Do not stand at my grave and weep.
I am not there; I do not sleep.
I am a thousand winds that blow.
I am the diamond glints on snow.
I am the sunlight on ripened grain.
I am the gentle autumn rain.
When you awaken in the morning’s hush
I am the swift uplifting rush
Of quiet birds in circled flight.
I am the soft stars that shine at night.
Do not stand at my grave and cry;
I am not there; I did not die.
– Mary Elizabeth Frye
Your number is still in my phone. There are times when, scrolling through my contacts, my thumb hovers just a second longer over your name. How I’d love to press it and have you pick up on the other end.
Gram, you’d love the girls, truly you would. They are so spunky, and funny, and smart. Gah, they are SO smart. Honor roll for M, stellar report card for C, and V? well, what other 4 year old do you know that knows what dysentery is? It’s a long story, but she knows and she is more than happy to let you know that she knows.
I’d ask you how you’re getting along, what’s been going on with your friends, your trips to the store. You’d ask me, “How’s that broken down brother of yours?”
“Broken down,” I’d reply with a smile.
You would ask me about the girls, thank me for sending the recent package overflowing with their school pictures, art projects and assorted childhood trinkets they wanted you to have. “To put on my credenza,” you’d say. I can see the forest of photographs, candy dishes nestled in between wallet sized snaps of me, Christopher, our respective kids, and assorted cousins in various states of growth and development.
I would thank you for sending the fudge and the “just because” cards for the girls. I would tell you how much they enjoy getting your notes in the mail and how they are always thrilled when one or two George Washingtons spiral to the floor as the fling open the note to see what you’ve written.
I would tell you that I’m reminding Mom and Dad to “be loving”, just like always do, when they start fussing at each other. I would tell you how V joined their hands together and ordered them to kiss after she caught them doing just that — fussing — about who left the keys where and when.
I would catch you up on what else my warriors three have been doing: M, whip smart and steadily moving away from the chubby baby who used to nap, a tawny colored starfish, in the middle of the chenille ocean of your bedspread. C, being her sweet and silly self, looking more and more like your eldest sister. “And then there’s V,” I’d say. Just a simple sentence that would have laughter spilling from your mouth like coins from a slot machine as you shake your head in a knowing way.
I would tell you how the whole family had gone to the museum last month, making a day trip up to DC to see the massive collection of art, history, and culture on the mall. I would tell you that even though I had packed enough snacks to sustain the Oregon Trail, my husband waved them away, letting the girls go right for the desserts at the museum restaurant. A fist sized cupcake for V, a chocolate brownie studded with chocolate chunks for M, and a cream filled whoopee pie about the diameter of a CD for C — can you imagine? And while I was muttering under my breath about my little bags of uneaten sliced apples and raw almonds going to waste, Mom simply said, “Grandma El would love this.”
And she was right. You would have loved that. You would have slid an extra cupcake, or brownie, or pie onto their tray saying it was for you, knowing full well you would have been. breaking off pieces to the feed to the girls, their mouths as open and eager as baby birds.
I say as much to Mom and she laughs in agreement. “Yes,” she says, “Exactly that. So don’t get so uptight. Just pretend that Gram bought it for them.”
And if I do that, then I can’t argue because if you were here with us, I would totally let you get away with it (with just the tiniest of protest, all for show).
“I just love them to pieces!” you’d say.
I know you do, Gram.
And I want them to know that, too. I find myself doing things that make you present in their lives.
While M and C are now to big for me to do this any more, V is still the right size to stand atop the toilet seat after her bath. I dry her off, shimmying the towel up and down her lengthening limbs and over her toddler tummy, just as I did for M and C. Just as you did for me at that age.
When we go to the store, if we pass a bottle of Jean Naté, I unscrew the bulbous black top. I let them each take a whiff, telling them how you used to dab some of the after bath splash on me. Six years old and I would eagerly turn my head to feel that cool patch of scent applied behind my ears.
When I reach into the cabinet for measuring cups or flour, I’ll pull out your tin recipe box. The cards inside are yellow with age. Some are dog-eared. Some are neatly typed and affixed to the card, and others are written in your slanting, loopy script. Once or twice, the girls have caught me holding the small box up to my nose, searching for traces of your perfume. If I close my eyes, I can smell it.
They’ll never hear your voice saying “Hey, doll!” when you answer the phone, but they’ve heard me call my friends “Ladybug” in a nod to you.
They’ll never sit three across on your sofa, drinking ginger-ale from the mini cans I used to think were only available at your house, but now, a six-pack of 4 oz. cans of Seagrams have a home in our fridge.
They’ll never walk their fingers through the maze of perfume bottles on your glass-topped dresser, but their grandmother gifted them with her old bottles of Obsession, Poison and a trio of other scents that will straighten your hair and make your eyes water.
As the days grow longer and the weather gets warmer, we’ll spend more time outside on the back porch. They won’t hear you call it a piazza, but they will know what the word is and what it means. They will play dress up and come traipsing downstairs for lunch in cast off high heels and gauzy scarves in formerly fashionable prints, politely requesting to have lunch “on the piazza, please and thank you, dahling,” before clomping away in a cloud of Shalimar.
And when I come outside, arms laden with sandwiches and snacks for these “ladies who lunch” and their gleeful voices disturb a quartet of sparrows nestled in the grass that swell in “the swift uplifting rush of quiet birds in circled flight”, they’ll know that you are with us.