Grams is not easy to shop for. She’s never been one to focus too much on herself; even those of us who know and love her best seldom hear a wishlist.
Christmas was quickly coming and I had no ideas. But then I heard the blurb of something somewhere and it sounded like the perfect thing. I turned to Etsy and sure enough, I found it: memorial jewelry.
Grams bore two daughters, eleven months and one day apart. Irish twins, I think they’re called. My mom was the oldest, born in January. Her little sister, Sharon, came along in December. They grew up like all sisters do–best of friends and worst of tormenters. I’ve heard stories of torture by pancake. And of fights waged because one sister was breathing on the other.
Fast forward a few decades and now, with her sister in mind, my mom gives sage advice to my girls when she witnesses their arguments: Be thankful that you have her. God will want her back some day.
She speaks from experience. Cancer took Aunt Sharon when she was just thirty-four.
I remember the very last time she came to visit. She asked me if I liked her wig. I was young and unsure and so I tried to be nonchalant. “I didn’t even notice,” I lied. So scared, I was, for talk to turn towards cancer. Towards the threat that loomed.
I remember the day my mom came home from work. I met her in the stairway and her face was red and swollen and she couldn’t speak. I remember knowing.
Grams and Gramps drove all the way home from the hospital in LA. They came to our house and we all sat on the front porch doing that thing people do in death: circle.
I’ve often wondered–since–how Grams did it. How she made it through that time without so much as shedding a public tear. Although, I can’t say for sure whether they were absent, or whether I was just protected from them.
There was this one time, though. Christmas Eve at church–the candlelight service. Years had gone by. I was pregnant with my second. I met Gram’s eyes and there were tears when what was on the surface didn’t merit them. I remember knowing. I remember the heartbreak, fresh as it ever was. That tear represented but a hairline fracture in a pillar of strength, but I had to look away for fear of falling apart with her. For her.
I pray I never know the kind of strength–the faith–it takes to sustain a mother the way my Grams was sustained in and through so great a loss. But if ever I’m called upon to withstand something so harrowing, I pray that I can live up to the only example I’ve got.
I dug through a box of my old somethings. The slant of Aunt Sharon’s handwriting was plentiful, on birthday cards and homemade valentines written on construction paper hearts with lacy paper doilies. One card was signed so perfectly: All my love, Aunt Sharon.
A little magic with Photoshop and off the the scanned image went. When the pendant arrived in the mail a few weeks later, I knew it was the perfect thing.
I gave it on Christmas morning with a copy of the original handwritten card. I didn’t expect tears, and none were shed. But every time I’ve seen her since, she’s been wearing that necklace.
She wore it when she was here in May. She came to watch our own Torri Sharon receive her diploma.
While she was here, we all sat on the front porch and did that thing people do in life: circle.