Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Sweeping up the Heart

I was combing Eliza's hair and knitting it into braids when I saw them. Two men in suits, walking into the house across the street from us. I herded my girls to the kitchen window to watch.

It was the morning after a death. Miss Georgia, at age 101, had passed away. I wanted my girls to understand. Death is nothing to fear. We come. But we must also go.


We talked about the body and spirit, the fluidity of life. I explained what was happening in terms their little minds and hearts could understand. So I thought. And then Eliza asked if Miss Georgia would be walking when she came out of the house. I had to explain some more.

I told them part of living is... dying.

My Mother-in-law pulled into the driveway as they were bringing Georgia's body out of the house. She spoke with the men in suits as they closed the door to the suburban hearse. And when she came inside she mentioned this poem by Emily Dickinson.

The Bustle of a House
The Morning after a Death
Is solemnest of Industries
Enacted upon Earth--

The Sweeping up the Heart
And putting Love away
We shall not want to use again
Until Eternity.

That was two weeks before Grandma passed away. Now the bustle in Georgia's house, as well as Grandma's is mostly over. Yet I keep mulling those words.

"The Sweeping up the Heart. And putting Love away."

What a process. Gathering the pieces of our hearts after they have broken at the loss of someone we love.

The funeral program is still on the counter. And the roses from her casket. I think of her moment after moment throughout the day. Wondering when she might visit. If she will peer over that wide invisible gap that separates us and look in.

Maybe it is not so wide?

Monday was the perfect day for a funeral. Blue sky with a warm breeze. The sun brilliant and burning. Doug wore his brightest tie. The girls and I wore colorful dresses. Because Grandma would have liked it that way.



Grandma's children and their spouses.


My Sweet Dad.

Sunday evening I heard her music. That perfect crystalline voice set to pictures of her on the stage, one arm slung through Grandpa's elbow, kneeling with her children, singing with her sisters. I wasn't prepared to hear her voice.


Or see her paintings displayed - all those water-color memories - wispy yet vibrant. Or to feel her hands. So cold and unlike the last time we touched when they were warm and damp.

That night we descended on her home. Squeezed into her living room. All of us. Family. Together. I loved the quilts scattered in her backyard, stitching a familiar pattern. The children at play. The birds in her birdbath.

Everything was in its place. Just how she would have wanted it.

The men practiced their musical number. One of her favorite hymns. It felt heavenly.


But I have to disagree with Miss Dickinson on one point. At least for now. I can't put this love away. Not yet. I'm not sure where to put it. Or what to do with it.

And I'm not past wanting to use it.

I held it in its proper place throughout the services, like the black purse I tuck neatly under my arm. Even during my talk, I held onto it tightly. Never letting the contents spill out onto the table, for everyone to inspect. I came close during the family prayer by Uncle Richard. But at the graveside ceremony I was too distracted by Ali's whimpering over her ripped pull-up to even concentrate.

I'll never forget this image. My daughter jogging through the cemetery to her Daddy, pull-up slinging around her ankle like a small hula-hoop, her dress hiked up to the waist with her little bare bottom glowing like the moon. Burned into my psyche. Forever. Good thing Grandma would have laughed.


Tonight, however, this did me in. Caught me completely unaware. And the tears came without warning. Everything in my purse tumbled out.


Grandma's picture. Carefully cut out of the funeral program with green blunted scissors. Tenderly taped to my daughter's wall, above her bed. Purposely placed next to all her other "treasures."

She found the program on my bed stand this morning and asked if she could have it. I said, "Of course."

During a trip down to her bedroom for pajamas, I saw her tiny memorial. And it stopped me in my tracks.

At bedtime I told Eliza how happy I was to see Great-Grandma's picture on her wall. She peeled it off slowly, folded the tape down and placed it next to her lamp. "Now I can hold it and look at it when I want to."


Grandma would be delighted. Maybe she's already noticed - bridged the gap and looked in.

I hope so. Because I'm having trouble sweeping up my heart and putting this love away.

Eternity seems a long ways off.

Learn more about Grandma here. Her love for life was unfettered.


  1. Beautiful Cath. As soon as I scrolled down and saw the photo taped to the wall I was crying.

    Last week I attended a funeral of the mother of one of my closest high school friends. When I read the line, "putting Love away" a memory of the funeral flashed in my mind. - it was the image of those daughters tending to their mother, adjusting her clothing, fixing her hair, holding her hands, saying goodbye one last time, before closing the casket. I agree with you, how can it ever be put away?

    What a beautiful lady, your grandma.

  2. That was very sweet, Cath. Love you all!

  3. Melissa - I like that image of putting love away. Must be what I felt as we paid our last respects and my Dad and his siblings closed the casket. But truly, how can it ever be put away?

    Jill - thanks so much. Love you too!

  4. Catherine, I am so sorry about your grandmother. I know how hard it is to try and put love away, I don't think you really can, but with time things do get different and don't seem as hard. Thank you for sharing all your wonderful memories, you are such a wonderful person.
    Michelle (dillenbeck) Knowles

  5. That was absolutely beautiful. I love how easily children love and how tightly they hold on. How sweet that Grandma has made such an impression on her in the short time she has known her that she would want to remember her. or, Maybe she understands how much you love her and wants to emmulate that love.
    I thought your post was very sweet

  6. Michelle! How wonderful to hear from you! I checked out your blog and loved the pictures of your darling family! Thanks for your comments. You know even more intensely the loss of someone you love. I think of Aubrey often. Love to you and your family!

    Sarah - "how tightly they hold on" - I love that. Yes, I wondered if Eliza was simply modeling my affection for Grandma, but in talking with her, it seemed to be an expression of her own love. Ali and Eliza were particularly drawn to Grandma. Either way, so touching. Thanks for your thoughts Sarah.

  7. Eliza is such a sweetheart. Moments like those are so very precious.

  8. I am so glad you have this time to capture in writing such beautiful moments. Maybe when the day feels so hectic that you can't " stop to smell the roses", these entries allow you to do just that.

    I cried.

    Ty prays that we will see Grandma again. True that we need faith and prayer to make it to the end too, so we can see her again. become like little children.

  9. Your family could not be sweeter. Those faces are so adorable. Including Catherine and Doug of course.

    My idea.........put the love away in the velvet lined drawer in your heart, but leave the little drawer open to occasionally feel the softness of the velvet.

  10. I love that post. It says everything my heart feels, but can't express like you do.

    Sweet Eliza...I put Grandma's picture on my wall too. It's all I could think to do. I can't seem to put it away either.

    Love you...thank you for putting so well all that you feel! word verification is "elation". A word Grandma loved..I'm sure. :)

  11. Shells - you're so good at noticing those precious moments with your own children. Thanks.

    Bec- you're definitely right. Writing about our life in retrospect help me see meaning in the minutiae. Gives me time to stop and feel the emotion that sometimes I can't savor quite as much in the hurry of each day. How sweet that Ty prays for Grandma. Become like little children - always our challenge. I love you!

    Andrea - I love that imagery. Of leaving the drawer of my heart open to feel that soft velvet. So beautiful. Thanks for that perfect poetic image. Just right.

    Deb - ELATION! How very appropriate. Loved your comment and love you!

  12. I thought that I was all out of tears until I read this post. I don't think that love is ever supposed to be put away, but shared. My ultimate goal is to take the love I have for grandma and share it with others, just as she always did.

    And thank goodness for children to remind us of the big picture! Sure love you and your thoughts Cath. They are inspirational. (and often what I want to express, but can't figure out how:)

  13. Sweet Mary - What a noble desire. To pass on Grandma's love, not put it away. I'm inspired. Grandma loved you so much. And so do I.

  14. I would still really like the poem that you read at the funeral. Do you think you could email it to me?

  15. while the gospel is comforting on many levels...the promise of eternal families and relations brings so much peace. i worked with a patient last week who lost her baby at 30 times like that, when the emptiness seems unbareable...Im thankful for the gospel that fills so much. beautiful to have had such a wonderful woman in your life and beautiful to see the little woman in your life learning & one journey on earth ends, the next is just beginning. *cami

  16. Cami - endings and beginnings. That is so true! Thanks for your wise insights. Beautiful.

  17. Beautiful.
    Did you notice (I'm sure you did) how each of those little girls looks like the black and white portrait of your grandmother in their own special way? I noticed straight off...that portrait is beautiful...the light in her just know, you can tell...she is the kind of person that loved life.

  18. Sarah - how fun to find a comment from you! I've been to your blog several times through POMs and have always loved "visiting!" I had to go back and look at my girls next to my grandmother - your observation is true. In their own unique way, there is a resemblance. She did love life. I hope this trait trickles down to my girls as well. Thanks so much for leaving a note. I always enjoy your writing!


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