My grandmother lived a very long life, the last decade spent trapped somewhere in the deep memories of her mind. At 91 years old, she finally stopped breathing. She had stopped eating weeks before and mom chose to have a feeding tube placed in her abdomen. I didn’t understand her reasoning, how could I? It wasn’t my mother I was struggling to let go of. I suspect grandma would have died much sooner if it wasn’t for the pace maker. Mom said it wasn’t the pace maker, but love, that kept her heart beating. I don’t know if she really believed that or thought it was a nice thing to say at the funeral.
The first dress I made would be for my grandma’s funeral. I chose a fabric that did have a black background but it was covered in orange, lavender and pink butterflies. The butterflies looked lively and free. The bodice had a mock criss-cross front, with an unattached sash that tied in the back and a matching hair band. I took great care in making sure each hem was double folded over nicely to avoid any fraying fabric. The dress fit her so well, she seemed to outgrow it the next day. I sewed a solid colored black tiered skirt for myself.
The sewing was a pleasant distraction. It gave me some distance from my mother’s grief and funeral arrangement busy work. I had sympathy for my mom but I couldn’t grasp the depth of what she was feeling. Growing up, she considered my grandmother her very best friend. My mom and I did not share a relationship like that though. She told me many times that she imagined, “…we’d be very best friends.” She was seventeen years old when she gave birth to me. She wanted a friend, I needed a mother. It took us years to figure that out.
“Should I wear black?” My mom was so unsure of herself.
“I think you should wear whatever you want. Whatever makes you comfortable.” I made a conscious effort not to roll my eyes or sound short with her. I knew she needed me and as usual, it felt awkward.
The butterflies on the fabric inspired us to go with an entire butterfly theme for the service. We released Monarch butterflies at grandma’s graveside. They arrive frozen in these triangular boxes. You hold one in your closed hands to warm it up and when you feel the wings begin to flutter and tickle the inside of your palms, you release it. My daughter laughed and chased the butterflies around the cemetery. I missed my grandma but I knew she was free now, free from the prison of her mind and aging body.
Read part 3.