I have this one picture of Mom Mom and me that I frequently untuck from its drawer. My arm wrapped around her shoulders, we are sitting on the porch of our family's house by the lake. Watermelon, our favorite summertime food, sits on the red and white printed table next to us. This much I assume because I hold a fork in my hand. Presumably, her coffee, despite the sweltering summer sun, sits in the mug just inside the frame of the photograph. The background blurs behind us. Laughing, I am open-mouthed, closed-eyes, head-back while she is head-bent-forward, lips-puckered, and hands-outstretched. She always pursed her mouth after she said something of particular candor, usually something for which Pop Pop scolded her with a stern "Jerry!"
With Mom Mom, life ambled on beautifully in its simplicity. Life with Mom Mom, though filled with little, special, often comical moments, amounted not to those moments, those facts, but to the warmth her presence evoked, the feelings of the sum of those moments. I think her soul was made of those sunshine beams that tiny specks of dust dance upon and those sweet-smelling summer raindrops that seemingly leap back into the sky just as quickly as they fall to the earth.
In the few years before Mom Mom's death, she developed dementia. She resented Pop Pop for taking the car away from her even though it was because she continued to get lost in the town she called home for so many years. She stood in the middle of the market, devastated that she wrote "sugar" on her list, but she no longer knew what it was or where to find it. She sometimes forgot people's names. (Of course, long before the dementia, she called my cousin Brian Donald, a Disney character he regards fondly.) Unlike most of my cousins, I lived farther away from my grandparents, so physical distance betrayed me.
And so did my cowardice.
I knew what everyone said about Mom Mom's "failing" mental health. How could she be my Mom Mom if she failed to recognize me? That fear paralyzed me. If I am being honest, I would tell you that I cannot remember whether or not I spent much, if any time, with Mom Mom when her dementia took a turn for the worse. And why not? Even if I could not remain her granddaughter in name, she was still my Mom Mom. A mind might forget the words, but does the heart? I just could not handle missing her before she was actually gone. But I did anyway. I missed much more than I have the courage to admit.
I think Mom Mom visits me in my dreams to tell me that it's okay. She understood my young heart. She understood my absence marked my fear, not my apathy. She understood my love when I approached the podium at her funeral to read the poem that in a few short breaths brought us all from tears of laughter to tears of sadness. She understood my grief when I folded up that poem, ever so carefully and slowly, and placed it in the casket with the body that looked nothing like her. It wore her clothes. We mischievously placed a tissue up the sleeve, her favorite hiding place for a hankie. Without the warmth that defined Mom Mom, however, that body could have been anyone else's.