By Traci Mullins
I stopped believing in hell on a Monday morning in May.
I had just returned to work after losing my beloved grandmother. Bereavement leave didn’t cover grandparents, so I’d had to come back long before the razor edge of grief had dulled.
My friends, who knew that this grandmother had raised me, were comforting.
“I know how much she meant to you.”
“She was your rock, wasn’t she?”
Maybe there’s a chance I’ll make it through this day.
On my way to get my second cup of coffee, a woman known for her juicy gossip approached, putting her liver-spotted hand on my arm.
“I’m so sorry for your loss,” she said. Pat pat.
She was so close I could see her lopsided rouge with powder puffed on top and a long hair sticking out of her chin. Who wears powder anymore?
“Thank you, I appreciate your kindness,” I said, not wanting to be rude but eager to move on. I started to take a step, but she gripped my arm more urgently, her owlish eyes boring into mine, a crease of concern etched into her forehead.
“Was she saved, honey?”
I shouldn’t have been surprised that this woman who barely knew me felt entitled to barge into my grief to ask where Grandma was spending eternity. After all, it’s important for those in my churchy circle to know which folks are safe and which are burning. A week ago, I would have thought so, too.
But now my mind flooded with snapshots of the woman who had loved me so well for so long. No one on earth was ever happier to see me than she was. I could hear her laughter, bubbling with the joy of me, feel her tenderness as she brushed my fine hair and rolled it up in rags for the night. She helped me dress up like a princess, or a ballerina. She let me suck Jell-O off the ice cubes and lick chocolate off her spoons. When I was at Grandma’s house, I was small and safe and happy—even when I was thirty years old.
My spine stiffened as I pulled my arm away from this powdered stranger. “Well, maybe not ‘saved’ in the way you would define it,” I said. Honey. “But she was the most loving woman I’ve ever known.”
I was proud of myself, standing up for my godless grandmother while rocking this interloper’s high horse.
But she just looked away. Embarrassed for me.
Such a pity…I could hear her thinking as she trailed off down the hall, releasing me.