Any [wo]man's death diminishes me, because I am involved in Mankind; And therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; It tolls for thee.
Can you love someone so much that they become a part of you? That's what I asked at Mamaw's funeral on Friday. I had been thinking that question after we buried her in a private family ceremony earlier that afternoon. In the car on the way to the church I looked at Amanda in her carseat. Did I really embody part of Mamaw? Did Amanda? I know we had been saying she would live on through her relatives, but would she really?
In her almost 96 years, Mamaw was so "involved with Mankind" (and not just because she was boy-crazy) that around four hundred people came to the Celebration of Life service at the church. The whole choir sang. Grandchildren and children and honorary relatives got up and spoke. Ten years ago she gave one of the "bastard children" from her Sunday School class the task of giving her eulogy. He finally got to do it. And these people are all at least a generation younger than her. Imagine how the congregation would have spilled out into the halls if all -- if any -- of her contemporaries were still around.
Yes, she would live on. Of course she would. All those people filling up the sanctuary were part Mamaw now. The way she had treated them would influence the way they treated others. The way she interacted with the world, the things she had talked with them about, would affect the way they thought and acted. She loved so many people. Like me, she made a best friend every time she went to the grocery store. And because she loved so much, many many people came to love her.
Mamaw is a part of me because she offered her loving arms to me for 37 years. We wrote each other letters; I visited her whenever I could. She would always say that it was so easy to be around me. I found the same true of her (except when she was watching Fox News, which she had chosen because the anchormen were the cutest). One night one year I read her poetry from a very old book. She recited it along with me. It's an understatement to say she was special. And for her to tell me I was special, well. It was special.
When I write letters, when I make friends, when I fight for a chance to speak to a crowd -- about anything -- that's all from Mamaw. When I make a little "huh!" sigh and look up and raise my shoulders, that's Mamaw. When I dangle my fork between my fingers over my plate, that's Mamaw, by way of Mom. And when I yearn to make my home a place where anyone is welcome, where everyone is loved individually, and where music and light reign supreme. That's Mamaw. I want, I want, I want to give my girls the kind of experience that I got at Mamaw's house.
That's how she lives on.
But Mamaw doesn't just live. She died. She swapped love with us. The places in us that she filled with her memories and appreciation, used to hold bits of us. We gave those to her. And so when the bell tolled for Mamaw, it rang for a broken community, a broken family, a broken me. We're mostly the same, and we hold so much of her still. But it's a loss. It hurts. We all died last Monday.
Along with the tolling bell quote, I've been thinking about "tis better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all." Can you imagine what life would have been like without Mamaw? No, me neither. And I don't want to. Getting my heart broken at 37 is a small price to pay for the life she's given to me.
I see Mamaw's baby pictures in Amanda's dark hair and chubby cheeks. I see Mamaw's love of people in Elisa's perpetual smile. In James I see the person Mamaw said she'd marry if I didn't.
We're all Mamaw. It's only barely a metaphor. And so we're all less now than what we were.
It will take some time to recover.