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15 November 2006

Rest in Peace, Granny

My Granny was 97 years old when she passed away on the morning of November 15, 2006. She was my last remaining grandparent, and I feel as if a volume on my life has now been closed, and a new one opened. With death, as with budding life, most of us learn to crawl before we walk, walk before we run. If all things run naturally, we will next (hopefully years from now) have to face the deaths of two sets of parents. And then, of course, will come our turns.

I received the call from my mother at school today, during my planning period. It was not a shock, and actually I was much more emotional last week after hearing about Granny’s stroke, and apprehending that it would be her death blow. Some of my students were very sweet about it this afternoon. The hardest part of today – and this can come as no surprise to those of you who have been through this – was to tell my five-year old. He cried and cried, and I realized just how much a child his age can comprehend of death.

If I had to remember Granny in any one particular place and time, this would be it:

I’m ten years old, or so, and we are visiting Granny and Pop over the weekend in Charlotte (something we did maybe once a month, give or take). It’s either June, July, or August, and it’s been hot as fire all day, something that, as a kid, I take only a little notice of. My Dad, brother, and I have been out for a good part of the day, either playing baseball in the backyard, or playing putt-putt. Probably, we’ve watched a good portion of Saturday afternoon baseball with Vin Scully and Joe Garagiola, though my Pop doesn’t particularly care for watching sports. Now it’s evening time, after supper (which consisted of roast beef, creamed potatoes, green beans, lima beans, Pillsbury biscuits, sweet tea, and apple or lemon pie), and a huge thunderstorm is beating down on the world. Granny sits with us at the kitchen table, and plays card games with my brother and me (my favorite was “Memory”). She may be fussing at my Mom, she may be fussing at my Pop – but with us, she chuckles, even when we’ve done something upsetting like spilling tea on her tablecloth. For a moment, in that moment, the world feels nothing but safe, and good, and right. I’ll never forget your chuckle, Granny.

Two Sundays ago, on All Saint’s Day, our church service included a live orchestral performance of John Rutter’s Requiem. It was the second time I have heard this particular music for the requiem mass service live (I highly encourage you to get the CD if you have a taste for such things), and it's so beautiful and haunting (all the more remarkable because it is a modern composition using traditional forms) that it never fails to give me chills. This also turned out to be the day before Granny's stroke. In the middle of the performance, before the final “Lux aeterna”, our minister read the names of church members who had passed on in the last year, and each name was followed by the toll of a bell. My tears were for no one in particular on that day, since I didn't know any of these members personally. But in some sense, even on occasions such as that, tears for the departed are always personal. Let there be a bell toll now, Granny, for you. Requiescat in pace.

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