Today was All Soul's Day and there was a Mass said at my parents' church for all parishioners who died this year, including my grandmother. Families were supposed to show up and carry candles to the altar while the names of their people were read.
When I read the e-mail about it my heart sank because I knew I'd have to go even though I'd say I wouldn't til the last minute and I knew it would be difficult and I knew I'd cry and make an ass of myself.
All of that came true.
I don't go to church and haven't for years, which is something I don't write about much in-depth beyond owning my ambivalence about the whole thing, topped off with such profound dissent with Catholic politics and practices that my participation would be hypocritical. My dedication to my grandmother and the goodness with which she helped to raise me - in many ways inseparable from being Catholic, because it was just something that always was - trumps that though. I knew she would like it if I went and if she had been asked to go and remember a family member in the same way she would have gone and helped to cook the food and helped people find places to sit and offered to walk the babies around in the back if need be.
She would have done it for me. When presented with that flip-flopped reality there was nothing else for me to do.
And so I sat in the back in a pew by myself and got caught up in the words of the ritual that I still know by heart and the weakly-sung hymns. I started crying as soon as I sat down, back in a church I was in last ten months ago for her funeral, still jacked up from the gym so sitting down in a room of grieving people immediately after was a bit of a shock. I of course had no tissues in my purse so I wiped my eyes (and, more embarrassingly, my nose) on my sweater to try to keep things under control, failing for the better part of an hour, panicked the whole time that the woman next to me would move or scream, for fear of swine flu or contagious emotional instability.
I watched people - old people, widowed spouses, adult children, families in huge packs of siblings and grandchildren - walk to the back of the church, called by the month their person died, and wondered how I would make it up the aisle behind my parents without losing my shit entirely, a woman pushing 40 still mourning a primal grandparental tie to a person who no matter how old or frail she was I could still get to spar with me, someone who will never come back.
It was a brutal, insane and completely beautiful grief parade, and when January, 2009, was called I got up off of my ass like I told myself mentally I absolutely would not do up until the moment I needed to and I walked behind my father and my mother to an altar I don't really believe in anymore except for the very necessity that it must mean something because it meant so much to her. And Daddy left the candle on the steps and we walked back to our seats and I kept on crying for myself and for her and the people who came in the months behind us, and I did not leave. I listened and I watched and I remembered and felt the entire, nearly-unbearable weight of the ties and years that had brought me here, to that pew, standing and sitting and kneeling in a lockstep so comfortable that no matter how long you're away it's still quite possible to slide back in at a moment's notice.
It may be the only time I will get to do that for her again, and as much as I didn't want to do it for as exposed as it made me feel with feelings I'm not entirely sure yet how to control, it was my honor to accompany a single lighted candle up a suburban church aisle for her. I know I do it mostly for me, to help me put all of this back together into some kind of workable form, because whatever I can do she doesn't need anymore. But still, in some ways, even if it's futile, I still do it for her too.