I begin this week’s blog from the back seat of a car. Jack is asleep in his car seat; Gracie is caught up in watching Tik-Tok videos on her phone and Kenny is driving. Another road trip, another journey from NH to Florida. More Disney for us!
With a two day stop in Camp Hill, PA.
Kenny’s mother died recently. She was 95 and had wanted to join her husband for several years since his death in 2011. Her long slow walk to the pearly gates provided ample opportunity for visits and memories. Gracie, Kenny and I most of the time but Kenny made some solo trips as well. He missed his dad’s death so his commitment to seeing his mother became strong, especially after Molly died.
The Mary Elizabeth named for her Grammy Babe.
So, Papa Gordy lived 86 years and Grammy Babe 95. Their deaths, while saddening and grief producing to all who will miss them, were expected. We “know” that one day our elderly parents will die. Along with paying taxes death is the only thing we know will actually happen to us, and to those we love. It is not the death itself that brings the grief. It is the seeming “end” of an era. A time that will no longer exist. We mourn all that will never happen again. And for me, I also become sad that time has gone by so quickly.
Time once again plays “touched you last” with my heart.
What happens to me is a bit of a time transport. I go back in time to the memories that come up with the death. Kenny drove us all over Camp Hill after his mother’s funeral so that Jack could sleep. He looked at his childhood home, now owned by strangers and told us stories about his childhood, college years, marriage to Karen years and my first visit. We drove by parks, churches and schools, each with a story. Many of them include me, and “the girls”. It is the traveling back to that time that makes grief so paralyzing for me sometimes.
Molly was alive then. I had a different future then. We all did.
I recently read that losing a parent has you mourning the past and what will never be again, that losing a spouse has you mourning the present and all that you are no longer doing day to day, and that losing a child has you mourning the future and all that will not go as you thought. In actuality all three forms of grief exist in any death. Life is immediately altered.
My first visit to Camp Hill was in June of 1999. Grammy Babe and Papa Gordy’s 50th wedding anniversary party was on Friday night and Gordy’s marriage to Nancy on Saturday afternoon. I had just discovered my pregnancy with Baby Gordy. (So many Gordy’s in this memory). The anniversary party was a blast, full of friends and family. They were just moved into a new condo and the AC blew. A long sweaty music filled amazing night followed. Live music, funny poems and tributes, fine food and drink. Lots of the loudest laughter I had ever heard. Other than family members only three of the guests from that party are still alive. Kenny’s parents were 71 and 72 at the time. Kenny’s brother Gordy just had his 71st birthday.
How is it that we are here already? Papa and Grammy and all of what Camp Hill was when they lived is gone, invisible day to day and only alive in the memories of those who knew them.
The funeral was a rainy windy gathering of about 50 people in Rolling Green Cemetery in Camp Hill. Papa’s ashes were there along with Grammy’s. A short loving service with music and scripture. The best parts for me were Bobbie’s memories and Kenny’s stories. Learning about someone through the stories of those who knew them. I closed my eyes and tried to “see” what I was hearing. Bobbie was attending on Zoom as Hurricane Ian damaged her home and made travel from Florida impossible. Gordy sat with Kim, the mother of his three girls. Kimmie and Jamie were there. Kacy and Chad, Bobbie’s children were there. Chad played the guitar, Kacy read her mother’s words. Kenny’s daughter Caity was there as well with her husband Tony and their children Stella and Milo. Gracie sat with Kenny; Jack slept in the car. Kylie and Logan, Kimmie’s children and Grammie’s great grandchildren were there.
Missing though were all of those who had at one time or another been a part of the story. The brothers and sisters, the work associates, the best friends. Only a small handful of friends and family that were actually there, a piece and part of the story sat under that tent. We all knew them of course, but we are living OUR story now, theirs is winding down.
Kimmie hosted a beautiful get together after the service. Although many of the faces were different the energy was the same. Games of pool being shot, good food being eaten, loud laughter ringing through the house, and dancing. Children over tired and over stimulated enjoying their new found freedom. When Caity got married, we had the Banzhoff Clan at our house for a gathering. My neighbors later remarked that they had never heard such loud and joyful laughter.
Life is a never-ending relay where the baton is passed from generation to generation. The children become the parents and cousins become aunts and uncles. The parents become the grandparents and then it goes on again, new generations moving into their next role in the play that is life. Grammy Babe played basketball for Camp Hill High School in the early 1940’s. Kylie will play soccer and volleyball there in 2023. Gracie was the 5th generation of my family to go to Concord High School. We all have our turn.
Bobbie and Kenny were able to be with their mother daily for her last week here on Earth. She drew her last breath as they drove to visit. They held her hand when they arrived and said goodbye. They wished her well and thanked her for all she gave to them. As difficult as death is to watch, it is actually an incredible gift. So joyful for the soul heading into eternal pastures and so mournful for us, the ones having to let go. My ability to be with Molly when her body died is a gift I will heartbreakingly cherish for as long as I am here.
I will miss Grammy Babe. Not in the “day to day” sense, but in the “what life was like when she was here” sense. I will miss her voice and her unfiltered sharing of her opinions and views. I will miss the electric chair on the stairs that she used to send cheese and crackers down to Papa Gordy. I will miss when my life with Kenny was full of happiness and hope and when life made sense. I will miss what once was and will no longer be.
So once again I struggle to let go, to admit that time has passed and things must change. Kenny, Gordy and Bobbie are now the matriarch and patriarchs of the Banzhoff clan. My siblings and I have two parents, two aunts and an uncle until we reign supreme. I long for the days when I was the child gleefully watching the grownups orchestrate the family traditions. Kenny misses all of those dynamic friends and relatives who brought life to his childhood experiences.
This is how it works. The relay of life, the passing of the baton.
I am in the exchange zone now. I guess I am ready.
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