“Remember that when you leave this earth, you can take with you nothing that you have received – only what you have given.”
- Saint Francis of Assisi
What is family?
I was at my cousin’s wedding when the DJ played my grandmother’s favorite song, “We are Family,” by Sister Sledge. My mom and her eleven brothers and sisters, in-laws, my cousins, and myself danced in a large circle moving our feet, hands clasped, arms wrapped around each other’s waist and back, fingers pointing at each other singing, “We are family! I got all my sisters with me…” The smiles and light in everyone’s eyes took me back to being with my grandma and grandpa, dancing and singing the same song in our old church gymnasium in Starlight at their 50th wedding anniversary in an even larger circle. My grandparents had twelve children and thirty-one grandchildren. Most of us grew up together and have continued to remain close. I was reminded of the importance of family and what family means to me.
Grandma. Just the thought of her brings a smile to my face, to my heart, my insides. Besides spoiling me, Grandma treated me as if I was another one of her children. Her permed hair stood above her oversized square-framed glasses, which would fall off her face when she’d laugh, and pretty much always be sitting crooked on her nose, half covering her eyes, if at all, and my mom concerned, half joking, would say, “Mom, how can you see?”. She no longer had any feeling in parts of her body due to a stroke she had when I was just two, while my mom and I were living with them. My grandparents had just finished raising all their kids, and Grandpa was finally able to retire so they planned to travel the world together. During his retirement party Grandma went to take a picture and noticed she couldn’t see out of her one eye. She went to the clinic and they performed surgery on a brain aneurism they discovered, which spontaneously sent her into having a stroke. When Grandma came back from the hospital things weren’t the same at the house. She couldn’t drive anymore or work on the farm or cook the way she used to. But the love she carried never changed. And our connection never wavered. If anything it just continued to grow deeper. We were close my entire childhood—it seemed we could communicate without words. And that contagious genuine smile she carried. She was always smiling.
One of my latest memories of her was when I’d been living in Florida and hadn’t seen her since I’d returned home to Indiana. It must have been close to five months, which was extremely rare for me because Grandma and her home were my safe haven. I spent a lot of time there as a kid, especially when I went through a lot of trouble as a teenager.
One afternoon, my buddies and I were heading out to a lake to attempt writing some screenplay we’d fantasized about but never actually got any further than the dreams we had in our heads and the notepads and pens I took from my mom’s desk. I was wearing these pants that had a button missing so the only thing holding them up was the zipper. Well, on our way out to the lake the zipper broke. Now nothing was holding my pants up. Well crap, what do I do now? It just so happened that I was driving us in my buddy’s car and it occurred to me that I should go to my grandma’s and get a safety pin to hold them up. Her house was a good 45 minutes out of the way but something was telling me I needed to go see her. We were also out in the country and there weren’t any stores nearby and I didn’t want to turn around to go home and change. Luckily, I was in the driver’s seat, so my buddies were in for the ride.
We drove out to Grandma’s place and I went inside. My aunt, Kath, the third oldest of twelve siblings, was there. Grandma was asleep but Kath said she could fix my pants for me so I gave them to her, threw on a pair of Grandma’s sweats that were in the laundry room, and went back to her room.
My grandpa had died just five months earlier and Grandma was missing him very much. They were married 57 years. She’d forget he had died and would ask my mom or aunts where he was and when was he coming home and they’d have to remind her that he wasn’t here anymore. And she’d say, “oh yeah,” and then look off into the distance, with sadness hanging on her face and a deep longing in her eyes. Everyone called Grandpa “Boob.” The nickname was given to him by his friends because of an old comic strip he loved with an air pilot character named Boo Boo Baxter. When she was going through fits of dementia, Grandma would get dressed up all pretty and sit and wait by the front door with her purse on, hands clasped, anxiously rubbing one of her thumbs over top of the other. When my mom or aunts asked her whom she was waiting for she’d happily tell them, “Boob’s coming to get me so we can go play cards.”
As soon as I walked into Grandma’s room she said, “I’m just too old, Ayden.”
She didn’t reply. I sat with her for a minute, excused myself to go to the bathroom, and when I returned she had fallen asleep. I hugged her, kissed her on the cheek, told her I how much I loved her, and said goodbye.
As I was walking out I asked Kath if Grandma was okay and she said, “Oh yeah, she’s fine, she just has diarrhea today,” and laughed.
“Really? Something seems weird.”
The next morning I was sleeping on the couch downstairs at my Mom’s house. It must have been about seven or eight when the phone rang and woke me up. I knew what it was even before I heard my Mom.
“What! Joy? Oh my God!” She came running down the stairs to tell me Grandma had died in her sleep.
Grandma and I spoke the same language and always understood one another. She was my person. We had a soul connection that ran deep. She called for me that day and I’m so grateful I listened. We got to say goodbye. Till next time.
What is the meaning to life? To me, it is love. Discovering the love, God’s love, within ourselves, as well as outside of ourselves, within everyone and within everything. "The breath within the breath." We all share this energy, which is God. That is the meaning to me, and that, I believe, is the ultimate goal - to remove all the obstacles, all the fear that keeps us separate from this love. That keeps us separate from each other. Essentially we are all family. “We’re giving love in a family dose. We are family, I got all my sisters and me…” And my brothers.
Love is the safety pin that holds us all together. All of us. When we allow it, when we listen, when we drop into our hearts, into one another. When we drop into God. We know. There is no separation. There is no us and them.
Grandma has left with me what family means. Not just biological family but that we are all family, woven together by the possibility of love. If we can drop into this connection there is a deep sense of togetherness, union. No matter how crazy your family might make you, no matter if you even have family that’s still alive, you are a stitch in the much bigger weave of the world. You belong.
Today, reach out to someone you love and express what they mean to you. Share your hearts with one another. At the end of our days and at the end of our lives it’s all about love and embracing our differences, joining in them instead of allowing them to divide us.