Editor’s Note: Grandmothers death and memorial reminds mother of the generational passing of the baton.
My family and I have just returned from my grandmother’s memorial, a festival of relatives and ghosts.
After the sharing of stories at the memorial, a pack of young cousins blurred by, shrieking and laughing, playing their role as the young upstarts; the ones who believe everything remains the same forever; the ones who rely on parents to deposit them gently in bed after being worn to a nub by their own exuberance; the ones whose very selves are the shiny vessels into which we adults pour our hopes and dreams.
I remember being in that club of cousins, being fast and light in my kid-suit, bonded in solidarity with anyone who shared the same set of grandparents. My cousin Janie made me laugh ’til I peed my pants. Cousins Rachel Jennifer, Amy and I, proudly hand-lettered newspapers to distribute amongst our parents, every headline featuring our fictional fall guy, “Dum Dum.” Amy’s brother Josh, once cornered me in his room and fired off a question my heart pounded to get right. His record player spun every little thing she does is magic, and he demanded of my 9-year old self: “what’s cooler—rock and roll or disco?”
This was formative stuff.
Back then, the parents were a generic and benevolent bunch, reliably found occupying couches with drinks in hand, available for feedings and the depositing of our ragged bodies into a pile of sleepy cousins. The grandparents were impossibly old and duly special, always happy to receive hugs from their grandkids when we slowed down long enough to throw our lanky arms their way.
Being at Grandma Joyce’s memorial, seeing my dear mother choreographing the celebration of her mother’s life was like being handed a memo that reads: everything changes. What changes? Well, now we’re the benevolent bunch in our adult-suits. We can be found on the couches, with our wonky knees and salting hair, while our children swirl in and out of focus, stopping only to grab an olive off our plates.
This passing of the generational baton reminds me of folk dancing, which Grandma Joyce and her husband, who predeceased her, loved. While you’re constantly moving within the formation of dancers, you always have a place and your next step hurtles you somewhere purposeful. Eventually it hurtles you towards old age and death (in the very best case scenario). Even my parents. My parents! This is a truth that I keep scraping off the sides of the bowl, trying to incorporate its immutableness into the mix, but it’s too slippery for my heart to hold.
In my bravest, most ballooning-heart place, this notion helps me rejoice in the small things, in the masterpiece of an apricot blossom, or the warbly, off-tune soundtrack that is our delicious and messy life. To rejoice in this extended family that grows and contracts, and in the people that make me both a mother and a daughter.