Yesterday afternoon we buried my mother's mother, Betty Lamson West. She was a woman filled with goodness and mercy. All of her days she walked with kindness and compassion. It was painful to say goodbye. And it felt like losing my own mother all over again. After that tragedy in 2007, my grandmother assumed the role of loving us in her stead. She faithfully communicated, and with impeccable timing would mail us photographs of Marilyn from earlier years. "I have been saving this one for you." And it would be a picture of my mother pregnant with her twin daughters. Or she would mail us a card, that my mom had sent her years ago with words written in script to soothe the aching loss. She knew our pain. And now that connection is gone, and it feels the world will soon remember its place no more. The incessancy of life is cruel. And I believe is one of the most difficult things in the grieving process. Everything just keeps going, when all one wants to do is stop. The expression that, life is a grind becomes clear and poignant.
As we gathered around her body yesterday in the First Presbyterian Church of New Gretna, NJ, I stood with my grandfather. He reminded me that it was here where they were married, sixty-four years ago. "The beginning and the end," he said. "This is a day for weeping." He then told my cousins and I, that just a couple weeks ago he had told our grandmother, that he would do it all over again. The sixty-four years part. "That really pleased her." Those words must have been a wonderful comfort to her coming from this Texan. A Texan who as he aged, longed for the land of his own mother. He was a young boy in the Coast Guard, when he moved from San Antonio to be stationed in Atlantic City, NJ and never moved back. How could he when he met such warm and lively nurse named Betty? Their first meeting was arranged by a girlfriend of hers. He had arrived at her house and was on the porch, while she was getting ready upstairs. But then, as she would tell us, she heard his laugh. And that was the clincher. They were married a few months later.
She said she would move to Texas with him, because by that time she was ready to give small town New Gretna a rest. But he said, "No, I like this old house, Betty." And so they stayed and lived in her grandmother's home and raised four daughters.
Her kindness and love would have caused anyone to stay. She was happy. Always moving, always smiling. Always thinking of others. Always writing letters, and taking pictures. Always pulling you aside to share some insight she had about you or one of your children. "Emily, did you see the expression on Fiona's face?"
As grandchildren spending our summers on the Jersey Shore we soaked her in like the sand and saltwater with which we played. We loved hearing about her stories as a young and vibrant nurse in Atlantic City, when Atlantic City was the place to be. She loved it. And we loved it too. She would make clam pot pie for us for dinner and blueberry muffins for breakfast. She and our grandfather would take us sailing, and clamming, and swimming. She taught us how to body surf. She could have been on a billboard advertising the Jersey Shore as she swam. Her lead arm pointing straight out of the water in the direction of where she was headed out to sea. And then she would come back to dry and warm on our blanket. And she always smelled wonderful. On our last visit, I asked her what her secret was. She was always so fresh and clean and sweet smelling, like clothes dried in the sun. And she smiled shrugged and said, "Ivory soap, I guess." She would bathe every night and the cabinets were stocked full of Ivory soap.
She never stopped nursing. As a young child, I remember accompanying her on a visit to administer a shot to a neighbor. I was amazed at her cheerfulness while performing the task. She was indeed resilient friend.
Betty was buried on "the hill" beside generations of her family. A family that had been in that town since the early nineteenth century, and one that descended from the Mayflower. We are all waiting to see what is to come of our family now, without our beloved matriarch. Death. Loss. Change. May God have mercy on us all.