In the house I grew up in, there was a "room-closet" in the middle of the hall on the second floor. It was too big to be a closet and too small to be a room. It contained the entrance to our attic. I've always been afraid of mice/rats and I remember standing below the stair case that pulled down while my Dad went up to find something. I asked, "Dad, are there any mice up there?!" He replied, "No, there's no mi- oh no! A MOUSE!" accompanied with a very high-pitched scream to add drama. His wasn't the only high-pitched scream. He totally got me.
Anyway, that little "room-closet" was where my Mom kept the ironing board. (There have been too many digressions from the point of this story already but I have to add here that on the floor of this room was a burn mark from where my sister Julia left the iron on the floor for some reason and nearly burned our house down.)
I remember once when I was very young and the house was quiet I walked by the little ironing room and was startled to see my Mom on the floor reading. She was crying. I asked, "What are you doing?" She looked at me and said in a quiet voice, "I'm reading my mother's journal." And then I did something that I've regretted ever since. I said, "oh..." and I walked away. It wasn't that I didn't care. I remember feeling so sad for her. I wanted to give her a big hug. I think I must have thought that she just wanted to be alone. But every time I look back on that moment, I think about the chance I missed to offer my mom so comfort when she needed it. And about how there was one obvious and simple thing to do: give her a hug. Years later, when I was around 19 or 20, I told my Mom that I had something I wanted to apologize for. I cried and I told her about that time in the room/closet when I found her reading her Mom's journal and I walked away and didn't give her a hug. She just kind of laughed and said, "Oh sweetheart..." and gave me a big hug.
I don't like talking to Franny about anything evil, wrong, or sad. I'm sure a lot of you can relate to that. But she's quickly growing out of the stage where I can hide everything that's unpleasant from her. I feel like the way I've been dealing with my Mom's death has been pretty healthy. I find ways to keep her a part of my life. I think of her often. I try to remember the things she taught me and I talk to my kids about her. About her. Not about what happened to her and why we don't get to see her anymore.
There have been shockingly few conversations between Franny and I about my mother's passing. I mean, it's been nearly a year and a half. And sure, she's still very young. But you'd think that when it happened there would have been some conversation. When we rushed out to California with no planning and everyone was there except for Grandma, you'd think something would have been said about why. When I heard her saying, "Grandma's not here," doesn't it seem like I'd sit down and have a little conversation with her about why she wasn't there? Well, I didn't.
Franny and I stayed home from church today because she's sick. She asked me to come into the playroom so she could make me "dinner." I hate being in that room when it's in its current state. Sophie's in the stage where kids think that playing is dumping everything out of its container. I was hanging up one of her dress-up-dresses and asked her a question that sparked possibly the most important conversation she and I have ever had.
Me: Who gave you this dress for Christmas?
Me again: Grandpa gave you this dress.
Franny: A lot of Grandpa's?
Me: Well you have Grandpa Howard, and Grandpa Warner. So you have two that we call Grandpa. You also have a Poppy. He's your grandpa, too. So you have THREE grandpa's.
Franny: What about Richard? He's a grandpa?
Me: He's not your Grandpa. He's your Uncle.
Franny: What about Kristy?
Me: She's your aunt. She's your Aunt Kristy.
A pause, and then Franny asks: Where is Grandma? (I knew she was talking about my Mom because Bobby's mom we affectionately call Nona.)
Me, with my full attention now: Grandma died, sweetheart.
Franny: She died? (Pause.) How did she died?
Me: Grandma got sick, and she died. She went to live with Heavenly Father.
(Tears welling up in her eyes as well as mine.)
Franny: She feels sad.
Me: You know what, Franny? Grandma loves you.
Me: Do you miss Grandma?
Franny: No. (Although it's obvious by the look in her eyes that she really does.)
I say, "do you want to come with me and look at my special book about Grandma?"
Franny: No. (But she looks so sad that I scoop her up in my arms and take her down to my bedroom where the book is.)
(Snapfish and Oprah teamed up for a give-away last month and I made a book with my favorite pictures of my Mom and I, as well as some with her and my kids, and some stories about her as well.)
Me: Who's this?
Franny: That's me.
Me: No, that's mommy when she was little like you. And this is Grandma.
Me: Who's this?
Franny: That's baby Franny.
Me: That's right! Do you see that little picture between our heads of Grandma with her mommy?
me: Okay... (not wanting to push it)
Franny: Who's that?
Me: That's me with Grandma and Grandpa.
Franny: No, that's not. That's me. That's you.
Then a little argument ensued over who was who and I decided to skip ahead to some more recent pictures.
Again I ask, "Do you miss Grandma?"
With tears in her eyes but still no crying, she said, "Yes."
I wasn't so strong. With a shaky voice and tears spilling down my cheeks, I said, "I miss her, too."
Franny: "What's wrong, Mommy?"
I didn't answer. I just gave her a big hug and I told her how much her grandma loves her and that someday, we'll get to see her again.
Then I asked her one of her favorite questions: "How do you feel?"
She replied, "Sad."
I wanted to get this all down because I didn't want to forget any of it. Now that I have I feel kind of relieved. I never meant to keep any of this from my daughter, but I think I felt like neither of us were ready for this conversation until just recently.