At rest, at last

She will finally settle in next to her husband, who always smelled of pipe tobacco and fish bait and motor oil and who died when she was only 70

My grandmother died suddenly this morning, just a few weeks shy of her 98th birthday. My dad was with her at the end, which was quiet and peaceful. He is not doing well with this deep loss, and my sisters and I are trying to help him settle into his life without her. I wonder, though, if my sons will fully understand the importance of her passing, and how much it brings to light the essential and fragile connections of their history.
In the end, her laboring heart just gave out, but her sharp mind stayed with her. She was truly the matriarch of our family and an iconic force in the valley, and the small town and her family will certainly celebrate and remember her.

She was a feisty, intelligent, funny and resilient woman for all of those 98 years, whose greatest source of pride was raising five hell-raising boys in a wood shack in a tiny town in Western Montana with a husband who was content fishing and hunting and even working on occasion. She outlived grandpa by nearly 30 years, in her own house for all but the last few. The unruly boys turned into successful men due to her guidance, support, and discipline. Once all her men left her, Grandma settled into her orderly world and lifelong friends and her church and she endured with spirit and wit and kindness until she grew so tired that she went to sleep for good.

She will be at rest, at last, in the small cemetery just outside town. It is nestled on a slight hill in the shade of towering, rustling, old trees, and it looks out East toward the mountain range that gives the valley its name. In the evening, as the sun sets to the West, this little patch of the world has a beautiful view of the slopes and peaks and snowpack of the mountains as they turn purple and red in the final reflection of the sun before it falls below the trees and the night begins.

She will finally settle in next to her husband, who always smelled of pipe tobacco and fish bait and motor oil and who died when she was only 70, and above her second youngest son, my kind uncle, who died in a terrible car accident when she was nearly 90. Someday her four other sons will join her here, and her family will be together again.

A short walk up the slope to the left of these few plots lies the other half of my family. My grandpa and grandma are there together in the deep shade. She was the "baking cookies" grandma and, except for the times my mom had to stay with her after the breakdown, she lived alone ably and well after her husband died in a car accident in 1960. Grandpa never had a chance to meet me but his father, my great-grandfather, whose neatly trimmed plot sits to the left of "Son", lived long enough to bounce me on his knee and welcome me to the family. Next to grandma and grandpa is their oldest child and only son, my wild, eccentric, favorite uncle, who was my roommate for a bit when he needed a bed and who died an alcoholic way too young. Someday I hope my lovely, tortured mom will join her family here, and she who needs it most will be at rest, at last.

Someday, all the remnants and sweet memories of my family will be here, in this little spot, and they will all be at rest, at last. Someday I may be here, and maybe I will be at rest, at last, too.

This serene, isolated spot is the place that my world comes together. My history is here - the solitary pillars of my foundation, and that of my three sons. I will spend some time alone at the cemetery this week, after we say goodbye to my grandma, sitting on the grass surrounded by my departed family, telling them how things have been and letting them know they are remembered and loved, still.

I will most certainly cry among the stones and markers and pines, and I will stare at the mountains lit up by the setting sun and I will think about things that need to be thought of, and I will try to make sense of my memories and worries and regrets and hopes, and I will say a prayer to my family buried here and ask that they help me watch over my wonderful boys as they continue their journey through this complex and challenging world.

So my last grandparent is gone, having lived a full and meaningful life in the valley beneath the peaks. My last link to time before my parents is now severed. But here is what I know - life happens, death happens, and everything connects in between, no matter what. I will miss her, and with her passing I will peer forward and try to remember her, remember all of them, as I struggle to keep my boys connected to their past as they move past me to build their future.


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