What follows is an email that I sent to my sister in September, 2007.
Hey, do you remember when we were at your house in Iowa, I think it was Saturday afternoon, after Mom died (I still hate saying that, it seems so unbelievably harsh and cold and unreal and strange and... understated, simplistic, it doesn't even begin to express what happened that morning), and I was outside in your back yard, I think I was on the phone with someone, it was before everybody else arrived, and I was coming back up the walk to the back door and I saw there, on the stone, a big green grasshopper? I think I even picked it up and held it in my hand for a moment before I put it back in the grass.
I know I came back into the house shaking my head, sort of freaked out, and I think I said something to you about it? Because when Ken Bastian died, in November of whatever year that was, I was alone in the house and Mom called to tell me the news and I was really upset. I couldn't believe that he'd died, in such a stupid way, driving his car head-on into a semi. The word I had then was that he'd been on his cell phone and had looked away. He'd just got married the year before, and had a great job and was such an amazing person, leading an amazing and powerful life... it just seemed so dumb, especially with so many assholes walking around alive and without purpose, and well, that this amazing man would be dead seemed insane. And it occurred to me that this was a good reason not to believe in a god, who would be so insane to let something like that happen, except that Ken was a man of deep deep faith and losing faith because of his death would have been the worst kind of reaction, something that would have dishonored, and disappointed, and dismayed him in every way. So, I had to struggle to let that go. The next day, I was in my kitchen, and there was this big green grasshopper there, up by the ceiling. This was in California. I keep that back door open a lot, so it wasn't that unusual to have an insect in there, but I'd never seen a grasshopper in the kitchen, and never one so big and so beautifully green. It crossed my mind at the time to connect it with Ken, who was so big himself...
Then, in August of 2001, we were in Colorado for Tom's 50th birthday bash and I think it was on that Sunday, Mom called me again and told me that Lloyd had died. I'd heard that he was sick from a student that I had in my class in Iowa the summer before. And she'd contacted me again in July to tell me that he was dying. I'd written him a letter then, but never expected to hear back, just to tell him that I was thinking of him and that I'd loved him dearly, all those years ago. That August seemed to me later to be a sort of watershed time... in a few weeks we moved to Montreal and then September 11th happened and the world was changed...
Anyway, the next morning, after Mom called, there was, in my kitchen again, only this time in Colorado, a big green grasshopper, exactly the same kind as had been in the kitchen after Ken's death. I laughed about it, some coincidence, eh? And marveled over it. And thought it was a sign of something, but had no idea what. Maybe just a visit from an old boyfriend, recently deceased?
But then... in Iowa, in the back yard... another green grasshopper! Amazing! I didn't really know what to make of that, either... except, wow, far out...
Yesterday afternoon, I had kind of a hard time, thinking about Mom and how I'd call her on Sundays and that I couldn't do that anymore, though in my mind I can, without much effort, still hear her voice and see her face. This morning, still feeling a little bit fragile about it, I took Louis for his usual walk. We went all the way down to the park, it takes about a half hour, and we were on our way back and since he'd finished his business of sniffing and peeing and pooping, we were walking a bit faster and I was lost in thought, thinking about Mom and how she is gone and I'm never going to see her again and never going to talk to her again, that's it, she's gone, forever... and it was hitting me hard and I was starting to freak out about it again and I'm staring at the sidewalk as I go and there's this leaf thing there and before I know what I'm doing, I bend and pick it up and I look at it and it's... a grasshopper. Made out of palm fronds. It's big! About five inches tall with long long legs and long antennae and big fat wings, exactly like those other grasshoppers that I saw, exactly that kind -- not the snapping clicking kind that you see in a field, but the soft green kind with big fat wings and long long legs.
I brought the thing home, amazed that it was right there, and that I'd picked it up, just like that.
I got online immediately, trying to find out what it might mean. First thing that comes up, of course, is the story of the grasshopper and the ant, and I'm thinking, oh, right, someone's trying to tell me to stop fooling around and playing around and get to work! Then I looked up Chinese symbols and mythological symbols, having to do with grasshoppers. And found they mean prosperity. That you'll have a lot of children. (locust swarms). (Yikes! Unless in this case "children" mean books, or something like that.) Luck. An aphrodisiac. To hear a katydid's song predicts a renewal of an old friendship. Complexity (because of all the hopping around). Also confusion (same). Also Jiminy Cricket from Pinocchio, who is unnamed in the original book, but Walt Disney named him Jiminy Cricket, which is a euphemism for Jesus Christ -- what people who want to swear say when they don't want to take the Lord's name in vain, (like when Mom said sugar instead of shit) but I'm not sure what that's supposed to mean in this context....
And then I remember the story of the grasshopper and the ant in James Joyce's Finnegan's Wake (because Tom and I took a summer class together when we were in college and we read that part of the book, and it was hilarious) which Joyce calls, in his unreadable way, the Gracehoper and the Ondt. It starts out (which is what we found so funny when we read it out loud): Graussssss! Opr! Which we cried out over and over again all that summer long, laughing hysterically (maybe you had to be there)...
Anyway, I do a Google for grasshoppers and Finnegan and James Joyce, and here's what I get... the story of the Gracehoper and the Ondt... Also called Graussss! Opr! Or grousehopper, springing upward... "The dead arrive in heaven like the grasshopper of Ra."
It's an Egyptian reference, from the Egyptian Book of the Dead, in which King Pepi ascends:
"As an imperishable star; Flies who flies! He flies away from you, O men! He is no longer upon the earth; he is in the sky! He rushes at the sky like a heron. He has kissed the sky like a falcon. He has leapt skyward like a grasshopper."
Mom said to me, before she went to sleep that last time, before she woke again delirious:
"I will always be with you."
So, I guess she is then.
I guess I have to believe she's gone skyward, like a grasshopper. But still, she's here, to show me, to be sure I get it, to get me to understand.
So... keep an eye out for grasshoppers! (Gracehopers?)