Death Book

Letter

Inside my grandmother’s house, you’ll find a black binder. If you thumb through the pages, you’ll see clippings from the local paper. Obituaries. It’s full of obituaries. I’ve taken to calling it the “death book.”   It’s mostly elderly relatives and friends that lived long, full lives.  But interspersed with obituaries of those like my great-grandmother who lived well into her 90’s, you’ll find some clippings that seem more tragic than others. My grandfather who was in his late 40s.  My father also in his late 40s. If you keep looking, as I did when it happened to be sitting out after she added a page for her friend who died recently, you’ll run across my cousin who was in his 20’s when he was murdered.  I hadn’t seen his obituary or the accompanying articles about his death in years.  It’s particularly striking when you read through and see the words “survived by his mother…” I kept thumbing through until I found Zoey’s page.  Her obituary and the program from her memorial service are preserved under a plastic sheet along with a handwritten note that I hadn’t seen before.

Dear LaVera,

We were so pleased to be able to meet your great-granddaughter, Zoey.  In trying to think of words of consolation for you, I realize that it was your dream of the three clouds that was the most comforting.  The third cloud with a butterfly flitting on Zoey, nestled in her great-great grandmother’s arms is exactly where we hope her to be—with her struggles behind her and looking forward to the day when she is reunited with all of her loving family.

All our love, Margie & Karl

If I heard the story about my grandmother dreaming about Zoey, I’d forgotten it in the haze of grief.  And maybe she never shared it with me.  But imagining my sweet girl cuddling with my great-grandmother, a woman I adored, is exactly what I needed.  Snuggled there on my great-grandma’s lap, she is happy—smiling as my great-grandma Ring tells her how we’d walk to the park and stop for a chocolate-dipped ice cream cone on the way home.

I’ve struggled since Zoey’s birthday. At times the sadness has been just under the surface. There have been other moments where I feel it has blindsided me.  Smacking me down on an otherwise ordinary day. Maybe it’s because I’m watching Sebastian meet milestones Zoey never was able to reach. Maybe it’s the stress of adding another baby to our family and having no control over the process.  Maybe it’s realizing this is the year I should be taking pictures of her on her first day of kindergarten, a little backpack over her shoulders and glittery sandals on her feet.  Maybe it’s all of that along with missing her for five full years now.  All I know is that my heart needed to be reminded that she’s waiting for me, but that she’s in good hands with all those who have loved me too.

My grandmother’s binder is full of reminders of death and tragedy.  But there, tucked alongside the stories of those we’ve lost, are reminders of all those we’ve loved.

‘Tis a Fearful Thing

Tis a fearful thing
to love what death can touch.
A fearful thing
to love, to hope, to dream, to be –
to be,
And oh, to lose.
A thing for fools, this,
And a holy thing, a holy thing
to love.
For your life has lived in me,
your laugh once lifted me,
your word was gift to me.
To remember this brings painful joy.
‘Tis a human thing, love,
a holy thing, to love
what death has touched.

Jehudah Halevi