I remembered my grandmother’s name as Rose.
In my grief over her death on 11-02-2011 (a palindrome, by the way), I gave Grandma Roma Widhalm a new name.
During her rosary and memorial service, I read the blog I wrote last week, which I originally attributed to a Rose. Family members said rose was the right moniker for her, given her beauty and loving personality.
A dozen of Grandma’s photos, including her senior photo, were on a table. A slide show ran continuously showing moments from Grandma’s birth through her 90th year, as well as a few of the photos she had in her collection that were given to her by her children and grandchildren.
I stared at Grandma’s senior photo. She looked like me, I thought, in her eyes and the shape of her face. I asked my father and my aunt if we looked alike, and they said they saw a resemblance.
I felt like I was looking at the photo of someone who I didn’t know. Who was this beautiful woman with a serious turn of the mouth? Who was the woman who, as a child, held her younger sister, Faye, in a protective, loving embrace?
The questions simmered at the funeral the next day. It was held at a Catholic church in Elkhorn,Neb.
I half-listened to the readings and prayers as I thought of the viewing, Grandma with her hands bent from arthritis positioned at her waist.
Who was this woman, the one who I showed my new shoes to when I was six? The one whose shoes I hid when she babysat so that she would not leave me?
Who sent me birthday cards until the last year when she was too ill to pick up a pen?
Who grew up on a farm and went to a country schoolhouse?
Who married and divorced only to be buried next to grandpa?
I was fascinated, and I felt regret. Why hadn’t I asked these questions?
At the inurnment the next day, the grandchildren sat in a row underneath blankets as the priest recited the parting prayers. My aunt Kathy cried with the praying. The tears passed down the row to me, wetting my eyes and, like the crisp gray air, dampened my calm.
Goodbye became a heavy word, not just to my last grandparent but to the things I hadn’t bothered to learn. I wrote down the dates of my grandparents’ and great-grandparents’ births and deaths. It was like I had become a researcher gathering new facts that I should have already known.
I had never asked to see photos of Grandma in her youth, accepting that to me, she was just Grandma, a woman with gray hair and health problems. I took her at face value until I saw that her face resembled mine.
Maybe that was the rose that my grandma rose gave me. The beauty in wanting to keep asking questions, wondering about the what ifs.