When my grandmother died in '01, I didn't attend her funeral. It was December. The weather was questionable as was the vehicle. With a nursing newborn and 4 other children, it was overwhelming to consider the 10+ hour drive "alone". I made it 5 hours in. I stopped to see my sister who could tell it was too much and encouraged me to go home. Grandma, of all people, would "get it".
I went home.
A few days later we celebrated one of my daughters. Her birthday falls on New Years Eve. The house was a mess. Streamers. Hats. Noise makers. Gift wrapping. Also used paper plates and cups covered in cake, hardened ice cream with some Disney character I've now forgotten. There were balloons. Several. The children had gathered them up and made a 'mountain'. I decided to leave all the cleaning for the next day...my first resolution for the New Year.
But I could not sleep.
At some point, everyone had slipped into dreaming and the last year that held my grandmother quietly slipped into the year -- I make up without any reservations -- that she began to hold me.
It began with a balloon.
It was 2am. The dining room was flooded with light from a day old full moon. I remember going to the window and looking at it while apologizing to her for not making the funeral. I apologized for the fear I felt in seeing her in the nursing home in a state so far from anyone I'd ever known her to be and I apologized for not realizing sooner that she was becoming lost to the world. I should have known. Of all people, I should have "got it".
I sat down on the floor.
I just wanted to bask in the light for a moment before I quietly began cleaning. I surveyed the place guessing it would take less than an hour. I had time to sit. The mountain of balloons, still clinging together, had eroded into a colorful landscape. I remember counting them by color. I don't remember how many blue, how many green but I remember the air unit kicking on and, ever so gracefully, one red solo balloon pulling from the pile, crossed the room to the floor vent and began to dance above it. I waited. No other balloon moved. And the red balloon kept dancing.
It gave me peace.
A few days later, I was organizing a writing space. Earlier, I had begun making a collage. It was a collection of my favorite pictures of us together. I had put it in a drawer with several photos that didn't work either because they were too blurry or too poorly lit. I opened that drawer and one fell out. No other picture fell. This one hadn't made the cut because it was both blurry and poorly lit but there against the hazy backdrop of our cheek-to-cheek smiles was her vivid red earring in the shape of a balloon.
Now, I see red balloons in the most peculiar places when I especially need to.
But that's another blog...