Barely out of my teens, at the naive age of 20, I found myself away from home for the first time. When my newborn would lay down for a nap and I was granted a little alone time, homesickness would set in. Phoning my mom back in Kansas always eased the ache. Her distinct booming voice would answer “ello” in a hillbilly dialect.
Our conversation bridged the 2700 miles from the golden wheat fields I had known all my life to the snow capped mountains of Alaska. She would catch me up on the family happenings. Enthusiastically ask about her oldest granddaughter. Complain about my father & whatever ailment was bringing her down that week. It made me feel like I was right back at home. When the conversation would end we exchanged I love you & I would end with “goodbye” and her reply was always “later”.
Life took my little family to the other side of the states. I was blessed with a son at the age of 25 in the pine scented state of North Carolina. A year later I came to terms with the fact that my marriage wasn’t viable. I made that call home to momma. She cried with me as I told her this was the hardest thing I have ever done. She reassured me that I was strong enough to do what was needed. We didn’t have the kind of relationship where we spoke daily, or even once a week. But during those poignant moments in my life, she comforted me. We ended our conversation with plans for me to move back to Kansas. I said “goodbye” and as was typical, she replied “later”.
Mom’s other family members end phone conversations this same way. I, being the non conformist that I am, resisted the valediction of “later”. It just seemed silly and superstitious to me. I knew the reason they felt compelled to avoid “good-bye” was because it implied to-never-see-each-other-again. “Later” conjures up visions of things to come, the promise of another tomorrow.
Now I am 40, and would like to think, much wiser. It is 3 years and a day that my mom left this earth to be with Jesus whom she loved so much. I called my grandmother today because I knew that she must be missing her oldest daughter. I know I was feeling the void.
I am drawn back to the last days I spent with my mom. She lay motionless in the hospital bed with a meek smile. Her head bald from the unforgiving cancer & her stout 5 foot body bloated, pumped full of steroids. Still, she was more beautiful then I had ever seen her before. She was at peace with the end of her life. We discussed God & how she envisioned Heaven. It was glorious in her mind and she looked forward to seeing it.
Though she worried deeply about those she was leaving behind. She took my hand & told me how proud she was of what I had done with my life. I told her how I was sorry for being so self absorbed through the years & not considering her feelings more. There was nothing to be sorry for she consolingly stated. She was concerned about my salvation, as my relationship with God had been inconsistent. I promised her to make it more of a priority. I am currently on the path of honoring that promise.
As I ended my conversation with my grandmother on this 3 year anniversary, I found myself saying “later”, not “goodbye” this time. Not because I believe this will prevent the inevitable end of my grandmother’s journey here on earth. But because I know it brings her comfort. Also, I believe that the last time I spoke to my mother, looked into her eyes & held her hand, it wasn’t goodbye. It was a promise to see her again once we leave this earthly world. A promise that gives me the hope I need to live here without her.
~ Teresa February 15, 2012
April 8, 2018
Since I wrote the essay above, my grandma Pearl has recently passed away. I did have the honor of reading it to her and my mom’s baby sister Sarah (who I am sad to say has also passed away very recently). It was a beautiful moment between us 3 women that I will cherish forever!
I presented a eulogy for my grandma and I incorporated the theme of “Later” into it. I know she would have loved it. I am also going to share that on here below.
My family has endured a lot of losses and 2018 has been especially cruel. I hold dearly to the belief that we will be reunited again someday. I am in no hurry but I know the day will be glorious!
Eulogy for Pearl
1937 – 2018
Given: January 26, 2018
By: Granddaughter Teresa
I am Teresa, daughter of Debbie and oldest granddaughter of Pearl.
I had an earthy grandmother for 46 years. That’s pretty amazing! Each of us here today had our lives touched by her living, aren’t we blessed!
When my aunt Sarah called me last Tuesday to tell me the news she bravely fought back tears as I cried. She told me, TeeCee, cry if you need to but remember that we cry for us, because mama is “home” now.
She is home with Jesus, grandpa, my mom Debbie and other beloved family.
I meant to tell you at that time Aunt Sarah, you sound just like your mother.
I am not here to tell you that Pearl was perfect. Perfect is meant for boring things and she was anything but boring.
Grandma was a strong woman. When younger she would work the yard as hard as any man. She was also strong in faith; love for family and in her convictions.
As a snotty teenager I expressed to her how much I hated being poor and not having nice things like my friends. She corrected me on disrespecting my hard working parents. I told her my way out was that I wouldn’t marry anyone unless they had money. She laughed and said, “sister, you don’t know who your heart will choose to love.’ Let’s just say, she wasn’t wrong.
She lived this as she stayed devoted to her marriage for 63 years. They saw richer, poorer, sickness and health. Grandpa had some dark years and grandma was steadfast in her commitment to her vows. So much so grandpa turned his life over to Christ following her example. As my cousin Jimmie said, “Grandma earned a jewel in her crown.”
She saw potential in everything, whether it was a worn out antique or a worn out soul. She was eccentric, funny, bossy, generous, loving, family-oriented and Christ-centered. She was bigger than life.
I wrote an essay about my mom and read it to my grandma and Aunt Sarah a few years ago. It was about how instead of saying “goodbye “while ending phone conversations my mom & grandma would say “later”. It is never goodbye when there is a promise of a non-earthly reunion.
So I will close by saying. You have left a piece of you with each of us. WE love you. Until we reunite….LATER!