a T.  I have never thought of Nana's likeness to Jesus' friend Martha.  And now that story will have a new meaning for me.  Its significance will breathe in new life for me...thanks to a life well-lived.

On November 8, our family became smaller.  But to be fair, we had lost Nana a long time before her physical death.  Now her spirit lives in the details of our lives - her infamous dressing that my Mom recreates at Thanksgiving; in the memories we share of her silly particularities and her constant need to always be on time; in the way Granddaddy will still call her Marf every time she is brought up in conversation.

And in a sense, Nana will be able to share in the new life of my niece, Ella Taylor (from whom Ella received her middle name) in a richer way.  Who knows if she would be able to comprehend who Ella was if she had met her.  Now Nana can be present in spirit, in the same way she can be come February when our daughter, Abbey, is born.  Our girls will never personally know their great-grandmother, but her love for them will be shared and felt in powerful ways.

The last time I saw Nana was a few months ago when Jeff & I stopped by after a clergy meeting in Hopkinsville.  Granddaddy was full of stories that day; but Nana, lying crookedly in her bed, gazed at me through cloudy eyes and moaned the entire time.  She did not speak real words and I could not tell if she knew me.  As Jeff & I were leaving, I leaned in over her bed, took her hand, and told her I loved her.  The only thing I understood from our last "conversation" was her response to me, "I love you too."  The consonants were muffled and the four words flowed together in a constant stream, but it was obvious to all of us in the room - she told me that she loved me too.    

What happened to Fall? This year, this season of Fall, we giddily greeted new and wonderful life.  And this year, this season of Fall, we whispered goodbye to a life well-lived.

The day after Nana's funeral, we awoke to a slight dusting of snow flurries on the ground.
Winter has not made its official appearance yet, but it is coming.  Another season is upon us.  Time passes.  Life goes on.  There will be dirty diapers to change and grilled cheese sandwiches to make.

And with each fallen leaf, I will pause and give thanks to God for the colors of life that once were, and for the colors of life that are to come.