It’s funny the things you think of in grief.
Like how I wouldn’t wear yellow this day. She hated yellow and teased me about my affinity for it. Threatened to repaint my yellow mailbox red.
I think it strange I am hungry. That mundane things like needing to eat just continue, when everything should stop for a moment, at least, and just “be.”
Even last night at the hospital, when they came out, the doctors, the nurses, the chaplain. Even as I was both stunned and not. Right then, that early, the stories fell from my lips. Wanting these strangers who tried to save her life to glimpse her. Who she was that they labored over. Her spunk and varied life experiences. I needed those memories, those stories that made me both laugh and cry.
I need them now.
Did you know she asked me to take her to Avatar? “But we have to see it in 3-D if we go,” she said.
Afterwards I asked if she enjoyed the movie.
“It was too long,” Typical, her decided opinion. “They should have had an intermission. That’s what they did in Gone with the Wind when I saw it in New York.”
And I marveled at a life that had spanned Gone With the Wind–the first color movie to win Best Picture and a transitional film in many ways–to Avatar with its 3-D blue people and ground-breaking visual effects.
Bernice didn’t pull punches. When the weight piled on she told me, “You’re getting fat. Well, it happens to the best of us.”
And one day when she answered her door, and the sunshine bounced off my silver highlights it was, “It’s time to color your hair. You’re going gray.”
Funny how she could say those things, and it made me laugh. It never hurt like it would if someone else said it.
Last year when I started losing weight she praised me, but cautioned, “Don’t lose too much. You were too skinny when you married Jerry.”
“You let me know if you think I’m getting too thin.”
“Oh, I will.”
“I have no doubt,” I said. And she laughed. I did, too.
As I type her little dog, Dusty, comes by my feet for some love. My husband–a staunch believer that animals belong outside–said we’d better bring him home with us last night. And so I guess he’s here until arrangements are made for his new home. Dusty doesn’t stay alone at night, and we didn’t have the heart to sleep at her house as we’ve done in the past when Bernice was hospitalized.
It was the main thing she worried about, that her little dog wouldn’t be alone.
The boys often ran her to the store or drove her and Dusty to the groomer. This little trips meant they’d come home with a frozen lasagna for supper or stop by Dairy Queen after the grooming appointment. She didn’t mind asking us for help, but she always found a way to give us something, too. I think she especially enjoyed letting Sam drive her car on his first date.
Funny the process of grief. At the hospital I stood by the bed. The shell that was once her lying there. We prayed. Cried. I kissed her cold forehead.
Then I had to pull out my kindle, show a total stranger my book cover with Bernice’s hand on it. “She was a hand model in her teens in New York, you know.” It seemed important this woman glimpse her, see the span. “And then she modeled for me.”
Bernice had wanted to use the other hand, felt it was less drawn by age. I explained it was the very age of the hand that I wanted for the book cover, and she shrugged, set aside pride, and complied. And I loved the picture, the spotted, gnarled, arthritic hand. The hand I’ve held. The hand that only a few months ago made me cookies.
Before Sarah married, Bernice and I went shopping for a new outfit. She didn’t like using her walker, so she leaned on the carts at the store, incredible stamina for 84 years old. She bought a new ring with a red stone with a gift certificate from her grand kids, then scanned the jewelry department looking for something for me, insisting I choose a bracelet. (Always a gift for someone else.)
We picked out a new pant suit for her to wear to the wedding, and she bought herself some slacks and pair of jeans. She was excited at the skinny leg styles. She had thin legs, used to dance on those legs in New York, often dreamed of being a Rockette, but said she was not quite tall enough and the Rockettes liked their dancers thin those days.
We ate at Red Robin, her favorite place for a hamburger. It may have been that day we splurged on shakes, too.
Before the wedding she handed me a beautiful ring, with two little diamonds and two purple stones. “Try this on. I’ll bet it fits you now that you’re skinny.”
It fit. I smiled and handed it back to her.
“Why don’t you wear it for a while?”
So I wore it a week. Maybe more.
“You know I’m giving that ring to you, don’t you?” This one day, out of the blue as I sat across from her at the oak table we bought years ago at a garage sale. “You need a purple one for the wedding. That’s Sarah’s colors.”
She took a sip of her diet Dr. Pepper and then leaned forward. “When I bought it years ago I wanted red, but they didn’t have red. Now I know why. Because it was for you. For the wedding.”
It was one of those strange thing I thought about this morning when I awoke with tears–how I would put that ring on, as I’ve done most days for the last year, how I loved that ring.
How I loved her.