Remembering Barbara Belle Cumming Burrell

I am used to quiet people in my family, but my grandmother was quiet in a different way. Where the others’ silence often seemed to seethe with menace, her calm was an expression of great equanimity. Where theirs should not be disturbed, hers could not be disturbed. Where theirs was imposed upon us, hers was available to us.

I failed to appreciate this soon enough. While my grandfather was alive, I thought of them as him because he demanded so much attention. But after he was gone, she was still there, and her quiet became more positively apparent. It became clear just how much she accommodated him, and how little he dominated her. This is not to say that she humored him. She loved him dearly and thought much of him. Out of her strength, she provided the space and comfort he needed. I saw this all at once in the wryness, but not irony, with which she once said of him, “When he woke up in the morning, he knew everything about everything.”

She was quiet by virtue not of effort or suppression, but as a manifestation. It’s a quiet that I’ve only recently learned to recognize and appreciate. In the silence of her absence, a different sort of silence all together and one that emerged gradually over the course of her decline, I now miss her particular quiet greatly. But I have seen its like in my family. It’s what I find when I visit my brother and his family. That may well explain the profound connection between him and my grandmother.

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