Mattie has been a part of my life since my mother was three years old. She took care of us all. She took care of everybody. The number of people who feel as though Mattie “belongs” to them is staggering. Every time we went to visit her (which was, of course, not nearly enough), her house was abuzz with people. Some were living with her, some were visiting, some popped in to fix the tile in the bathroom, some brought lunch. But we were never alone. And Mattie loved it that way.
“This my baby’s baby,” is how she would introduce me to the people I didn’t know. “You know. She’s Judy’s baby,” she would continue, as if that was the missing information they needed, and now we could all just have a good time together.
My mom was her baby. Has always been. So it followed that I was her baby’s baby. Have always been.
The love and devotion that poured out of Mattie was inexhaustible. And being on the receiving end of it was enough to propel you forward like a superhero. 15 or so years ago, when I first brought Bob home, Mattie claimed him, calling him “my Bob” (as in her Bob) within the first few hours of knowing him. Not that I didn’t already know what a find Bob was, but having Mattie’s emphatic approval was, in a way, more important than having my parents’. If she loved you, she couldn’t do anything but love you. And that love made you the luckiest person alive at that moment. Even on my last visit with her, when she couldn’t keep her eyes open for more than a few seconds at a time, she smiled at my presence, her hand reaching out for me like a lifeline. As though she had been waiting for me to come. As though I could make a difference.
Her aging seemed unlikely and accidental. As though we could have prevented it if we had only been a little more attentive. In the end, though, she slipped out of our grasp and died of old age. Gracefully, peacefully, deservedly surrounded by people who loved her. And yet, selfishly, the thought that I will never see Mattie again is almost more than I can bear. I can barely even type those words, as though they are a betrayal of some half truth that might not come to pass if I keep it inside.
In truth, there aren’t many things that could leave me more helplessly broken-hearted. Cleanly, jaggedly, painfully broken-hearted.