Monday, May 02, 2011
Grand Rapids, Michigan
Grandma Jenks died yesterday evening, the day of her husband’s funeral. Emmaline and Gordon Jenks were married 66 years and died within three days of each other. Death is never pretty, but it doesn't get much more perfect, or romantic, than that. It’s fun to do the math—how long would I have to live? How much must one love another person to have that strength of will, a will that holds strong against death?
The family has spent the last 24 hours poring over the box of photographs we brought over from her house, a box filled with photos most of us have never seen—some from as early as 1895. We’re sharing stories, whatever we can remember. My main regret is that we didn’t take the time to record her telling us the stories. If you have grandparents, go right now and ask them. I always thought I’d have time, somehow. Even six months ago would have been soon enough.
This morning I broke down when I found two packages of lemon jello in the cupboard. Last year, she asked me to make a lemon cake for my dad. She said, “He really likes it.” I ran out of time during my visit, though, and finally went to my dad.
“Do you really want me to make some cake?” I asked.
“I never liked that kind,” he said.
So the truth came out. “Does Dad like that cake?” I asked her. “Or is it you who wanted it?”
“I had a bit of a hankering,” she said, bashfully. That was Grandma all over. Unwilling to ask for things for herself, whether for good or for ill. If she had told me, maybe I could have made it earlier.
But I never baked the cake. I left, flew back to Chattanooga or Chicago or Maine, wherever I was headed. I ran out of time. The lemon jello’s still in the cupboard.
I’m happy we have a record. The pictures, and each other. Our memories. I grieved yesterday, but today I’m joyful. She’s not in pain. She doesn’t need morphine. She’s gone, but so is her cancer.