Saturday, January 12, 2013

On Death and Grieving

 My maternal grandmother, Maxine Marinelli Beach, passed away last Sunday at the age of 101, just three weeks shy of her 102nd birthday. Though I had been preparing myself for her passing for a long time, I am surprised by the depth of my sadness and grief. I wrote this poem about her life and my memories of her to read at her memorial service.

Memories of Nana Maxine

Nana Maxine moved slowly,
inching along with her cane, which
she might point at you menacingly,
if you were out of line,
with an arched eyebrow,
an impish smile rippling across her face.
There was fire behind her eyes,
always twinkling,
quick to say “I love you,
a bushel and a peck,
and a hug around the neck!”

She leaves a legacy of
beloved landscapes,
rendered in oil paint,
and hanging in gilded frames.
An appreciation of fields and fence posts,
lazy rivers and softly sloping mountains,
sparrows and seagulls,
the shimmer of light on water,
the majesty of the sea,
and the thousand shades of blue, yellow,
and crimson in the sky at sunset -
an eye for the magic and wonder
of the natural world.

She survived a stroke that left her
paralyzed on the right side of her body,
and learned to paint again, left handed.
An artful life lived in the little details ~
Silver-rimmed cat glasses and colorful clothing.
A doorstop made of a stone with a ghoulish
little face painted on it. A Christmas
ornament of macramé with a chocolate
inside, and a note saying “Squeeze me
and I’ll give you a kiss!”

I remember chasing fireflies
out in the yard at Round Hill
on a warm summer evening.
Picking herbs for soup with her
in the back yard of our house in Georgia,
Playing Hearts and Rummy Cube with
her and Papa Dave at their condo in Florida,
where she also helped me with a school
project, in the fourth grade –
a topographically accurate map of Thailand,
fashioned with artists’ clay.

I remember receiving handwritten letters,
scrawled in her unmistakable left-handed script,
relaying the little details of her daily life and travels,
and brimming with affection.
I remember driving across the Midwest,
tracing the footsteps of our ancestors,
visiting grave sites and farms, and the banks
of the Mississippi at Nauvoo, as she compiled
the family history.

The last time we saw her, we sang the old songs
together, and she still knew all the words.
Wife, mother, grandmother, great-grandmother.
Artist and matriarch. Centenarian.
She lives in our hearts,
And we carry with us her sparkling smile,
her lovely paintings, and her unwavering love.

--Melinda Rothouse