We took our girls to the beach for the first time this past weekend. They loved everything about it, but this was not the beach trip that any of us had envisioned several months ago when we began planning it.
As we passed the pastel cottages lining the water on Sunday, I imagined which one my parents might have rented for the week. We were traveling to the same Texas coast on the same dates that had been neatly penned into my planner since February, but we were not going for a carefree beach trip. We were there for my grandmother's funeral.
Kids don't understand the ramifications of death. The main thing that my almost-four-year-old was able to wrap her little head around when I told her of Nana's passing was that we would no longer be going to the beach house which we had recently spoken of so much. Though our time in Texas was limited, my husband and I decided that we would try to arrange a quick trip to Galveston for the girls on the morning before the funeral.
Caroline and I were eating lunch on our towels when I noticed the water slowly encroaching on our space. Looking out to where Piper was riding on her uncle's shoulders, the waves were visibly more threatening there, too. A storm was rolling in, and we had barely ten minutes to throw our gear in a bag and rush to the car before the rain fell down in torrents.
Grief hits you in waves like that: It creeps up quietly, hardly noticeable at first, but then its power unleashes in a burst of unstoppable fury, sometimes at the most unpredictable moments.
As my dad says, Nana was "the glue that held this family together." She was the strongest woman I've ever known, outliving two husbands and the doctor's grim prognosis of life on earth with cancer ... by three years. Gosh, she was feisty, and I adored her for it.
Naturally, I was sad at her funeral, but a good portion of the actual service was consumed by my futile attempts to keep my toddler under control. I had expected to cry there, and I did, but I did not anticipate remaining largely unfazed until our way home to Oklahoma.
Children can be a welcome distraction to difficult events, but they also momentarily halt the grieving process. They continue to be needy while you're trying to be sad. Both girls crashed in the car after the funeral, and in my first moments of quiet since Nana's passing four days prior, I felt everything at once.
I had slept in my grandmother's old room all weekend, but only in the silence, between two little nappers, did the most formidable wave of grief attack. Tears flowed like the rainwater at the beach as I thought about all of my grandparents finally losing the battle to cancer, about my dad losing his mom, about not sharing the same birthday with my Nana anymore, about how trips to Houston will likely be less frequent and will definitely be different ... about how the hardest days are yet to come.
"Mom," Piper asked, "Why are you crying?"
"Because Nana died, Sweetie."
"Is she in heaven already?"
"Then you don't need to be sad!"
I wish it was that simple.
Sometimes, I wish that grief was more like the hurricanes that hit Galveston with their vast but quick and calculable destruction, and less like the random waves that eternally ebb and flow.
I wish that heaven wasn't so far away.