Today, we will have the first of two memorial services for my son’s great grandmother, Barb Friend. He is eight years old. Between the testosterone and the inability to stand still for five minutes, I knew that I had to have a conversation with him about how he should behave during the services. As I began to explain that he is the very embodiment of his great grandmother’s pride and joy, I began to cry. People who know me well know that I don’t cry.
The human psyche is frail. Even in the strongest of minds, enough trauma can cause a break from what is average or normal among humans. At some point in my lifetime, I began to associate crying with weakness. I don’t remember a specific moment or event; I just know that it is a perception that has evolved in me. I think to myself that people around me must see it as a lack of understanding or empathy. I assure you; it’s not. I hadn’t really considered just how deeply ingrained it is until this morning, when during this conversation with my son, he said, “Mommy, I’ve never seen you cry.”
Technically, he’s wrong. He witnessed a great deal of crying when my father died seven years ago, but he has no memory of it now, and that is the important part. He has no memory of ever witnessing his mother having a cathartic emotional experience to anything.
Believe me when I tell you that I don’t see this as a good thing. I see it as an ability to achieve what is the kind of vital emotional catharsis that certain circumstances demand. I can witness it and react accordingly. I’ve watched my family openly grieving, as they should, the loss of Barb’s presence and significant influence in our lives. I chose those words carefully, by the way, “presence and significant influence,” because her love is not lost. It’s in all of us.
Each of us is experiencing her loss in our own way and that is where my odd form of grieving must seem foreign to everyone else. I mourn the dismantling of a life well-lived. I study the books and costume jewelry that she’d chosen for herself. I think about the things she found interesting and the things that she’d done for herself. Over the last four days, I tried (often in vain) to remember details of the conversations we’d had over the past eleven years looking for a theme. It wasn’t really that hard to find. In fact, it was glaringly obvious.
She was proud of her family and in the end, that is what brought out my tears. I too was her family. And even more significant is that the thing that remains my favorite memory of her is entirely selfish. She truly beamed when she spoke of my son, the first of her great grandchildren. Eventually, she beamed about all of them as they each came along, but he was the first, so I have the privilege of having had the longest running reel of her smile as it was brought on by her immeasurable pride in her role as GiGi.
I admit, I don’t grieve like other people. To me, people I love don’t really leave me. My father is so much a part of my DNA, both physical and emotional, that I feel like he is wrapped around me like my own skin. After knowing Barb for eleven years, she too became a part of the fabric of my life and thankfully, a large part of my son’s life, as well. “Represent your GiGi well today, son,” I said, “she was so very proud of you.” That was the moment. That’s what I said that made me realize exactly why I loved her like I did. We didn’t always see eye to eye, but I could easily see exactly how much she loved us and that is a memory that should bring tears, even to someone as hardened to crying as I am.
“You just don’t realize how amazing it is that you knew your great-grandmother,” I said later in the conversation. And he doesn’t. He’s too young. But I know, and as the odd one in the family, I have an unusually peripheral view of how little things like Christmas cookies and Easter eggs can truly, actually color a child’s life. Barb did those things for her grand children and to my delight, her great grandchildren, too. He may not know yet how that influenced his life, but I do and for that reason, today, I shed my tears.
Goodbye, GiGi, you will be missed.