Tuesday, August 16, 2011

After the Memorial

We are all grandmothers now, our children grown, married, pregnant, so that we make each other aunts over and over, reap all the benefits of a house full of children, suffer none of the drawbacks. There is laughing, screaming, racing, joy. We change diapers, kiss boo-boos, and cuddle at will. We turn them back to their parents when we’re through, sit around the table in deep conversation long after meals conclude, with no interruptions.

Dad is a child again, snot dripping from his nose. He messes his pants, like a child, and we have nothing to fear from him anymore. His anger has burned to embers, the embers burnt out. When we tire of his presence, we return him to his home. The Home. We are diligent daughters, if not loving. We do our duty.

Mom is gone.

She did not know us, at the end, but she knew Jesus. We will return to her arms, one day, in heaven, so our tears are sporadic. She suffers no more.

The pastor tells us not to be surprised; when we file into the sanctuary, the church will be packed, every pew filled. When we file into the sanctuary, the church is packed, every pew filled. We sing, we laugh, we cry, we pray. We file out, into the basement where there will be best wishes from those we haven’t seen in decades, along with iced tea and cookie fellowship.

They flock around dad, “Preach,” they call him, the old pastor beloved by his flock. The offer their condolences, ask after his health. We bring him a plate, offer him a napkin, turn back to our own families.

“Just tell them you’re sorry.” The words are overheard.

“I don’t know how. I don’t know how to tell my daughters I’m sorry.”

“Just tell them. Ask for their forgiveness.”

But these are words only overheard. Dad does not say he is sorry. Dad does not ask for our forgiveness. We do not bring Dad back to the house for supper.
After supper, our children, now adults, slyly produce bottles and cans: beer, wine, vodka. The daughters of Baptist preachers do not drink. Our children, now adults, mix liquor with strawberries, sugar, ice; they ply us with mixed drinks and sweet wine.

We accept.

This is new.

By ten p.m. our husbands and children cannonball off the low sloping roof into the inflatable above ground swimming pool. We don’t want to look, but we must. They land, splashing and laughing. No one gets hurt. No one puts an eye out. It is all fun and games.

“We should have done this before,” they say. “Imagine what our reunions could have been,” they say. “I never felt like this around family,” they say.

By midnight, the grandchildren have fallen asleep on couches and cots, in cribs and corners. The men, still soaking in the pool, soak in the last of the beer. We sisters sit on the deck, our eyes to the sky.

A shooting star draws a thick, golden arc overhead.

“That’s mom,” one of us says, “riding all the way home to Jesus.”

We cry for gratitude.