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The Fourth Marion

My grandmother was the fourth girl in her lineage to be named Marion. It began with the Ball family during the colonial fighting against the British. They named their daughter Marion in honor of General Francis Marion, better known as the 'Swamp Fox' in the history books. She died on October 3rd, 1998. I will never forget the date. She had always wanted to live to see me 'grow up,' and ironically her wish was granted. She died the day I turned 18 years old.

I can remember the day as a series of impressions and fleeting emotions only. My friends were at my house, playing computer games and drinking caffeine, the normal way in which I celebrate my birthday. Only this party was different because we were being chaperoned by friends of the family. My parents and the rest of the family were at the hospital pulling the plug on my grandmother. I had no wish to be there. Some might have blamed her for dying on my birthday and putting a damper on my enthusiasm, but I do not. It was her time to go and I consider the timing evidence of Gods sense of ironic humor.

My nickname was "grandmom's heart" for as far back as I can remember. My nickname was bestowed upon me and used only by her. I was her first grandchild and held some special attachment to her. She considered me good and kind and was certain that someday I would bring home a cute redhead girl to bring her redheaded little great grandkids. She brought out the best in me. I can remember numerous trips to the hospital over the years to visit her on her many stays there. I would talk to her and massage her scalp to ease her constant headaches. I hated the hospital, and she knew that. She appreciated my visits even more because she knew I made them in spite of my hatred of the place.

She saw in me more good than I will likely ever see in myself. Probably more good than anyone else will ever see in me. Sometimes I wonder what she thinks of me today from beyond the grave. She was a firm believer in Heaven and a devout Christian and I often seem to feel her presence or her eyes upon me. I can still hear her voice in my head, grown childish and playful in the tone which she often assumed with me - "Hi 'dere!" She always saw the good in everyone, but was also very perceptive and could see the evil as well. Never judgmental, she stands as an example of how I believe a true Christian should be.

Her death marked a major turning point in my life. I had developed a close relationship with a girl over the internet at the time, and my family did not yet know of it. I often wonder what my grandmother's response would have been had she found out. The girl was not a Christian and later earned the immediate scorn of my surviving family. Grandmom might have accepted her as I had, but I doubt I could have taken it, had she rejected her. I valued her opinion much more than that of my own parents.

It was my first semester at college and my parents and I barely talked. I remember getting the call from home informing me that she was in the hospital and not doing well. For as much as I loved her, I felt nothing at first. There was no surprised to be felt - she had been in the hospital numerous times throughout my life and I knew the day would come when she would not return. Still it deeply disturbed me in ways that slowly became obvious. I would cry for no reason and become agitated and upset on random occasions. When I next visited home, I refused to enter her hospital room. By this time she was breathing and 'living' by the aid of machines and was no longer coherent. I had no inclination to remember her as a vegetable and grew even more sullen when my parents pressed the point before they relented.

Her viewing and funeral followed in the days immediately after my birthday. That Fall Break from college was the worst I would ever experience. At the funeral I stoically toyed with my new programmable calculator purchased for college and refused to look towards the open casket. She was beautiful even in death, but her essence was painfully gone. I watched my grandfather look at her and rattle the change in his pocket. I could feel his grief pouring out as he was alone, left in a world without his life mate. I feared the day that I might be forced to break such an incredible shared love.

At her funeral things grew even more surreal for me. I avoided the truth of the events around me. Even as one of her pallbearers, I shut off all of my feelings and retreated inside of myself, as I was oft prone to doing. I shook hands with so many family members that I lost count. The forced and meaningless small talk that occurred at both events sickened me. My sister sobbed continually and accused me with her eyes for being so cold. My parents cried as well and tried to pat me on the back and assume the look of a normal family for a time.

Emotion has never been a big thing for me. Rather it would be more accurate to say that I am very emotional, but prefer not to air these feelings in public. The family visited her gravesite on one occasion while vacationing nearby. We were not told ahead of time by our parents, but my sister and I realized where we were as soon as the car entered the graveyard gates. We both chose not to leave the car, and sat alone waiting for our parents return. I was calmly reflecting upon her memory when my sister became upset, began crying and screaming. "Why did they have to bring us here!?" I could only respond with annoyance at her outburst and told her to control herself.

I have changed so much since her death that I doubt she would recognize me. I have since broken up with the girl I never told her about. Nor have I brought home the promised redhead girl. I plan to stay single and save myself from further hurt and inflicting all of my problems upon another female. Cynical and cold, gone is the youthful idealism and displays of kindness for which Grandmom loved me. Grandmom's heart has grown cold and bitter and I often wonder if she would be ashamed of me. I can only hope that she understands why I am the way I am and that she yet loves me. Our extended family has grown closer together, but I continually feel her absence. Family gatherings will never be as happy or as lively without her, and she will always be missed.


© Robert H. Harrison