Today I pressure washed my front porch. As I washed away dirt and grime and cobwebs, I watched my cheap but plucky pressure washer strip away some already-peeling paint on the steps, revealing a dark green long covered up in white. It made me wonder what this house looked like before I bought it, before it was remodeled.

And that made me think of my grandmother. Mimi grew up in this neighborhood and knew the original owners of my house, shopped at what used to be the general store next door. She was over the moon about me moving into West Salem, about my house, about me living right beside the park she played in as a child. And it made me miss her.

I’ve been thinking about her a lot lately. I’m so grateful that I was nearby for her final years and that she was present for major moments like my ordination and my wedding. I am sometimes doubled over in sadness that she never got to hear about my new emerging work or see me start school again, that she isn’t here to watch that old general store being remodeled by some friends of mine to become an apartment and a garden shop. I feel conflicted about whether I’d want her to have been around for some of the darker days that have come since she passed, torn between thinking that at least she doesn’t have to worry but also wishing I could talk to her about it.

And sometimes I do talk to her about it. A few weeks ago, I walked to the cemetery at dusk (with my scariest-looking dog), brushed the grass and dirt off her grave marker, laid my head on it, and cried and talked and prayed. I told her the things I was struggling with and hopeful for; I let her know how much my grandfather misses her; I updated her on what was going on with other family members. I let my tears dry on the stone and walked home through the night, feeling lighter.

I don’t really know what I believe about “where people go” when they die—my eschatology is a little too mystical for simple answers to that question—and I’m not all that comforted by pithy sayings about loved ones “looking down on us.” I know her grave isn’t where she is—she was cremated and put in a box so small it felt almost insulting to the memory of her big and beautiful presence. But living less than a mile from a stone with her name on it matters to me, and it did feel like I was talking to her then.

There’s a song by one of my favorite bands, Delta Rae (which, by the way, is in the middle of a miraculous Kickstarter campaign you should totally support), that always makes me think of her. “Dance in the Graveyards” has been a favorite of mine for years, and it took on new meaning when Mimi passed away. Mimi’s great rebellion against her Baptist roots was to become a modern and liturgical dancer. I imagine her dancing in the graveyards now, inviting all the other residents and those who pass through to join her.

And maybe this is enough: that under a few layers of dirt and grime and paint are colors she knew as a child; that she was proud of me; and that even in death, she is always there, inviting me to dance.


Published by Sarah Howell-Miller

"I believe in kindness, also in mischief. Also in singing, especially when it is not necessarily prescribed." {Mary Oliver}

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