I once read that extended families exist only because grandmothers refused to die on time, and I don't know if that's true, but I watch my own mother, now a grandmother of her own, and I can understand why one would refuse to die, because who would want to give up the hugs and falls and ripped books that grandbabies bring you? I sat through a Catholic funeral yesterday and am exhausted just remembering the standing and sitting and bowing and repeating and singing, all of these motions that mean nothing to me but meant everything to my dead grandmother. Mostly I watched the singer, who had a lovely thin voice, and the altar boys, who kept biting their hangnails and scratching their backs, while Jesus and Mary twinkled in the Philadelphia sunlight above them. I was in Quito, Ecuador once, and I touched the walls of the church in the city square, and they were literally paved in gold while a hungry crowd begged for my American change right outside the gates. It felt...excessive, in a terribly uncomfortable way, as yesterday did, too.
After the service I went with my older sister to pick up my niece and nephew from their daycare, and it was naptime, and there in darkened rooms were three-year-olds laid out on tiny little mattresses like a living checkerboard. I tickled my niece's palm to wake her and she stretched, all long and so big already, and after a moment of confusion -- what were her aunts doing there? -- she smiled, her cheeks flushed and her curls all pulled out and flattened, and just like that, she was up and ready for an afternoon of unexpected playtime with us. We hopped like frogs and read Dr. Seuss and the morning, and its cemeteries and tears, slipped away, already a memory.
My grandmother had a photo of us all -- her grandchildren and great grandchildren -- in her nursing home bedroom, even the babies whose existence she could never remember, and my mom would point to each of us and say our names. Occasionally, my grandmom would even remember them herself. I guess that association is what we're always striving for. "She was ours," we can say, "and she knew our names."