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Blurred Grief

Life is such a blur sometimes. Time must be taught because it's never felt natural. We, humans, connecting, creating, growing, dying, that is time. It's the only clock that matters. Who's here? Who's gone? Who's coming? This is time. As we move, dance, sleep, play, fight, work, and age, our stories crash upon the shore of our memory, and then drift toward the horizon. Back and forth, each year the lines move apart from one another. Each year the distance between the shore and the horizon grows until we are adrift with our ancestors.

Both of my grandmothers were born in August, and my cousin's birthday is in a couple of weeks. I can tell their birthdays are coming because the memory waves grow swifter, and stronger. Like contractions before giving birth, they grow with frequency, intensity, and clarity. But what is crowning in the space between my breasts? Grief. A heart filling will ache and longing. I want one more phone call or one more hug so badly that I can begin to smell cucumber melon lotion, or the chicken in the fryer, or the worn Bible beside their magnifying glass and Upper Room devotional.

I miss you.

Losing my grandmothers was hard, but fair in a way. They lived to see their children and grandchildren grow. Grandma Laura even got to hold my son, then just two months old. He gave her his very first smile, right there in her rehabilitation room. My husband's grandmother ascended just four days after his birth. My parents, in Annapolis with my grandmother after her fall, told us there was no need to come. Our hearts were too sore with new grief to listen. Sometimes grief knows things we don't. "We'll see you tomorrow grandma!" I said as the visiting hours came to an end for the day. "Is there anything we can bring you?"

"Yeah," she replied with a grin, "one of those passionfruit drinks from Starbucks! Yours was so good!"

When we walked into the rehabilitation center the next day, drink in hand, the nurses were helping her walk. We sat together, my husband, four-year-old daughter, and baby son, and watched to strain to the end of her track. Still an athlete, we cheered loudly when she crossed the finish line.

Amanda's death ripped me open. It was the cruelest the Universe had ever been. Her life was cut short and it will never make sense. She deserved so much more. The world deserved more.

Amanda dreamed of opening a therapy center for disabled children in rural North Carolina. She was a passionate speech therapist who breathed her practice. If she wasn't working, she was studying new techniques and then trying them out on her son (the seven-year-old is now better-spoken than most young adults). Every other weekend, she set up shop in some of the state's most depressed communities and evaluated children whose families were seeking disability assistance.

One such community was Elizabethtown, a hamlet of barely 3000 people. Her office was our parents' childhood home — seven people living snuggly in a house with four bedrooms and one bathroom. Growing up, my five siblings and I would head to Elizabethtown during the summer for weeks at a time. I imagine my Granny looking at the pile of children in her house — my siblings and me, Amanda, DJ (our other cousin), and any other cousins looking for playmates and an oatmeal pie. Memories of her own children must have been swirling in her mind. The tussles over favorite toys, the gregarious laughter after a joke, or even whispered conversations about someone's latest crush. Maybe we were her second chance to fall in love with childhood's whimsy. Either way, we were there, running from one room to the next leaving crumbs and sticky fingerprints in our wake, until the pot of whimsy boiled over and she hollered, "Go outside with all that!"

Outside, we took turns riding in Amanda's Barbie car while the rest of us pushed them through the sandy soil and Bermuda grass. The sound of the rotating wheels was so satisfyingly realistic, that we almost forgot we were the car's battery. On days that were too hot for outside play, Amanda and I would post up in her room to write a fan letter to Jonathan Taylor Thomas or practice the choreography from Christina Aguilera's "What A Girl Wants" music video. At bedtime, instead of sleeping, I would convince Amanda to read her Goosebumps books aloud because the books were forbidden in my house.

Amanda was, for all intents and purposes, my big sister. She showed me what it looked like to embody the wisdom of our elders while still embracing the responsibility to know one's own purpose and desires. She was fully her own person while being proudly a Melvin. She was so smart, hilarious, and strong-willed. She was curious and audacious. She cared so much for others, yet always struggled to fully see her own greatness. She knew how to make even the little moments special, and had the best memory of anyone I have ever met.

Maybe that's what connects these women in my head. Besides loving them so much, Amanda, Grandma, and even Granny (though she died of Alzheimer's-related dementia), had such brilliant memories. They told the best stories and always inserted our family's inside jokes at the perfect moments!

I started this piece with such a heavy heart, but here I am sitting with a smile. My heart still aches for them, but my spirit is at ease, and my mind swirls with memories of our favorite times together. I am opulently blessed for experiencing these women and for their presence in my blood and heart.

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