Shall I grieve the stillness of those hands that patched our jeans and sewed our shirts, made my sisters’ dresses and skirts, Dad’s underwear? Shall I grieve the stillness of those fingers that fastened buttons, mended socks, crocheted table pieces, embroidered pillowcases, and a thousand other things?
Those hands long ago swelled with the pain of arthritis, the knuckles became twisted and cankered, huge barnacles on slender fingers. She stopped shaking hands with church visitors thirty years ago because of the pain. Those hands no longer ache, no longer swell, no longer torment her with their pain and the reminders of the things she loved to do and could no longer do.
Shall I grieve the body that drove tractors and trucks, that milked the cows when Dad was sick or gone, that tended the garden, that canned countless jars of green beans and peas and whatever else was in season, that buried her firstborn after only a few hours of breathing and then raised six kids? Shall I grieve the stillness of that body that cooked countless meals for family and friends, for kith and kin, for neighbors visited by death, for fellow believers in their sickness or grief? Shall I grieve the empty kitchen?
That body long ago turned against her, trapped her in its shrinking prison. She lost nearly five inches of vertical measure in the last twenty years of her life. Near the time of her death, she weighed less than eighty-five pounds, could not be touched or turned upon her bed without her screaming from the pain. Unless they’d already given her the meds.
Shall I grieve the loss of conversation, the lack of those late night talks at the dining table with Dad snoring in the room down the hall and my children asleep in the basement? The phone calls that came every Sunday afternoon. Shall I grieve the voice that sang a soft sweet alto in the a cappella churches of my youth and “Happy Birthday to You” once a year over the phone? Shall I grieve the reading of Brer Rabbit and Uncle Reemus and a hundred other characters from hand-me-down books from richer cousins?
The conversations ended five years ago.
Shall I grieve the closed eyes that used to brighten when I came to visit? The smile that lit up her face as I hugged her? Her obvious pleasure in my company?
She hasn’t recognized me for over three years.
This grieving I have already done, these losses–and countless others–already mourned. The mother I knew–the one who raised me, who loved me, who delighted in my visiting – that woman disappeared years ago. Her I have already grieved.
I will not grieve, but rejoice that she has passed into rest, that her suffering is ended, that she is in Abraham’s bosom. I will not grieve but I will continue to miss her. Until the moment of our reunion, when all of grieving will have ended.