Note: I wrote this post in memory of my grandmother, “Gee Gee,” almost one year ago. Her birthday is this week.
For more than a decade, I lived 10 hours away from home. Illinois was nice, but I missed the South. The architecture of valleys and mountains. Raindrops pattering through thick branches and leaves instead of gusting across former prairies in winds that wrestled with my Midwestern umbrella. The rollicking sounds of passionate Southern conversations.
Though no substitute for living down here, the phone connected me to my family and their ever-present opinions. “Candy,” my grandmother would say. “You know when people retire, they do NOT move North. They move South, and there’s a reason.” She had tried living in New England as a newlywed with my grandfather, near his extended family; soon they were back in Alabama for good. “Cold, Candy. It’s cold up there!” Add a hefty peppering of “good lord” and “I swear” to these popular message points, and you’ll get a taste of her emphatic humor.
“The next visit” was a topic of many phone conversations. “October,” I said once. When I drove down to Alabama a few weeks later, it was a September trip for her funeral. She died unexpectedly and quickly, active until the end – what most of us would order off a menu of potential departures and exits, if we could. I’d called to check on her that day, and a family member told her I’d phoned, but we didn’t get to say good-bye.
Back in Illinois after my journey, I had a dream about my grandmother. I was in my basement, and she was waiting on the other side of the window while I tried to convince her to talk to me. “I need you to give me a message,” I said. She just kept smiling without saying a word.
I stood next to a stack of plastic organizers, topped with a set of small white drawers. (In my regular “waking” life, those drawers were upstairs holding my embroidery threads). I pulled one open and watched as white slips of paper spilled out of the overstuffed compartment. I didn’t try to catch them or pick them up.
“What do you want to say?” I asked her.
After several more attempts, I woke up. And I teared up, because I remembered seeing one sentence handwritten on every slip of paper:
I love you.
We ended every conversation with those words, but somehow reading them in a dream brought comfort and underscored old lessons I forget and learn, again and again.
What I need has a way of showing up, sometimes in an unexpected form. Kindness and grace are infused into the world around me – easily spotted whenever I wake up, release my narrow expectations and simply pay attention.
Love never fails. Love cannot die. Love wins.