Yesterday afternoon, after I wrote this, my papa went to be with the Lord. I am posting this because it’s important for me to record this part of it and the women who cared for him. And then I probably won’t talk about him for a little while, keeping my grief private–at least until I work things out–for a time.I don’t like to wear the color lavender because I remember staring down at my sweater and shoes when we found out we would have to unexpectedly have to put my childhood dog to sleep. We were so shaken because it was unexpected. “I can’t go in there,” my dad said. “Neither can I,” my brother added. I didn’t blame either of them. I did not want to go in either. But my normally quiet mom spoke up: “I’ll go. I don’t want her to be alone.” And then I found myself saying, “I’ll go too,” because I did not want my mom to be alone and because I could not turn away from my mom’s reasoning.
Sometimes you cannot turn away.
That memory came back to me this weekend as we sat around my grandfather’s bed. The we was my mom, my grandmother, my aunt, and myself. All women. This is nothing against men, especially the men in my family. But as I watched my mom put chapstick on my papa’s lips or pretend to hang tools on a non-existent pegboard because he thought, in his mind, she’d left them on the ground, I knew instinctively that this was sacred work we were all doing. My grandmother brushed his hair from his head. My aunt made us laugh when we wanted to cry (this is a gift in and of itself). I am still trying to understand what I did. Maybe it was keeping this record.
I’m treading carefully because I so badly want to say the thing I mean and not be misunderstood. So often, men want to fix things. But there are some things which cannot be fixed or put back together. Some things we must watch fall apart, or in fact, die. These things are important and need to be done well. So often times, it is women who hold the vigil, when there is nothing to fix, when there is difficult comfort to give, when there is nothing to do but wait with the hardest anticipation.
We held our breath in that room–the women of the family. None of us felt abandoned by the men/boys of the family. I know for a fact that none of us felt as if they were lesser for not being there. Somehow it seemed right that it was us. I’m not saying women belong in one room and men in another or that there are certain jobs women are made for and others for men. All I can tell you is what I felt in that room: that it was supposed to be the women of the family watching over him.
I have a confession to make. I have often overlooked the strength of the women on this side of my family because it is more quiet than other kinds of strength I am more familiar with. This past week, I was humbled beyond belief. Quiet strength can hold up the whole sky. It bears all types of burdens we cannot imagine. It bears them quietly and without complaint. It holds on with a tenderness and a fierceness that surprised and humbled me. It is slow to weariness.
I learned this week, about the quiet strength of specific women. Gentle strength is a force to be reckoned with in and of itself. It should not be discounted.
I do not discount it.