That bowl, the one that reflects your face back to you as if it was watching you as you gathered lettuce from it, with its dark cherry wood fenced in by a silver rim, its grain exhausted yet unwilling to let go of the magnificent radiance of the proud tree from which it was cut; that bowl still holding on to the scent of every drop of olive oil that filled it over the years that you can feel as you caress it; that bowl that no one dared wash with any harsh soap for it demanded to be lovingly stroked clean with paper towels instead to make the crisp salads it served up all the more flavorful; that bowl, yes, it was that bowl that best represented—with all its sage cracks and scars—my grandmother. Like that bowl, no one could deny the scent of the wisdom she had gathered over the years in every word she spoke. And, like that bowl, what she served up as a person of love and kindness always left you wanting just a little bit more.
Although my grandmother had gathered a magnificent collection of jewelry throughout her life, it was only that bowl that I wanted when she passed despite the fact that as the eldest granddaughter, I was entitled to the lion’s share of her jewelry collection. But that bowl is what continued to haunt my consciousness, that salad bowl that seemed to be infused with her very spirit. Like that salad bowl, ornate yet fiercely practical, my grandmother visibly fought through the urge to sugar-coat her words out of that deep sense of grandmotherly love to deliver the blunt words of truth she knew I always needed.
For many children, receiving clothes as a Christmas or birthday gift was an occasion of grief and misery. Yet, never did I mind getting clothes from my grandparents who had the most impeccable taste when it came to picking out the coolest brand names. Every Christmas or birthday morning, I would race downstairs having spent the previous night dreaming of the red bow that would be sitting in the right upper corner of that professionally wrapped gift from my grandparents. The dress or blouse inside would be so magnificent that it would seem to be commanding me to wear it outside the very minute I opened it.
No matter how beautiful my gifts were they were no match for the dinner she had waiting for my family when it came to creating a breathless sense of anticipation. It didn’t matter what she had prepared, the kitchen would be wearing its scent all morning as if it never wanted to let go of it. My mouth salivating, my stomach growling, I fully welcomed the burdensome feeling that I was going to burst at the seams when I had finished. And no matter what the main course was, it was the multiple helpings from that salad bowl that were the most unforgettable--homemade Italian dressing and fresh crumbled cheese on a simple bed of lettuce—that’s what grandma was all about.
Having survived a life of hardship and despite a demanding career as a respected psychiatric nurse and a state mental health board member, she still managed to raise four well-educated, successful and conscientious children. Despite her ongoing trials and tribulations, I could always count on her to be there for me in my darkest moments. Even during the waning years of my childhood when my brother and I were too busy to visit our grandparents as often as we had before, still, they paid us visits as often as possible.
While in school, I was a pillar of support for my friends who often came to me for advice, to discuss their stresses and anxieties or simply to share stories about their daily lives. In particular, my friends were drawn to me because of my strong religious beliefs and values. They were especially drawn to my uplifting beliefs in the afterlife and my confidence in knowing what waited for us all on the other side. Being such a comfort, one of my friends did not hesitate in approaching me for advice when one of her loved ones died. Her name was Catherine and she came to me as her grandfather was dying. I counseled her during the time he was hospitalized as she struggled with the grim reality of losing him. And I comforted her as she grieved his inevitable death, assuring her that she would see him again in the afterlife.
In my final years of high school, I would spend much of my free time chatting with my friends on the dirty white tile floor of the hallway outside of my locker. Mostly we would laugh at the hilarious situations of our daily lives. However, little by little, the available space for our chat time in front of my locker shrank to near oblivion as more and more friends of mine would clog up the hallway, impeding the flow of traffic through the area. I could never forget the cold look in the eyes of the other students as they stepped over us, silently demanding that we look for somewhere else to congregate.
That morning when Catherine’s grandfather died was just like one of those mornings only infinitely more somber as Catherine and I discussed her loss, leaning against the cold metal lockers. I remember thinking that she shouldn’t worry so much since she would see him again someday. However, I concealed this optimistic feeling for the sake of consoling her grief. I was armed with all the Sunday school answers to explain to her the logic of how we all see each other again after death. These answers flowed so easily, as if by instinct and not learning, that Catherine was obviously moved by the conviction of my belief. When yet another of her grandparents passed, cruelly only a month later, I was there to console her again for the loss I believed was no loss at all. Again, I felt no sadness for her loss but for the grief she was enduring.
Clearly, I remember that rainy day, the air crisp enough to tingle my nose as I breathed but just warm enough for a long sleeve t-shirt and jeans. It was October 20, 2011. I was at my friend’s house, waiting for my dad to pick me up from forty minutes away. The leaves were wet and the smell of a passing summer rainy season filled the air as my father finally picked me up at four o’clock.
As I settled into the front passenger’s seat, he broke the news to me—grandma had died. I went numb for a moment and forgot where I was, forgetting who grandma was. Then reality came back and slammed hard into me, my chest sinking as I sank into the black hole that was the black leather seat. I sat in stunned silence for the first five minutes of our trip back to my father’s office. Then, the tears came. I always prided myself on not being a crier. My dad said that it was okay to cry, that no one would think less of me. But I couldn’t help but remember at that moment my friend who had broken her nose earlier that week and how hideous her face had looked, swollen and all, and how I didn’t want to look like that. Ironically, that thought only made the tears flow harder.
The tears felt like they were being ripped right out of my heart, my throat aching as they slid down my face and onto my shirt. My dad went into his office to retrieve some material he would need to work on for the days off he would need to arrange grandma’s funeral. I sat in the car. I didn’t care about the people passing by staring at the red, puffy-eyed girl with the runny nose in the front seat of that car. Waiting for over half an hour for my dad, I eventually fell asleep.
After we came home, I cried again into my pillow, hoping she was able to watch over me at that moment, seeing how much she meant to me. Having just seen her three weeks before, I regretted not taking full advantage of the time I had with her. I hugged her as I told her I loved her that day before she left our house, but I questioned if I said it as convincingly as I meant to. I could never know if I had fully communicated to her how much she meant to me.
School the next day was almost unbearable. In English class, we were given an assignment to write about heroes, but all I could write about was my feelings for grandma. Tears dripping onto the paper, I expressed my love for her in words with rage in my heart at losing her at so young an age. My classmates near me struggled not to stare at me as I bawled for reasons unknown to them throughout the whole period. At the end of the class, crying still, I explained to my teacher why I couldn’t write about heroes that day.
Biology was the next class with all of my friends, including Catherine. I either cried or slept in every class that day. No words of sympathy from anyone could console me. How could they ever know how I felt? They could never know love as deep as the love between grandma and me. I kept reminding myself of those church words—one day I would see her again. But I didn’t care about seeing her again in the future; I wanted her right then, in front of me. To hell with the Gospels. Their explanations for not feeling sorrow at the death of loved ones made no sense to me at that moment. Death was unfair. I wanted it to give me back my grandma.
Angry at the Gospels, its words and life in general, I felt I could never go to church the same again. The Gospels could never understand what I was feeling. Their words on death were empty, hollow. Those words were no match for the hole in my chest that grew wider and wider as I thought about grandma.
Through that experience, I began to question my beliefs in the Gospels. Some were deep enough ingrained in me to remain intact while others, I discovered, I had never truly believed. The harsh, real-life experience of losing my grandma made me realize that I had not really believed in them.
Eventually, as I got over the rage of losing her, I was comforted at the thought that I would see her again. As someone who easily gets over ill-feelings over time, I didn’t dwell on her death, yet still, I miss her from time to time. Also, despite rarely crying, I felt relieved to cry over my grandma as I wrote this paper. I am now considering going to the temple to be baptized for her. I feel like that is the best way to show my love for her. It would also improve my chances of seeing her again on the other side.
For now, I simply look forward to dishing up some lettuce with homemade Italian dressing and Roquefort cheese from that cherry salad bowl. It is a lasting symbol of my grandma and the love we had between us and I look forward to fostering that same level of love with my future family as we eat dinner together.