She wept, holding tight to her grandmother's hand as they lowered her grandfather's coffin into the earth. Sobs shook her eight year old shoulders hard, and Grandmother knelt beside her and took her in her arms, hugging her tight.
"Let them fall, little bird. Let them fall. There is no shame in tears."
After a moment, she pulled back and looked into her grandmother's face. There was no disapproval in that face, only love. And tears. Overwhelmed with a wish to comfort the comforter, the little girl stroked the beloved face before her.
"I'm sorry," she said, "I'm sorry you are sad."
"I am sad, you are right," said Grandmother, " we will be sad together, for we loved him so. But when all the tears have fallen, we shall be happy again. Together."
The little girl believed the promise, and tucked it away to think of it again and again as the days passed, the weeks passed, the months passed.
It was a year to the day, and the nine year old held the flowers for Grandmother as they walked together to the spot where Grandfather's body lay. Grandmother was walking slower now, taking her time moving across the uneven ground. The little girl took her hand, this time to add the strength and steadiness of youth.The breeze was a little cool, the clouds looking as if they might drop rain on them at any minute.
"You'll have to lay the flowers, little bird. I don't want to embarrass Grandfather by kneeling here and not being able to get up again!" Grandmother said with a little laugh.
In spite of the laugh, it troubled the little girl that Grandmother was getting so frail. It scared her. Grandfather was frail before he died. She lay the flowers carefully, then turned to this women she loved more than anyone and threw her arms around her.
"I'm sorry if this is hard for you, sweetheart," said Grandmother softly.
The little girl shook her head against Grandmother's arms.
"It isn't Grandfather. I mean, I still miss him. But Grandmother, I can't bear it if you die too!"
Grandmother stroked her hair, rocking side to side for a long while. "Sit here with me, little bird."
They sat together on the cold marble bench beside the giant oak whose branches spread over half the gravestones. The little girl worked hard to stop her crying, breathing deeply and slowly, drying her tears with Grandmother's soft white handkerchief, the one with the tiny purple flowers in the corner. It smelled like the woman who raised her, who cooked for her and washed her clothes, who helped her with homework and laughed at her jokes. It smelled like the lavender sachets in Grandmother's clothes drawers.
"My girl, we know that I will die too. All people die. When it is my time, I will join your Grandfather. I hope for more years with you. I hope to see you grown and settled and happy," Grandmother said, "but if I die before that happens--"
"No! Please! You can't die. I would be lost without you," said the little girl, "please say you won't die. Please." A new torrent of tears, silent this time, streamed down her face.
"Little bird, let me tell you what my mother told me. It has helped me all my life. It helped when your mother died, when you were just a tiny baby. You see, for every tear we cry, every heavy grief that weighs us down, there is another time when we feel joy. When we laugh or smile, dance or feel such happiness it seems we will burst with it. It is the balancing of life. Without the one, we can't really experience the other. If our time was endless, would we cherish our time together now? It would not be precious. If we never cried great tears, the times of joy would not be so sweet." Grandmother paused. The little girl sat quietly, waiting. She knew more words were coming.
"If babies kept being born and no one died, soon the earth would not hold us all. It is the balancing, sweetheart. If all was sunshine, we would have no water to drink. Do you understand?"
The girl nodded slowly. Grandmother squeezed her hand.
"You don't need to be afraid. We don't want to be sad today about something that will happen another day. Today we have each other. Today we can be happy."
The little girl sighed deeply, leaning her head on Grandmother's shoulder. They sat quietly, listening to the faint tinkle of the wind chimes high in the tree. The little girl shivered slightly, and stood to get off the cold bench. Grandmother smiled as she pushed off the bench and stood. The sun came through a small patch of blue sky, and they both lifted their faces to it, basking in the welcome warmth.