I Carry Her Heart With Me
Ten months ago I made a mad rush north to Nashville to visit my great-grandmother, after receiving the news that she may only have days or hours left. She was turning 99, and I was honored and heartbroken to hold her hand and tell her I love her. I was also overwhelmed and joyful that she didn’t pass away. In fact, she seemed to have the life breathed into her with all of her family surrounding her.
Two weeks ago I went north to Nashville to teach oil classes and sneak in some time with my aunt and my Granny again. I walked into her room, tried my best to wake her, and finally admitted that after nearly 100 years of living, she’s allowed to sleep through visitors.
So, I anointed her hands with rose oil, curled up next to her, and I whispered that I loved her. She raised her head a few times, her face lighting up to see me, but she’d immediately fall back to sleep.
When I left that morning, something different occurred. My heart wasn’t breaking. I wasn’t choking back tears. I still had the same thought I’ve had each time I’ve seen her over the past 20 years, This may be the last time I see her, but it didn’t cause pain. I just felt love. I walked out feeling at peace.
Six days later I received the news that she had passed, two months and one day before her 100th birthday. My heart ached, and I allowed it to. But in this space that seemed to open up at her passing, a sense of joy came rushing in.
My grandmother passed away in the way we all wish to someday: at 100 years old, surrounded by her family, and peacefully in her sleep. She was a woman of immense love and patience. We never heard her raise her voice, even when we were crazy, unruly kids. She was gentle and her face would light up to see us, just like it did when I last saw her, just like this….
At the same time, she was fiery and feisty. She was strong, and confident in her decisions. Among the first women to have the courage to leave an unhealthy marriage, or work a factory line. She had opinions, and she was honest. It wasn’t always social acceptable, but she wouldn’t lie, and I fucking love that about her. (I’ll always remember how she made me laugh last year after I showed up to say my goodbyes with a shaved head and she called out, “Well hey baldy!” That woman. ♥)
For the moment I knew she was gone, I’ve felt her in my veins. I keep thinking that her DNA is my DNA, and how awesome does that make me to have come from the likes of her? Every time I feel the tears well up, a smile creeps in too.
But I almost didn’t write this post.
I deeply appreciate, but truly do not want condolences. “Sorry for your loss” just doesn’t fit her passing, because all I feel is an immense gain for the privilege of experiencing her, of sharing 1/3 of her life. I don’t know if this sounds crazy or callous or hurtful, but I’m not sad she’s gone. I know that death is inevitable, and I find hers to be beautiful. All I can feel is love and joy and laughter in my bones, as though she’s permeated me more now than she had before.
But I couldn’t not write this.
Call it a celebration of her life. A declaration of her personhood. An anthem of my pride for her. I just have to let the world know what she’s done for us. She lived, and she died, in ways we all hope to.
This poem has never spoken so true for anyone the way it does from my Granny now…
i carry your heart with me(i carry it in
my heart)i am never without it(anywhere
i go you go, my dear;and whatever is done
by only me is your doing,my darling)
no fate(for you are my fate,my sweet)i want
no world(for beautiful you are my world,my true)
and it’s you are whatever a moon has always meant
and whatever a sun will always sing is you
here is the deepest secret nobody knows
(here is the root of the root and the bud of the bud
and the sky of the sky of a tree called life;which grows
higher than soul can hope or mind can hide)
and this is the wonder that’s keeping the stars apart
i carry your heart with me(i carry it in my heart)
I am so damn proud to carry her with me. ♥