December marks the anniversary of the death of both my paternal grandparents: this week brought the 11th year since my grandmother’s passing and next week brings the 34th year since my grandfather’s passing. I don’t have any memories of my grandfather, but I knew my grandmother pretty well and sometimes her absence pains my heart.
This week’s prompt for 52 Ancestors is Winter. As I read the prompt description, my grandma, the Battle of Antietam, and this old blog post came to my mind. I wrote the following back on 1 September 2012 on a personal blog I don’t use any more. I’ve edited it for clarity.
Today marks the 150th anniversary of the Battle of Antietam (or the Battle of Sharpsburg), fought during the Civil War. It was the single bloodiest battle in American history: 23,000 men were killed or wounded at that battle.
I am no Civil War buff (usually being more interested in the history of the Revolutionary War) and I didn’t actually know that today was the anniversary of the battle, until I heard this story on NPR this morning. It was amazing to listen to what happened and think about those that were killed or wounded, the choices the leaders made, and to remember my grandmother.
My grandmother wasn’t alive during the battle – her grandparents were infants at that time – but as the reporter talked about the battle, in my mind’s eye I saw her. And then, I saw, in darkness, the outlines of the mountains that you have to cross to get from DC to Sharpsburg. I saw outlines of fields, shapes of fences and trees, and a darkened church. I saw lines of cars driving through the battlefield without headlights, the road lined and the field filled with luminaries, one for each casualty. It was quite a sight.
On the first Saturday in December each year, volunteers set up and light luminaries throughout the park to remember the battle and those that lost their lives that day. I went in 2007 with a group of friends. It is amazing to look at the luminaries that go on for what seems like forever. You think you can’t possibly ever reach the end. But you do and then the drive home becomes reflective and thoughtful.
It was after this evening, the next morning, as I was getting ready for church, that I found out that my grandmother had passed away. We had seen her the week before (how grateful I am we went to South Carolina that Thanksgiving) and while she wasn’t doing well, we didn’t expect her to be gone so soon. It was good that I was in a reflective mood from the night before so I could ponder on the plan of salvation that enables me to see her again one day.
In my mind, those luminaries and learning of grandma’s passing have melded into one event; I never remember one without the other. So this morning as I listened to the reporter and this afternoon as I listened to the host interview a photographer, my heart and mind were filled with my grandmother — memories, love, joy — and thousands of luminaries.