December 11, 1998 – the day I stopped praying. It was a Friday and I was home for the Holidays from my sophomore year in college. That Monday I woke up in the middle of the night with a sickening premonition that my granny was not going to live through Christmas. It was so strong I went into my parents’ bedroom and woke them up to tell them. They reassured me, however, saying she was doing fine as they had just been to visit her the week before.
Nevertheless, I called her as soon as it was a reasonable time. I couldn’t tell her my fears, but I wanted to talk to her, I wanted to hold her. We talked every day that week, about the weather, Christmas, about nothing really… when I asked her what she wanted for Christmas, she replied, “Just to see you.” When I pressed her for something physical the only thing she could come up with, was “yellow towels.” She’d redone her bathroom and yellow towels would match perfectly.
My prayer has never been so specific or as painfully focused as it was that week. I prayed continually, begging God like never before. My words were simple, that He would let Granny live through Christmas. I didn’t ask Him to move a mountain or stop death altogether, I just asked for a couple more weeks and another visit. I could’ve gone to see her that week, I had the time off, though practically it didn’t make sense… but I could’ve gone. Instead, I stayed home to take care of some things, shop, and work as much as possible.
I didn’t give her either of the things she asked for. I didn’t buy her the damn yellow towels, and I never saw her again. She died Friday morning.
As I type these words, I’m sitting, leaning against the Barnhill headstone where she, my Grandaddy, and their first daughter are buried. I’m weeping. I’m pissed. I’m angry at God and I’ve told Him today in the only way I know how, without absolutely appearing psychotic to the other mourners walking to their loved ones’ places of rest.
No grief, no trauma, no loss has shattered my hope in life so much as losing this woman. This incredibly strong human who taught me how to really love. As far back as I can remember, after Grandaddy died, she had mostly stopped going to church, except for the services across the street at the Salvation Army where friends would gather and she found a place to serve. But she never went with us, where my granddaddy had been a deacon. She didn’t like the preacher, something I wish we had talked more about; I’m not a hug fan either. Years prior, before integration, a black family in the community experienced a death, and since they had no heat, she opened her home for their wake, letting them mourn and have visitors in hers… and you know she cooked! That’s one of a hundred stories of how she loved big, accepted all and served so many. It didn’t matter what people thought about her or the ridicule she encountered – doing what was right was MUCH more important than being liked – and she was adored!
Her death also shattered my hope that God hears me or even cares what words come out of my mouth. I’ve heard all the platitudes so save your breath and my eye rolls. ‘Why give me that intuition and engage with me begging You for one more Christmas with her if all You were going to do was slap me in the face? Yes, God, YOU! I HATE YOU FOR TAKING HER FROM ME.’
I don’t care that “she’s in a better place,” or “at least she died peacefully” and if one more *** person tells me “it was her time,” or “she lived a good life,” I may absolutely lose my shit with them.”
There’s such a void – such a deep deep ache that has never been remotely soothed and nothing short of a miracle or my own death will ever make this not hurt so much. Goldfinch Funeral Home has never been as packed as it was the night of her visitation, with the Goldfinch family themselves offering condolences to my mom in person. The line wrapped outside around the building and people had to stand outside of the chapel during the service. My cousin Matt, whom she loved fiercely, was a Paul bearer. She was loved. She was love.
Many have forgotten now that she opened “Granny’s Florist” in Conway, SC and in fact, everyone knew her as and called her “Granny.” She taught me everything I know about arranging flowers. She was brilliant – and I got much of my artistic creativeness from her. Today I hope she is ok with the Christmas flowers I’m leaving for them. They were picked with her in mind, my Aunt Carolyn, mom and I talked about what she liked and which arrangement would fit her best. Those flowers, along with the ground where she and Grandaddy lie, have been showered with my tears. (And I left something extra for Judy. She didn’t talk much about what it was like to lose a child at just over 16 weeks of age… or what it was like losing her first husband in the war… I guess deep grief is another thing we share).
I’ve heard that “weeping lasts for a night, but joy comes in the morning…” I’m ready for morning.