"We all lost our best friend today." Your husband, my uncle uttered that right after you passed away. One of the gruffest men I've ever met, the very same man who blew off his right hand trying to remove a tree stump with dynamite uttered that.
That succinct bastard.
He basically said what I've been trying to say in all these letters I've been writing you. You were a lot of things to a lot of people but above all things, you were their best friend. And that's a pretty damned good legacy to leave behind.
But you didn't really leave did you? We pulled up to your farmhouse, up the driveway next to your rose garden and I see a whole mess of people sitting round the garden table and I felt you watching over everyone.
I entered the house through the side door that has the stairwell leading down to the basement and the steps leading up to the kitchen and saw a whole other mess of people in the kitchen and dining area. It's exactly as I'd hoped, people are talking and carrying on and eating, and eating, and eating. That sounds about right. It's like you never left. I can feel you everywhere.
I did get to walk the 3/4 of the floors of your expansive farmhouse. I also got to peek at the attic stairs but I couldn't walk up there this time. It's close enough. It's changed some, your house, new floors, a new paint job inside and out, the claw foot tub in the upstairs bathroom is gone. Also, there's some things that don't match up to my memories, like your canning and jam room was dingier and more cramped than I remember but that's besides the point. But its still got your signature all over it. You're not haunting it. By all accounts, your dead mother-in-law is if the stories are to be believed. I think you're blessing it instead. I feel you looking down and smiling from every corner.
But there's still a notable absence there. In particular, and I'm sorry for the all caps, but it has to be said: THERE IS NO NANA JAM! You left us in a nana-jamless world, and it is a world I am not prepared to live in. What's more is that your family is scrambling to figure out the recipe for not only your nana jam, but your triple berry pies and your cobblers. It's a sad state of affairs. You took a legacy of food and canning knowledge with you for the most part and every one is scrambling to figure out just what you did and how you did it.
I don't mean to infer that your only legacy is food, but it has left a big impression on a lot of people. And I think your food is an analogy for how you were in life. You filled everyone up with love and happiness and joy. And now that you're gone alot of those of us in your life won't ever be filled up quite the same way again.
I'm not sure if I've had the chance to properly grieve you yet. I went to Iowa for a lot of reasons, to be there for my mom, the have my daughter meet our big family, to see family I haven't had the chance to in years, and to grieve your passing, but that one didn't happen. I was too busy with my daughter and with attempting to help with other people's grief that figuring out my own didn't really factor into the equation. In truth, these letters were me grieving you, letting you go in increments. Maybe that's all I really needed. Maybe what I needed was just to be a port in a storm, another body to press up against and another shoulder to cry on. I have to say it felt good to at least be that, to hug your grandchildren as it became too much for them, to just let them have at it and to know I was there for them. I wanted to be so much more, but there wasn't enough time for that.
I still have your beads you know. I have a few ideas of what I'm going to do with them to. Your family is going to need you close and I hope to give that to them when the time comes.
I'm rambling now, but what else is new?
This will be my last letter to you. It's obvious I'm grasping at things to say and ways with which to process my grief. All I have left to say is something I've already said before. I love you, and you will be missed.
Your niece Tylia