So Much to Miss

Oh how we cried the day you left us. We gathered 'round your grave to grieve. I wish I could see the angels' faces when they hear your sweet voice sing. Go rest high on that mountain. Your work on earth is done. Go to Heaven a shoutin', love for the Father and the Son. -Vince Gill

Two of my cousins posted that song in tribute to our Momaw on the day she passed away. And since Monday, I cannot get it out of my head, no matter how I try. I wake up singing it. I go to sleep humming it. I work and it runs in constant loops in my mind. 

Clearwater Beach photographer

My Momaw was 78. Everyone called her Bertie, but that wasn't her real name. When I was about 6 or 7 years old, I brought her mail in to her and actually asked my mom who "Roberta" was. :) I'd had no idea up until that moment! She never had a middle name. She was one of 8 children herself, was the mother of 7, grandmother to 20 and great-grandmother to 24. She left behind quite a lineage. 

Momaw Bertie was blessed and she was a blessing. She had the softest cheeks you'd ever kiss. It's funny the things that you remember through the years, isn't it? For instance, I remember that she always had the tallest beds and the puffiest pillows, and there were china dolls in just about every room. She could sew and embroider beautifully, and she always had a dedicated sewing room or craft room that I used to look at in amazement. Her bathroom always had a crocheted toilet-paper-roll-disguise with a plastic doll inside (I think that was a 70s trend), and little soaps, in various shapes, that we weren't supposed to actually use. ;) Her home smelled slightly of Pledge, baby powder, sawdust and black coffee. An odd mix, maybe, but these were signs that life was busy and always-improving there, and it was so comforting to my heart.

She had all of our pictures framed on the walls, propped up on tables, sitting on the piano (but not the pump organ that was burned in the house fire... that's another story). My uncles' Army portraits, my mom's cross-stitch pieces... they were all on display. She collected dishes and teacups, and I'll remember her little white coffee cups with green flowers for the rest of my life. When I left home in 1996, my mom sent me off with small glass salt and pepper shakers that used to belong to Momaw and Popaw. Momaw said she'd gotten them out of a box of oats years ago! We still use them on our table to this day. 

She loved a good purse, a comfy pair of walking shoes, and soft pink nail polish. And of all the cars she and Popaw had owned over the years, she would always go back to driving a Lincoln again eventually. "I do like a Lincoln," she told me this summer.

Her biscuits were the stuff of legend in the Watts family. She made them from scratch (of course) and always flipped the dough with two fingers because that's how her mom, who had a broken finger, taught her to do it when she was just a girl. She said that lifting those "broken" fingers out of the way was her secret to making them taste so good. I love that story.  She never rolled the dough out; instead she pinched a little piece off with her thumb and index finger, shaped it and then placed it in the pan. She always worked fast, too. My sister Trish said this week, "I asked her how she made her biscuits a few years ago. I'd watched her do it for years but never had a recipe. She replied in all seriousness with no mention of measurements, 'Ahhhh, mix it till it looks good and bake it till it's done.'" :) I don't think she ever measured an ingredient at all. And that's probably why those biscuits were so legendary and wonderful and mysterious to all of us.

She helped my Popaw remodel their (many) homes over the years, and she could do just about anything he could do: hang doors, put up sheetrock, knock down walls. She was strong and capable and she was Popaw's right hand. They always had a vision for their homes, and they spent their lives improving them... making them more spacious, more inviting, comfortable, and always welcoming. Christmases and Thanksgivings were a big deal and I loved the times when our whole family could get together. Popaw would play his fiddle, mom (and later Tony) would play the piano, one of my uncles and my dad would grab guitars and they'd all sing Christmas carols and church hymns in harmony. She loved those old hymns.

The last time I saw her was this summer. My kids played in their backyard, picked blackberries, chased each other in circles on their back porch. I held Momaw's hand, and was encouraged by her strength, even though she tired so easily that we couldn't stay long. I took her picture with Popaw. They were smiling real smiles, his arm was around her and her hand was on his cheek. She giggled as she watched my kids run in the grass, and as my mom lifted Charlotte up to ring the windchimes. Popaw showed me their flowers and plants and asked Momaw what a few of them were. She loved working in those flowers and of course she knew the names of all of them.

When we were leaving, I kept stammering, "Bye, Momaw" over and over on the front porch, tears in my eyes and a lump in my throat that would not move or let any more words out. I was trying to get it to sink in, to myself and to her too, that this was it. The last time I'd kiss her sweet face this side of Heaven. She didn't seem to understand, and just asked me when I'd be back. Like it was normal and she wasn't dying. I remember saying, "I can't come back, Momaw." She looked a little sad but hopeful. And I cried the whole way back to my mom's house.

She had amazing determination and strength for all the years I knew her, and she fought this uphill battle against cancer for over seven years. Finally, this past June, she found out that her cancer had come back.

And this time, she'd finally had enough. She knew that further treatments would only prolong her life instead of curing her.

She said she was ready to go. And so she lived life to the full in the time she had left.

Monday morning, with her family surrounding her, my sweet Momaw Bertie bravely and quietly slipped away to be with Jesus. She went home. She'd lived her whole life just waiting to go there, after all.

Momaw's flowers

My heart breaks for my mom, who has just lost her own mom. For my Popaw, who has lost his partner in life for over 60 years. For her sister. For my aunts and uncles, her daughters and sons who are hurting. My heart breaks for my cousins whom I wish I could hug in person and grieve with tonight and tomorrow during her services. Grieving alone is so hard. And I will miss Momaw like no other. I'll miss hearing her voice on the phone saying "Hi Stace. How's those youngins?" I'll miss her biscuits and her sweet-smelling linens and her laugh that wheezed a little when she got really tickled. The laugh that I loved and sometimes hear coming out of my own mouth. Part of my heritage is missing now. Part of my heart. She left so much for us to miss.

But then again, she left so much for us to miss. I'm so grateful for her legacy, her example, her faith in God and the hope of Heaven that will never, ever leave me. I'm grateful that she gave me such a wonderful mommy: her middle daughter. I'm grateful that she was courageous and strong and capable and hardworking and willing and able and committed and always there.

And that she left me so very much to miss.

I love you Momaw, to the ends of the earth and back. 

"Surely, two of the most satisfying experiences in life must be those of being a grandchild or a grandparent." -Donald A. Norberg

"And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am." - Jesus, from John 14:3

"Hurting with hope still hurts." - Levi Lusko