My grandma (Phoofsy to Ella and Annie and many others) – always said that life was worth living so long as you were having fun. A little less than two weeks ago, unexpectedly and suddenly and to our stunned shock and heartbreak, Phoofsy stopped having fun.
You guys. I just… It’s simply not okay.
Living so near her these past eight years was one of the reasons that moving to Rochester was such a fantastic decision. My grandma was our guidepost, our touchstone, our sounding board and cheerleader, our adventure buddy, and our constant partner for dinner, games, and talking. We have never lived here without her and, honestly, I feel as though we’ve been cut adrift; Nick and I hadn’t realized how much she grounded us and made us whole.
Losing Phoofsy has been difficult for Ella and Annie as well. Sadly, they are quite familiar with loss (most importantly, their Grandpa Bill, and to a much lesser extent – although fresh on their minds – our Madison), but never before have they had to say goodbye to someone who was an integral part of our daily lives, someone whose presence would be noticeably absent at soccer games, swim meets, birthdays, evenings beside the fireplace, Sunday brunch, Wednesday nights, and every day in between.
This is an active, different kind of grieving, for all of us.
Not better. Not worse. Not harder or easier. Just different.
My mom and stepdad drove up to the lake the day after my grandma passed away and immediately got to the business of sorting through Phoofsy’s affairs (and providing lots of hugs and memories and laughs); we loved getting the chance to see them, even under these circumstances. As our little family foursome was driving back from the lake last weekend – the first-ever we’d spent there without my grandma – the conversation naturally turned toward Phoofsy.
Playing The Lake Game on Memorial Day, my grandma was absolutely tickled that she managed to successfully flip her cup. We were absolutely tickled, too.
Things began simply enough, sharing stories and memories, but soon moved onto more metaphysical, abstract thinking. It started with Nick telling them that he was comforted by the idea that, one minute, Phoofsy was here and healthy, the next there was some brief confusion, and the very next, she was seeing Great‘s face as he said to her, “What took you so long?”
Annie and Ella were intrigued by this and wanted to hash things out, so we kept talking. “Where do you think Phoofsy is right now?” “If there’s heaven, do you stay the same age as you are when you die?” “Can people who have already died leave ‘messages’ for those of us who are still here?”
As they discussed their conceptions of heaven, Nick and I grew more and more entranced. The girls’ ideas were absolutely fascinating and far more interesting and nuanced than anything I’ve imagined in my nearly-forty years. In fact, their thoughts were so lovely, so simultaneously comforting and thought-provoking, I asked if I could share them with you.
They graciously agreed.
Chuckling that her poker hand was better than Ella’s.
Even when you’re 84 years older than your great-granddaughter, victory is sweet.
“In heaven, you can be any age you want, and you can change that age whenever you like. So, if you had a really great time when you were twelve, you get to be twelve. Then, if you want to feel what it was like to be fifty again, you can be fifty for a while. Oh! And the person you’re with – like, if Phoofsy is with Great – can be another age, too. ‘Cause you know how Great was 86 when he died but Phoofsy was almost 95? That might not be fair, for her to be older, just ’cause she got to live longer. They might want to be the same age again – so they can be, together.”
(I don’t know what age I want to be yet, but that sounds pretty much like the best idea ever.)
“I think, in heaven, you can live out a dream while you’re awake. Like, you know how when you wake up after you’ve had an awesome dream and you suddenly realize it was just a dream and you’re so sad? Well, in heaven, you actually get to do the dream while you’re awake – you never have to miss anything! So Phoofsy and Great and Grandpa Bill can live out all of their dreams, for real – not just dreaming – every single day.”
(OMG THAT IS AWESOME.)
“But it’s okay to sometimes miss things. I think people in heaven might sometimes be sad. I mean, they’re mostly happy – it’s heaven after all, and they can see their friends and they can travel all around the world and have those dreams – but I think there’s a little sadness… Because life has sadness. We have to have some sadness to appreciate the happiness. Without a little, tiny bit of sadness, heaven wouldn’t be real.”
(Appreciation and perspective, even in heaven. Very cool.)
“When you’re in heaven, if you get to travel all around the world and be any age you want, I want to be a baby for a little while.”
(Interject our incredulity. A baby?? But wouldn’t that be… boring?)
“Well, that’s the thing. We think it would be boring right now because we can’t see inside a baby’s mind and we don’t remember what it was like to be a baby. But if I could be a baby, but have my regular mind, I could see what life was like when I was a baby and actually remember it.”
(Scratch what I said before. THAT may be the best idea ever.)
“And I know that, once people are dead, they’re gone and all that. But I think they’re still with us, too — not just in our hearts, though, like people say. I think – and I know this is kind of weird – but I think that people can come and visit for a while. You can’t see them, you can’t feel them, you don’t even know they’re there… But they are. Maybe they walk with you to school. Maybe they sit next to you at dinner. Maybe they ride beside you in the car. Then, suddenly, you have a good memory of that person and it makes you feel better… and it’s because they were right there with you for just a little bit, visiting. Not all creepy like a ghost! Just a good feeling, because they came to say hello.”
Ella and Annie don’t talk too much about being sad, but I know that Phoofsy is on their minds. Every day since she died, both girls, of their own accord, have made absolutely certain to keep something of hers with them; Ella now carries her books in one of Phoofsy’s old purses; Annie wears her hats around the house. Hardly a day has gone by when they haven’t worn one of her necklaces to school even though, normally, necklaces aren’t their thing.
Every time I see them toting her bags, donning her jewelry, adorned in her hats… a fleeting, glowing smile crosses my heart.