There’s a land of the living and a land of the dead and the bridge is love, the only survival, the only meaning.
I was nine months pregnant with my first baby when Granny died.
Earlier in the evening I stood beside the hospital bed where she lay by the window of her bedroom, my belly bulging under a grey t-shirt. She reached her hands over to feel the baby moving, a baby we didn’t yet know was Grace. Later that evening my dad, husband, and brother turned Granny upside down to try to help her because she couldn’t breathe. She said she felt she was drowning. We beat her on the back as she gasped for air and coughed, but no water came out. (After seventeen years I can still hear the sound of her gasping. It’s the sound death makes in my dreams.)
I sat by the bed, held her hand, and sang her favorite song to try to calm her:
I come to the garden alone, while the dew is still on the roses
And the voice I hear, falling on my ear, the Son of God discloses.
And He walks with me
And He talks with me
And He tells me I am his own.
And the joy we share as we tarry there,
None other has ever known.
I’m not the best singer. But I was to her, ever since I was little. She always loved to hear me sing.
I don’t know what time it was when I got up from beside her and crawled into her big four poster bed just a few feet away. I’d slept in that bed as a child when we had sleepovers: Granny, Jim, and me. She’d pile in the middle between us with her arms stretched out under our necks and fold us into two headlocks. Jim usually fell asleep fast but I never did. She had a clock that projected the time on the ceiling and I’d lie there and watch the minutes turn over, one by one. But I fell asleep fast this night. I woke up around 2 am when I heard my mother speak softly, “She’s gone.”
After the burial there was nothing to do but wait. Wait for the grief to pass, wait for my baby to be born. I felt like my heart was a bridge. On one side death and the other new life–both sides monumental places in my journey. The bridge seemed fragile, under construction.
July in Arkansas is an oven. During the day I read and in the evenings I walked. I had a stack of Pulitzer Prize winners from the library since back then I was still dreaming of winning the Pulitzer Prize and I thought they could teach me how. One day I read The Bridge of San Luis Rey. That evening I walked in the park by the river. A hot wind blew and my granny’s loss smothered me. I cried like a fool, a big pregnant fool walking alone in the park.
Grace is seventeen now and yesterday would have been Granny’s 100th birthday. I wish they could know one another. I wish my granny could know all of my kids. They would have loved each other. But, I have found for myself that Wilder was right. The love I shared with her still connects us even though I’m here in the land of the living and she’s in the land of the dead. Whenever I remember her, she meets me on the bridge.