One year ago, my family gathered to remember my Grandma's life. It had been a couple of months since she had taken her last breath in this world and my heart still hurt as much as it did the day that we lost her. As I carefully applied my makeup, I wondered whether my efforts would be undone by my inability to hold back tears. I remembered being a young girl at my Great-Grandfathers funeral. I remembered the way I cried uncontrollably and my Grandma pulled me into the bathroom and told me that we had to be strong and not cry. And then I remembered the way that she softened over the years, letting age wear away her idea that strength could show no tears. I remembered her crying the weeks and days before she died. And then I rinsed my face of my own wet tears and tried to think about something else while I reapplied my makeup.
It was a beautiful day with clear blue skies when we arrived at the North Carolina State Veterans Home. We planned to start her Memorial service there where my Grandpa had been living since two days prior to Grandmas passing. My Great-Aunt Jackie and Uncle Frank (my Grandpas brother) were there, along with my Aunt, cousin Erin (who is truly more like a sister,) my sister Kaila and my boyfriend Ben. It was a small gathering as she had always wanted. Grandma was well-prepared for her own death because she had been fighting Non-Hodgins Lymphoma for over 27 years. She had always let everyone know that she wanted to be cremated, she wanted a small memorial service and her ashes spread on the Blue Ridge Parkway. She had even left the poem, "Do Not Stand at My Grave and Weep" on her fridge for a couple years, as if she was trying to prepare us as much as she had herself. We started her service in a small room which we had filled with poster-boards of her photos. I had carefully planned the playlist for weeks before, filled with songs by artists that we both loved like Bob Dylan, Simon & Garfunkel and Johnny Cash. She had given me my love for music so it seemed appropriate to prepare the list so lovingly. Each song had to be absolutely perfect, although in hindsight, we could barely hear the music over the sound of the stories, the memories and the laughter. The laughter. Although we all shed tears, the room was filled with so much laughter as we share the stories of how this beautiful woman had brought joy to all of our lives. I couldn't help but think that it was exactly what Grandma wanted.
After we shared stories and lunch, we left Grandpa to go on with his regular routine and we went to Hominy Creek Greenway where we planted Grandma's Memorial tree. It was a beautiful American Snowbell Tree and it was planted in a location that was so perfect and quiet. It would bloom with beautiful flowers every year and live over 100 years. We spread her ashes into the bottom of the tree and we wrote letters to her on scraps of biodegradable paper. I didn't really have to think about what to write - it seemed natural.
After we left her tree, my Aunt Joy, Erin, Kaila, Ben and I headed to the Blue Ridge Parkway to carry out Grandmas wish. Although we had planned an overlook, it turned out to be a busy day on the parkway so we just continued to drive until we found an overlook where we could be alone. We joked along the way about how things in our family just never can go as planned - not even a memorial service. We stopped at the Fetterbush Overlook because there was no one there. As we got out to look around, we saw a group of butterflies enjoying the flowers. My Grandmas best-friend, Jackie, LOVED butterflies. She collected them and Grandma always enjoyed finding butterfly gifts to give her. When Grandma passed away in the Solace House, there was a butterfly etched into the window. This was the right place and we knew. We spread her ashes and some dried rose petals, watching her drift away, following the wind further into the mountains. It was the most beautiful day for the most beautiful woman.
As we drove back home that night, I was exhausted. I had hoped I would feel some kind of closure but I think it just made me miss her more. I was happy that her wish had been carried out and I had set aside some of her remains to take to Mt. Mitchell on my own at a later date, but in many ways it felt like I was closing the final chapter on saying goodbye to my Grandma. That was painful. When I walked back in the house, I couldn't find the strength to do anything but find my way to the bed. I crawled under the covers in my clothes and let myself break down in tears. As I stared at the ceiling, I thought about the note I had left behind in Grandmas memorial tree. I thought about the hundreds of nights that she stood by my door as a child and she would say "Goodnight Petunia Bedunia, I love you." This was a routine that we had even when I was a teenager. My response to her as a child was the only thing that I could find the strength to write on that scrap of biodegradable paper that I carefully placed under her memorial tree - "Goodnight Amelia Bedelia. I love you too."
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