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More of the same
I wrote this letter to my boys the day after the funeral for my grandmother, my mother’s mother, laid to rest in a cemetery across the road from her house in McMillan, in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan.
It was a gorgeous day for your Great Grandma Vera’s service yesterday, but today the outside matched my insides: 46 degrees, pouring rain and bitter. I wanted to ride as hard as I could, as long as I could and let some of it out.
When I got to Mud Lake there was standing water in the dirt parking lot at the trailhead. But I didn’t want to rest, go home and sit in a house that my grandmother had visited only twice. She was a homebody but anyone could see why. I can’t remember ever going to her house, as a child, as a young adult or now, at age 35, without someone stopping by for coffee or because they saw the car in the drive and wanted to say hello.
I was soaked by the time I got my helmet and gloves on. The rain ran down my legs and into my socks and shoes. But I got on my bike, so cold, and settled into the feeling. I wanted to feel the push and pull of muscle and joint and skin alive and breathing. Not think about the who and what of yesterday.
I sprinted the first two miles. There was mud and water on every part of my body. I was like a child who jumps in a mud puddle when there’s a dry path to walk on. (Does that sound familiar?)
My clothes were muddy: a new helmet, a new pair of bike pants and a new riding shirt. All fresh for the season, their maiden voyage, a mess now. I hadn’t been that muddy in years, maybe not since I was your age, boys.
I slowed as I neared the dam on Mud Lake Road. I stopped and tipped my head back for a moment, letting the rain wash down my face, into my helmet, into my hair.
When I started again, I took the back loop. There was standing water the entire length of the trail, a 7-mile-long mud puddle.
I thought about my grandma, about saying goodbye, how I wouldn’t ever be able to go “home” again to the UP. Yesterday, before we went to the cemetery just across and up the road, all the aunts and uncles and cousins met at her house for the last few moments of awkwardness and nervousness that always comes before an event like that.
There was a stillness in the house, a hesitation. Everyone stood, no one sat. You could feel and see and hear it on every person in the house. It would never be the same again.
Kandace Chapple, Michigan Girl is a reader-supported publication. To receive new posts and support my work, consider becoming a subscriber.
The people who once came to see my grandma would come no more. The house will stand empty now. It was an overwhelming grief, the kind that stopped me, sat deep in my heels and stayed. It made me want to run and pretend it was still the same; it made me want to stay, settle in and soak in the last nuances of her presence. Maybe touch her notes on the fridge, her jewelry on the dresser, her robe in the bathroom and just feel it.
But my uncle had taken that all away and packed it up and gotten rid of it a week after my grandma, his mother, had died. I’d missed my chance to get something little of hers. But nobody had asked. I didn’t take it personally. I knew it was done with a business-like grief that was unbearable. My uncle is a man of few words but I remember when he did laugh and carry on with my mother, your Grandma Judy. Back when they were younger, about my age now, in their 30s. Their children running through the house – me, my sisters, my cousins. I miss those days. My mother’s glory days when she had her children, her parents and her health all at once.
I miss my grandma, too. A huge amount of tears if I let go, let myself think too much, too long. But I also miss her in other ways. I’ll miss reaching for a glass from her cupboard and filling it over the sink that looks out into her driveway. The window we all ran to when we heard a car pull in, the adults quickening their step to look, too.
I’ll miss pulling open the door to her potato cellar and feeling a thrill of fear at the cold and darkness of it, the weight of the door in my hand, the only thing that kept the ghosts underground in that old house.
I’ll miss reaching for her notepad in the corner cabinet to make a little grocery list. Sent to the tiny grocery store for milk or butter. Tearing off the last list she wrote on the pad of paper. Marveling over how scant the paper itself was, so plain, so practical.
I will miss her in all these little ways that I took for granted, that I did and did and did again, never knowing when I did them for the last time.
That’s why I rode today. The fact that it was raining, pouring buckets, made it all the more fitting. I rode as hard as I’d ever ridden. I pushed and pulled and felt weakness in my legs, and arms and inside, where Grandma was. It felt good, like matching an outside to an inside, a jumble of mud, sand, water and dirt in my mouth, eyes and ears. A good kind of dirt, a good kind of sadness. To feel such sadness tells you how much I loved your Grandma.
The ride was all the things I felt: I had to say goodbye, it had to be messy and sad and wet. But I also want you to know that I got to say hello to her in this lifetime, to love her, grow up having her, picking her strawberries with her. I carry a grief that is perfectly countered with a gratefulness to have been with her in this lifetime, too.
When the services were over, I knew that a part of my life was over, too. That I’d never laugh with her at that table or watch my own kids, you two, run through her kitchen again.
And I thought about our home and how I hope it’s filled with love and laughter for you two because I’ve brought people into your lives to help fill that house. I hope you feel the love that Grandma Vera started and passed on to her daughter. And that my mother passed on to me.
They are both gone now but I want you to remember that life is good even when it is hard. Because every day we will laugh and love and remember.
And create more of the same.
Love, Mom ❤️
Kandace Chapple, Michigan Girl is a reader-supported publication. To receive new posts and support my work, consider becoming a free or paid subscriber.