I have a sore throat, not from the pandemic, more likely from the hazardous wildfire air that has canceled three sports practices in the last four days.
My friend texted me about her first-grader who is replaying with toys the active shooter lockdown drill that took place at his school. “Follow my instructions and you will be safe. Get under here and be quiet,” he said to himself.
My kids’ covid-books, I mean Chromebooks, are on the kitchen counter charging for tomorrow. Isn’t it nice every child was issued a backup plan this year? I’m waiting for the email: Classes will be held online for “two weeks” starting tomorrow. I’ll be ready to reschedule clients and shift workshops as needed.
I woke up—again—before my alarm went off. I reached over to check the hurricane news. I also wondered if there were any more attacks in Kabul. Just as I started scrolling, my mom texted that my grandmother had just died.
The world is so heavy. I am so tired. But I’ve been tired for a long time now.
Oma didn’t know about the pandemic. She didn’t know her brother had died just three months ago. I don’t even know if she understood I moved to California two years ago. She certainly didn’t know about the twin battles of fires and the floods throughout the country.
My mom and aunt knew it was nearly time when her caretakers started talking about her in the past tense. They commented on how sweet “she was.”
I never knew either of my grandfathers. Only my grandmothers: Omi and Oma. Omi died 14 years ago. Even after my parents’ divorce nearly 30 years ago, they remained best friends. They lived, about a mile apart, in the same homes my entire life. The decor of both homes stayed nearly the same. In contrast, by the time I graduated high school, I had lived in at least 10 different homes. I attended three different schools for grades 10-12.
My grandmothers’ homes were my rock. My anchor. My stable place. In college, when my friends went on summer break trips, I visited my grandmothers.
Oma, who died about 12 hours ago now, hid store-boxed donuts in her dryer. She kept rubber bands on her kitchen doorknob. She sat on her porch and watched the birds in her flower garden. She joked about shooting the squirrels away from her feeders. She didn’t have a gun, just a wicked sense of humor.
One time, I asked my grandmothers if they ever thought she’d date again. Oma said, “A man my age only dates a woman my age for a nurse or a purse.” I suggested she date someone younger and didn’t understand why she and Omi got so quiet.
On Tuesdays, she and Omi, and sometimes her sister in law went out to Captain D’s or Wendy’s. It depended on the coupons.
When I was growing up, she’d send me an Easter basket full of candy … but it was packed in a plastic cool-whip container. She was a queen or “re-use.” I learned at a young age not to expect what was in the box to match the picture on the box.
On Christmas Eve, they sat by the fireplace and used sharp knives and scissors to carefully open their presents to each other. They saved the paper and reused it to wrap future gifts. Omi, being a perfectionist, took the extra step of ironing the tissue paper before resuing it. Oma, I am sure, just flattened it as best she could before folding it. That’s what I do.
For many years, when I opened a gift from my grandmothers, I’d open the box and smell cigarette smoke. One year, they decided to quit smoking. Omi quit cold turkey. Oma cut down bit by bit each week until she got down to a few days of a mere puff. I am not sure which one demonstrated more control.
After a stinging breakup with a younger man left her depressed, Omi distracted herself by building a beach house at Edisto Island. She and Oma took on the challenge of decorating the entire home with yard sale finds. And they did. Everything from the dishes to towels to sofas … even the cow rug was bought at a yard sale.
I hold many memories of those two old ladies floating on their rafts in the ocean, searching for shells (which Omi used to make her driveway) during walks, discovering sharks teeth. and simply sitting in the sun.
I just remembered that a few months ago, I removed shells, some from Edisto, from the basket that had held them for years. I placed them by the fountain in the meditation garden. I wanted to be closer to those memories—to add my own stories to this garden.
They enjoyed trips to the beach house until Omi’s lungs restricted her to her home. Then to her bed. She eventually sold it to afford round-the-clock nursing care. She was determined to die in her home. Oma visited her almost daily. Omi thanked her in her will.
After Omi died, Oma and I had a hard time talking on the phone. We’d start to talk about her like she was still alive and then remember she wasn’t. There was a lot of silence as Oma and I would often just try not to cry. Now, Oma is gone too. I wish I could call Omi for a few awkward minutes of silence.
In addition to enduring difficult relationships, eventually divorcing their alcoholic spouses, and remaining friends as their children divorced one another, Oma and Omi lived through many historic events.
Now, those of us here are living through our own historic events and tumultuous times. Tensions are high. People are angry. Divisiveness plagues us. I wish more than anything I could wake up one more morning in Oma’s house or Omi’s house. I long to swish the sheets between my feet as I listen to the familiar birdsongs.
Even rocks change with time.
This morning, I sat in the meditation garden, where the verdant walls and willow branches hold me. While praying, I heard grunting to my right. One of my dogs sometimes makes pig noises. It took me a while to tune in and realize it wasn’t coming from her. Then I heard the familiar chatter of a hummingbird. I turned my head and saw it right by my face. It hovered a bit before taking refuge in a tree. It chose the tree nearest the shells from Edisto. It stayed a while—longer than most—before flying away.
Omi and Oma have flown to the realm of invisible things.
I can no longer reach out and touch them. But I can feel them.
Note: Last night, I didn’t have the energy to think of a clever title. I named this piece simply and concretely. I realized this morning the influence of my experience in working with grieving children: Be simple, direct, concrete. Using words like passed, transitioned, went to sleep, etc., are confusing to young children.
Perhaps I wrote this title for the younger version of me inside. We all have one. What I want to say to her is, “Oma and Omi are dead. Their homes are gone. You didn’t have me when you were younger, but you have me now. This home and these gardens are your rock, your anchor, your stable place. No matter what darkness comes our way, I will be here with you. It’s OK to cry. It’s OK to rest. Be sure that the best parts of these women are within you and will guide us through the challenges ahead. The world is heavy and I will carry you. And cherish you as they did.”