The priest likes to talk, the ladies like to listen. We stand because the priest is old, we offer a seat while we wait. He won’t take it, the empty chair too close to his body now for us to reclaim it. Its uselessness takes up space in the overcrowded hospital room.
Mass would have been free to watch on television, but she thought she’d have to pay for it. The rows of women carrying more than one secret. Having carried more than one baby, and burden, and husband through the years. Husbands who spent Sunday mornings with schnapps in the local tavern while they kneaded bread and their hands: arthritis.
Now they fold their hands in solemn expectation of the blessings: It is not at all sure, these days, that all of them will be able to leave the hospital and return to friends and family. To home-canned jam and great-grandchildren, or at least photographs of these.
For us in between, not daughters to these women, not cute great-grandchildren, the priest has barely anything to say. We smile awkwardly and hoped to not have flaunted our condescension. For grandma’s sake, what we do not say is:
Don’t speak of your past as if it had been something beyond your powers. Don’t ask these women to be silent and endure their illness, their pain, with patience and acceptance for it all could have been worse. It has always been worse for them than for you, we think, as we have seen grandmothers run to fetch drinks and food and pleasantries for men who only a few years prior routinely took off their belts to punish our mothers.
For us in the middle, we keep thinking: It would be far preferable for us to be able to state with confidence: Grandpa was one of the good guys.
Melanie Boeckmann writes and researches in Germany, where it often rains. You could ask her about her day @m_ian.