It’s Sunday afternoon at my grandparents’ house. Our hearts are overflowing. Family gatherings like these are the source of most of the fondest memories of my childhood. Between my mother, her three siblings and their respective spouses, twelve cousins were born. All of us are more or less the same age. We are partners in almost everything in life. There really is no family like my own.
The smell and smoke of meat on barbecue fill the air outside on the veranda. From the kitchen comes endless conversation mixed with the sounds of delicious dishes in the making. My grandmother’s love is in every single thing she makes for us to eat. All of us have a chore of some sort to help set up lunch. Then, we all take our seats around the round table that seems as endless as my grandparents’ mentality of abundance. As always, I am blown away by the conversation. The jokes flow like the soda stream in the kitchen that is working overtime, pouring cool drinks into round glasses that look like tennis balls. Amazing, how we can each choose the flavour of our liking. We are all so different, yet the same. We love the same people. I take pride in the fact that my grandparents, uncles and aunts are the most clever and funniest persons on the face of the earth. Our bodies are filled with food that is love. After lunch and desert, most of the adults mysteriously disappear as us children do the dishes. Songs fill the air… Songs with words such as, “to work is to feel glad, it fills our hearts with joy as long as we do it together.” These are special times.
Fast forward almost ten years later and I drive past the very house that was my grandparents’. I am shocked to see the state that it’s in. It seems desolated, as if a giant void surrounds the house, hiding in its midst all signs of life. The plants and grass are overgrown, the paving covered with weed. I remember how well my grandfather took care of the garden. I think of the roses that he found so much pride in and that he often picked for my grandmother. I see the sharp corner that our cars had to pass by to get to the back of the house. I smile when I think how often my grandfather misjudged that very corner and drove straight into it. The very song we used to sing in the kitchen plays in my mind like a tired turntable with a scratchy point. My grandparents have passed on from this life and all of us are scattered across the country, and now the world… Their old house has an air of mourning around it, as do I.
I visit the house of safety where little Poppedais used to live. It’s the first time I go there after her little body left this house and her soul the earth. Again, I am shocked to see the state that it’s in. To make sure that any viruses that may have been hidden between these walls were destroyed, certain precautionary measures had to be taken.
“The Department of Health said we should get rid of all soft things,” the tells me.
The house have been uprooted. All of the many soft toys are gone, toys that brought comfort to little children. All the mattresses and bedding had to be thrown away. All loose carpets and the one that covered the entire floor in the playroom have been thrown out. Softness and with it warmth have left the house. Bare and cold tiles look at me in despair. The house has been fumigated and carries a distinct, sterile smell. Again, I feel the void of life gone. The little children seem confused by the transition. Up until two months ago, this very place buzzed with life and colour and textures. I drive from there and think that this is what mourning looks like, it cries out through the earth and the things on it. Cold, bare, lifeless, colourless, confused. It’s as if everything and everyone at the house literally wear the reality of a breath that breathed with them that is now gone.
This week, I visit my dear friend. I enter their beautiful house and think of evenings spent there in sheer joy. I think of music that fills the air. I walk around the corner and think of her husband standing behind the counter, laughing and filling our glasses with wine. I think of her in the kitchen preparing wholesome, delicious food in her unique and loving way. I think of the conversations outside under the stars that lasts well into the night and the wee hours of the morning. I think of the long table that groans under the weight of all the food and privileged friends sitting around it. I think of endless wonderful memories made here in their midst.
Today, though, the house is silent. Silent as a grave. Curtains and blinds are drawn, doors are shut. Our voices echo somewhat into the high ceilings. She is alone in this beautiful house that they built not too long ago. The house that contained their personalities and beautiful sense of style, the house that they dreamed about and made their own. The house that they worked very hard towards completing. The reality of her and her husband’s impending divorce hits me like a bucket of ice-cold water. Indeed, the house is silent as a grave. For someone left, a breath that used to fill these rooms is gone.
All three places are sources of profound joy for me. All three places at some stage or another carried with them the intense hope that some things in life will never change. Somehow, I always thought that the people I love that dwelled in these places would always be there. Up until a few years ago when my grandfather died, I still carried this hope like a little girl looking with a heart untainted by life. And so I mourn. I mourn because I love. I mourn because these places and these people are also the source of my joy.
To love is to mourn and to mourn is to love. For when I love someone, their passing will cause me to mourn them for the rest of my life. But also, when I mourn, I learn what love truly is. My love will never be the same again. It now looks with softer eyes and a broken heart. My love now reaches the heavens. It is deeper, wider, stronger, ever expanding. It leaves me ever vulnerable, yet with absolute reverence in the wake of what love truly is.
For now, this is where I am. I dwell in these places of mourning. I miss the people I love. It is where I should be for now. I think of all the others who are also there with me. In mourning, in places that once carried the hope that everything will be as it always was. And I can only take to my broken heart the promise given to us:
“You have turned my mourning into dancing for me;
You have taken off my sackcloth and clothed me with joy,
That my soul may sing praise to You and not be silent.” Psalm 30:11-12
I can’t, not for a single moment, go through this life without my Father who gives me this promise and delivers it to me in His time.
And this is all I need to know now.