I put a yellow rose in my grandmother’s casket.
I asked the funeral director to let me into the room early so I could hide the rose between her arm and the silk folds of the casket lining.
Her grave is just a few feet from my parents’ and when I visit in the summer, I leave something at her headstone. Last summer was the first time I left a single yellow rose, and I wondered why I hadn’t done it every year, why it had only just come to me as something I could do. Remembering can take so much time.
My grandmother experienced many tragedies – the deaths of her husband and two of her four children – but she was intrepid. She was a teacher in a one-room schoolhouse in rural Michigan, married a widower with a little boy when she was 26, became well-to-do and then steered her family through the Depression. Once widowed, she learned to drive, went to work in the local Ben Franklin store, and cut coupons which she gave like presents to my mother and anyone else she knew. She played canasta. She shoveled coal into the furnace in the basement.
When I was little, I would sit on her kitchen counter while she peeled potatoes. She would cut a slice from each raw potato and either hand it to me on a knife or eat it herself. My potatoes still are always a slice short.
I loved her.
When I was a young adult – taking a somewhat involuntary gap year from college – I’d drive in my 1964 green VW the thirty miles from Lansing to Hastings to visit her in the nursing home where she’d gone to live after falling several times and alarming my parents.
Once, when I visited, she was in the hospital wing. She was sleeping, uncovered, her ancient legs bare against the white sheets. I remember looking at her thin legs with her skin loose and wrinkled and thinking, once you were a young woman like me, and now you are here. But I didn’t think that in a sad or pitying way, but as an observation, that she’d had a life, that I was just starting the life that she had. I remember that moment of recognition like it was yesterday, which it was in a lot of ways.