It is a sweltering day, the only relief from the heat a wind that whips against us and bends the flowers low. The cemetery is such a big place and it's easy to get turned around. Grandpa Swartz is buried here, I take note. And near him my uncle Jerry and Aunt Sally. There is the big Sexton stone with your parents' markers beneath. And Grandpa Thompson. And you--Delores Elaine Thompson--these sixteen years since October 1994. Mom and Dad set pots of flowers on all the graves and water them from a metal bucket. You would have smiled to see who all else was along: Kath, and her three sons that you have not met. And Kim and Amy are with me. Remember all the many hours you played with them and let them take pictures of themselves being silly with your camera, all the game shows they watched from your couch, all the treats you indulged them with? They remember. You watched them play with their dolls and laughed at their vivid imaginations. You said, "Someday they'll be mothers...how I wish I could see that. But I won't."
"Oh, SURE you will!" I responded glibly with the naive invincibility of a 30 year-old. I thought I could convince us both that you'd never die.
In 1997 I gave birth to another daughter, Victoria, and she is with us, too. Whenever I say her name I think of your own beloved aunt, Victoria, and her house nearby on Lake Darling. You would have loved this child so much. And little Kim and Amy are mothers now, too--four small children between them running amongst the gravestones, straining to carry a pail full of water. These are my grandchildren. I am a grandmother. I am not "Gram" like you, but I am, "Nema." Having these little people in my life has given me a new perspective I did not have before. There are so many things I wish I could tell you now, so many things I understand that I did not know then: How I want to give them the world. How I want to protect them and worry when they run with sharp sticks. How sad I feel when they are punished even though I know it must be. I want to be the kind of grandmother I had. You were the best. I couldn't wait to tell you things that happened in my day and you had all the time in the world to listen until I ran out of things to say. I've never known anyone who has cheered louder for me or been more interested in the everyday details of my life as you. If I can reflect a small portion of that love to my own grandchildren, I will consider my life a success.
As we step away from your grave site, we pass an obscure marker in the ground almost overgrown with grass. Dad pushes it back with his foot and reads the name, "Angeline." He reminds me that this was your childhood friend who died of cancer at the age of 20. Dad says, "Someone said that you are never really gone until the last person who remembers you dies." Then he adds, "I am probably the last person who remembers Angeline." Except for me, Gram. I remember her. I remember you telling how she had a vision of Jesus coming to her in her pain at the end of her life and how Jesus took the pain but told her he wanted her with him. I remember that story, even though I never knew Angeline. I remember how sad your face was when you talked about the little girl you played with and how old I thought twenty was then and how far away death seemed for all of us.
And now you are not with us. There is just a granite stone marking a place in the grass along with hundreds of others--so many it is hard to find your name. But you are close in my thoughts. Not a day goes by that I don't think of you and miss you. And when I die you will still not be truly gone because my children and their children will remember us still. And we will be together. And all the stories I have saved up to tell you all these years can be told. We will have all the time we need. To remember...
As for man, his days are like grass, he flourishes like a flower of the field;
the wind blows over it and it is gone,
and its place remembers it no more.
But from everlasting to everlasting the LORD's love is with those who fear him, and his righteousness with their children's children.