We called my great grandmother Nanamommy--because that's what she was to everyone. And it was so commonly used that it may as well have been "Joan." I never thought it odd until I was an adult. And once in a while now, midsentence, I say, "Blah blah blah Nana-...my great grandmother blah blah blah." But I love the nickname. I love it like a child's blanket or a worn teddy bear.
Nanamommy's grave sits beneath a tree on the far end of Elmwood Cemetery in Bradford, MA. From her grave, one can see the flat she lived in up to her death, the second floor of a big, uninteresting green building. She lies beside her second husband, a man who died one year before I was born and of whom several disturbing stories were told. It's hard to know what's true about him, however. Mom shared a couple stories about him today. Fairly benign, but still telling. Nanamommy's first husband, who died of TB, lies elsewhere in the cemetery. My grandmother used to talk about her father with more love than she showed for anyone else. He died while she was still young, and stood on a high pedestal thereafter.
I was happy not only to be present with Mom to plant the flowers, but to actually help plant. To clear out the weeds, turn the earth, and put my bare hands into the soil over Nanamommy's body felt true. Organic. Close. See, Nanamommy died when I was young, so she stands on a high pedestal before me. To show her love and respect by beautifying the small square footage that is hers eternally feels more true than any prayer I could consider offering.
While there are other family members buried at Elmwood, Nanamommy is the only true, close family there. Everyone in my family who has passed since her has been cremated, boxed up, and handed to my mother, who keeps them in the front hall. The running joke during the holidays is that we can all be in the same room without any of the bickering.
It's sad, though, that no one else has been buried. There is only one stone to visit, to sit beside, to get tearful over. On those occasions that I think about family members who have passed, there's nowhere to go to ponder it--nowhere solid. It makes me consider the worth of a gravestone. Someday my mother will pass--and where will I go to talk to her? Because I will want to talk to her. I will want to plant flowers and cry and feel the dirt between my fingers. Because once the connection to the soul is lost, one needs to connect to something.
And along with the sense, from a recent post, that being a mother brings about immortality, so does a gravestone. Because I don't see just my great grandmother's stone in that cemetary. Mom and I wander a bit each year, checking out stones, noting names and dates. Today we stepped close to a tall pillar overgrown with hostas and vines--turned out to be poison ivy. This huge gravestone was encircled with poison ivy. I argued that frankly it would be fitting for my stepfather's stone someday, he being so cuddly and all. We laughed and walked back to the car.